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Mean Mary grows a following with Trumbull tractor show song

Thursday, August 11, 2016

By GUY D’ASTOLFO

dastolfo@vindy.com

Mean Mary didn’t find her true love in Trumbull County.

But she did find inspiration for a great song.

Mean Mary (a.k.a., Mary James) is a traditional musician who specializes in bluegrass.

She’s from the South, but has been playing at the Trumbull County Antique Tractor Show for the past couple of years.

And it’s the show that sets the scene for “I Found My Love at the Trumbull County Antique Tractor Show,” a song on her new album, “Sweet.”

She won’t be playing at the TCAT show this year, which will be Aug. 19-21. But Mean Mary (and by the way, there’s nothing mean about her) will return to the club grounds in Vienna this weekend for a smaller event, at which she will film a video for the song. The public is welcome and there will be dancing and of course, antique tractors.

In a phone interview from her Florida home, Mean Mary explained how this whole tractor thing got started.

“I have some fans in Ohio and they got me up to do the show,” she said. “The Trumbull County Antique Tractor Show has been a big supporter, and I’ve played it the last two years. The name just kind of rolls off the tongue, and I had to write a song. I had this tune and it just came to me like that. It became a last-minute addition to the new album, but it’s actually one of the favorites.”

With banjo and a sweet voice, the song (find it on YouTube) is rooted in Americana. But the lyrics are light in spirit, and Mean Mary sings them in her lilting Celtic style.

The song has a surprise ending. “The tractor is the love that she finds!” said Mary. ‘It’s kind of a joke.”

Mean Mary’s connection to the TCAT club began several years ago with Jerry Beighley of Newton Falls, a member of the club, searched the Internet for a musician that would suit the show’s throwback nature, and it’s love of antiques.

He came across Mean Mary, went to watch her play and then signed her to the show, where she’s become a regular.

Mary plays banjo, guitar, fiddle and several other instruments, and is basically a one-woman band on tour, although she is often joined on stage by local musicians.

The historical music of the South and Appalachia has always been her niche. Its popularity routinely rises and falls, but it has a timeless quality.

“It has caught on in various periods. Mumford and Sons made it cool again,” said Mean Mary, adding “I have been playing it since I was 7, when it wasn’t so cool.”

For the first part of her career, Mary was known mainly as a fiddle player, but about 10 years ago she made the banjo her main instrument, and she can play it with blazing speed.

She plays practically every instrument on her new album, which also includes the song “Methinks I See Thee, Jane.” The tune is the theme song for a book of the same name that she and her mother, Jean James, published earlier this year.

Although Mean Mary was born in Alabama (she grew up there and also in Minnesota, California and a few other states) and today splits her time between Florida and Nashville, Tenn., she has found a foothold in northeast Ohio.

She can’t quite explain it, but she does see a similarity between the people of both regions.

“I can tell that what I play is popular with folks in Ohio,” she said. “They relate to it. And they’re down to earth and friendly. I’ve been in the South most of my life, where we have that hospitality, but I see it up in Ohio, too.”