Jordana Greenburg furiously plays the fiddle while Rebecca Reed-Lunn’s fingers work up and down the neck of her banjo. The Sisters Grimm, as these lovely young ladies call themselves, are playing before an awestruck crowd at swanky Ambrosia in Kihei. As they deftly execute an impossibly fast version of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” by the Charlie Daniels Band, I wonder what inspired the duo to bring heartland America music to Maui.
“It was my dream was to come to a place like this and bring a different kind of music,” Greenburg told me later when I sat down with her and Reed-Lunn over lunch. “There’s a lot to listen to and also a lack of different kinds of music [on Maui].”
Reed-Lunn works as an assistant instructor at Suzuki Maui, a Kula music school that teaches students as young as four to play string instruments. She’s been strumming a banjo for less than a year, about as long as the ladies have been a musical duo, but has scores of musical experience under her belt with other instruments.
“I always wanted to be a composer growing up, so I’d get the idea on one instrument and then move on to the next one,” she said.
Greenburg, an Ontario, Canada native, first picked up the violin at eight—a late start, she said, for classical violinist. But her dedication to the strings took her to Indiana University String Academy an on to play across Europe, Asia and the United States, including a concert at the famed Carnegie Hall.
Before coming to Maui, the girls traveled for more than a month across 11 states. Along the way they worked for food and gas money by busking.
“It’s when you play on the street and open your case and people put in money,” Greenburg said.
The girls were surprised by how easily they made money playing their music on the streets. In one short afternoon of playing bluegrass on Venice Beach they earned over $200. There were times when they’d find a quiet back street to rehearse and people passing by would actually open their instrument cases so they could drop in money.
Not long ago, Greenburg and Reed-Lunn drove from their Indiana University college town to the Telluride, Colorado Bluegrass Festival, camping through Utah to Nevada where they slept under a streetlight in an RV park on the Las Vegas strip. Then they traveled on to California, sweltering without air conditioning in temperatures of up to 115 degrees, finally saving enough to buy one-way tickets to Maui.
Rehearsing is still something the girls do nearly every day. Their Kihei condo is pretty small, and the neighbors don’t always appreciate the noise, so Greenburg and Reed-Lunn will often lug their instruments down to Kam II Beach Park and find a quiet spot to practice new songs.
They prefer contemporary music. They do a mean version of “I Won’t Back Down” by Tom Petty and an instrumental version of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” They’ve also got a repertoire of traditional bluegrass songs like “House of the Rising Sun” as well as a few songs Greenburg’s singer-songwriter father wrote.
“The most fun part is sitting down together for three hours and saying, ‘Okay, you do this and I’ll do this,’ and it evolves,” Greenburg said. “We get so excited when we realize it’s going to work out.”
At the end of lunch, I joked that the Sisters Grimm should make their Westside busking debut in costume on Front Street this Halloween. The idea seemed to spark some interest, so be careful if you see a scary bluegrass duo raking in the cash–they just might put their spell on you. MTW