Interview with Noa Laniakea, Bay Area Bass Fiddle Maestra

Despite a really tough year, Bluegrass Pride was able to work with artists and showcase their work—largely due to your contributions—providing them with additional income. We’re really proud of that, and we’re doing just a little bit more by highlighting artists’ experiences in bluegrass and with our organization. We wanted to know what inspires musicians to keep playing and how they came to love the genre in the first place.

Enter Noa Laniakea, a great friend to Bluegrass Pride and talented bass player who performed at this year’s first-ever Porch Pride Festival. Noa features heavily on Fog Holler’s 2018 release “Or Else the Sun,” and we love their distinctive bass style—more on where that developed in a second. We hope you’ll enjoy this deep dive into Noa’s inspirations, aspirations and appreciation for queer and inclusive bluegrass. Who knows, maybe their story will speak to an LGBTQ+ musician or bluegrass lover who has yet to feel welcome in the genre!

After reading Noa’s story you might be moved to support Bluegrass Pride, and to make sure bluegrass stays as diverse as it always has been. You can donate to BGP any time, but year-end giving helps us plan for the coming year and continue to support musicians who need, more than ever, a little push in the middle of a months-long pandemic. In 2020 we brought new festivals and opportunities, and we’ve got so much more planned in 2021. We’ll need your help to get there.

But without further ado, let’s hear from Noa!

BGP: Where did your interest in bluegrass come from, and how did you come to love the music?

Noa: Oddly enough, my love for bluegrass originated from hearing Edgar Meyer play bass and just immediately deciding that that was what I wanted to do. I didn't know much about the genre but his playing was extremely compelling, and I just went searching for answers. I started branching out from classical music studies and I quickly became fascinated with the sound and style of bluegrass, especially as I started digging into the richness of the tradition. The overlap between incredible technical playing, song and tune writing, accessibility, and a dynamic live performance was too much to be ignored. It was then I knew that I was in love.

BGP: How has being a part of Bluegrass Pride impacted you personally? 

Noa: Bluegrass Pride has given me a sense of community when I was initially terrified that there wasn't going to be any. Being a nonbinary trans musician can be deeply isolating, especially when considering the challenges of homophobia and transphobia that can affect queer musicans. It meant a lot to see some kind of safe haven and community through Bluegrass Pride. I feel even more dedicated to the style and to my playing and performance, and I feel even more inclined toward outreach and education so that more people can feel the warmth I felt.

BGP: How has Bluegrass Pride changed your opinion about bluegrass music and the people who create it?

Noa: It's made all the difference honestly. As I learned, genres aren't really indicative of acceptance of queerness when considering the polite, behind-closed-doors conservative values of classical music or the subtext of deep hatred that forms the popular narrative of the South. Queerness is both always disguised and ever-present. Having visible figures as opposed to masked or implied ones is powerful, so much so that it's led to visible worldwide changes in the status quo. That, alongside my personal experiences performing live, have really taught me you can't really assume anything about anyone and that you can find community in places you would never expect. Bluegrass really is for everyone, in ways that I don't see as palpably in other places.

BGP: Why were you inspired to run for the board of Bluegrass Pride? What would that leadership opportunity mean to you?

Noa: I feel like my experiences as a nonbinary transfemme bassist are a unique perspective that would help strengthen the vision of Bluegrass Pride. It would mean giving back and continuing to advocate and create space for people who are continuously underrepresented.

BGP: Talk a little about upcoming projects you're working on if you can. Any good music in the works?

Noa: I'm currently composing a Concerto for Bass and Orchestra, working out a long distance album with my bluegrass band Fog Holler, arranging some trad tunes and writing some new ones for bass fiddle for an EP, and branching out into some more experimental stuff with pedals. I think there's a lot of unexplored territory with this instrument and I'm very excited to find out what else is out there. 

BGP: What would you say to someone who is feeling a little left out of the music industry and thinking about getting involved in Bluegrass Pride?

Noa: Reach out to a member, post in the Facebook group, follow the Instagram, learn some tunes if you feel so inclined, whatever you do in the ways that work for you to reach out. The community has been so warm and supportive and present, speaking of my own experiences, and if you're in doubt Kara Kundert can point you in the right direction. She is an unbelievable organizer, writer, and community member who is also incredibly kind and considerate, and I've really enjoyed getting to know her. 

BGP: What do you hope to accomplish in the next few years through Bluegrass Pride? What are your personal goals for contributing to the organization? 

Noa: I would like to find ways to just keep Bluegrass Pride growing, not only in size and advocacy power, but also diversity. I don't know many nonbinary folks, although I know they're out there, and I just hope more of them might see the community and feel welcomed. I think I can offer a lot in terms of perspective, but honestly I'm just curious to see what else I can do. I'm sure there's tons of kinds of work that I don't know anything about and I'd like to help out as much as I can. I also think making more queer albums, either through or with Bluegrass Pride, would be awesome. 

BGP: Is there anything about your love for bluegrass, Bluegrass Pride or other projects you'd like to tell folks?

Noa: One of the coolest things about bluegrass is that as a genre there are so many powerful ways it can intersect with other kinds of music, leading it to end up in people's lives in unexpected and amazing ways. On top of that it's a tradition with a deep and important history that informs a lot of our culture and a lot of our stories, things that are still being unpacked and navigated with a lot of thought and care. It's still continuing to blossom in all these beautiful ways and I'm personally really excited to see how the players, the songs, and the sounds change over time while still being part of the same bluegrass family. 


Let’s just revisit that last bit—that bluegrass is continuing to blossom. That means there’s a place for you, and every person who loves bluegrass, and it’s up to us to shape this music for generations to come. That’s our mission: to make sure you know that bluegrass is for everybody.

To help us reach that goal, donate to Bluegrass Pride online. We appreciate each and every gift.

We look forward to making 2021 our most impactful year yet with your help!

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