Renowned folk trio The Refugees will soon share their harmonic music in Lawrence for the first time.
Known for their blend of country, rock, folk, blues and Americana musical sounds, poetic lyrics, and playful stage presence, The Refugees have been a staple within the genre. The trio of Grammy-nominated singer-songwriters and musicians includes Cidny Bullens, Deborah Holland and Wendy Waldman.
Besides their beautifully blended harmonies, Bullens, Holland and Waldman said they’ve continued to mesh so well all these years because of their love and respect for each other.
“We tolerate each other,” Holland joked before explaining the depth of their connection. “I’d say we have similar senses of humor and similar life outlooks. And when we’re together, it’s like finding kindred spirits.”
“Family,” all three resounded.
Holland continued, “If you drew a Venn diagram of the three of us, the common area would be very large.”
This month, the band performed live for the first time in around 10 years, after taking a hiatus. Those shows in California proved to be hard work, they said. Navigating their way back to the stage was a journey — but a rewarding one.
“It was a thrill and nerve-wracking,” Waldman said. “But it was more of the thrill than the nerve-wracking — it was both. It was really exciting, and it was a lot of work because we were doing a lot of songs that we haven’t performed before on top of not having performed at all. It was a pretty tall order, but we had a great audience. [We were] very appreciative. It was quite sold out, and it was kind of bizarre to be back together, but it was also really cool.”
Holland added, “It was also like we did it yesterday. We’re so comfortable with each other. Like a great old friend, you just pick up where you left off.”
Though the band has been rocking together since 2007, each member has been individually active in the professional music scene, working on solo projects and gigs, since the ‘60s and ‘70s. They all knew of each other and were even fans of each other at the time, they said.
“The sort of folk rock community stretches back to the late ‘60s, and it had its roots in Los Angeles and New York and Boston — and Austin, somewhat — and so we all basically hail one way or another from those times,” Waldman said.
Bullens was a studio backing vocalist for Bob Crewe and then toured with Elton John in the mid-‘70s, briefly participated in Bob Dylan’s famous Rolling Thunder Revue tour, had three songs on the “Grease” movie soundtrack, and released several albums as well as received Grammy nominations, according to the band’s official website. His memoir, “Trans-Electric,” is set for release in May, and he details his transition journey in an essay in The Daily Beast.
Holland was a member of the band Animal Logic along with bassist Stanley Clarke and drummer Stewart Copeland, according to the band’s official website. She has released multiple solo albums, her most recent being in 2013 with “Vancouver.” A longtime music professor, Holland now teaches at Langara College in Vancouver.
Waldman, one of the first female music producers, is a longtime Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter with several solo albums, according to the band’s official website. She co-wrote “Save the Best For Last” for Vanessa Williams, which was #1 hit and nominated for a Grammy. She also wrote songs for Madonna, Celine Dion and Earth Wind and Fire as well as sang backup vocals for Linda Ronstadt, Randy Newman, Reba McIntire, Jimmy Buffett, Bette Midler and others.
The Refugees are now celebrating their third and newest album, “CALIFORNIA,” which pays homage to the Golden State. The album was just released on Jan. 23.
“The Refugees came together in 2022 to record their favorite songs from the 1960s and 1970s quintessential California-sound bands,” the band’s website states. “Who better than Deborah, Wendy, and Cid to recreate the exquisite harmonies of Crosby, Stills, and Nash, The Byrds, The Mamas and the Papas, The Beach Boys, Flying Burrito Brothers, and more?”
The Refugees will be performing at the International Folk Alliance Conference, running from Feb. 1 through 5 in Kansas City, Missouri, during the week prior to their Lawrence show.
Bullens has visited friends in Lawrence before, but the arts center concert will be the band’s first time performing in the city. They expressed their excitement to be a part of the community, try out the food and experience the arts scene.
“I love the town (Lawrence). It’s a wonderful town,” Bullens said. “We’re thrilled to be coming to a new place together and performing for people who have never seen us before.”
The Refugees are scheduled to perform at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 5. General admission tickets cost $25 per person and can be purchased at this link. The concert is part of Lawrence Arts Center’s Downtown Underground Concert Series.
To read more about The Refugees, visit therefugeesmusic.com.