Farmington — The sounds of familiar folk tunes echoed through the rotunda at the Farmington Public Library on Friday as Willow Blue, a local folk duo, performed for a small audience.
Willow Blue was invited to play at the library as part of the annual summer solstice celebration.
Tom Dinning, the duo's guitarist, grew up in a musical family. His brother, Dean Dinning, is a member of Toad the Wet Sprocket, an American alternative rock band that saw success in the 1990s when two of its songs reached the top 20 hits in the Billboard Hot 100. His aunts also achieved musical fame as the Dinning Sisters in the 1940s and 1950s.
Tom Dinning started his musical career with a garage band when he was in high school. During that time, he played the drums. When he was 21, he picked up the guitar to play in a Santa Barbara, Calif. country rock band.
However, Dinning said he always liked folk and bluegrass styles of music.
"I prefer listening to unadulterated instruments," Dinning said.
Folk and bluegrass styles are generally acoustic, without any electronic effects.
Dinning started attending bluegrass jams in Aztec, where he and Elaine Gapinski decided to form Willow Blue.
"We seem to like the same stuff vocally," he said.
The duo has been practicing together for a little more than a year.
Gapinski also grew up in a musical family. Her grandfather was an immigrant from Italy and played the mandolin in a quartet. He taught her mother, who in turn taught her. Over time, Gapinski decided to learn guitar to play in church.
She started to look for bluegrass jam groups and joined up with Chokecherry Jam, a Farmington quartet. Gapinski plays both mandolin and guitar in Chokecherry Jam, and she also sings.
"The more you play with people, the more comfortable you get," Gapinski said.
However, Gapinski wanted to play more than just bluegrass. Joining with Dinning allowed her to explore more folk and country music.
When selecting songs for the summer solstice concert, Gapinski and Dinning looked for songs they already knew that had nature themes. They were surprised by how many songs were about the sun. Some that they sang included "Soak Up the Sun" by Sheryl Crow and "You Are My Sunshine," a well-known tune from the late 1930s. Dinning said the song has a happy song, but the verses really are quite sad.