Chris Kammerer grew up in the big Midwestern city of Chicago as a kid who loved acting and the arts. He eventually went to Washington University in St. Louis where he studied acting and wrote poetry. While there, he took the top prize of the A.E. Hotchner Playwriting Festival and his original play, “The Stroke Scriptures,” was produced and presented onstage.
Kammerer eventually found himself back in the Windy City after college, however, wondering what his next move was going to be while trying to find a job in the arts. He continued to write poetry, but then one day he went to see a concert by the Avett Brothers. Scott Avett was playing the banjo at that show and Kammerer became intrigued with the instrument right away. So he bought a cheap five-string and began to teach himself the clawhammer style of playing it.
Not a fan of watching TV, Kammerer continued to learn the banjo by practicing two to three hours every night in his bedroom. The problem was that bedroom was at his parent’s house and as time wore on, he needed to make a move. Dreading having to get a job of drudgery in a tall downtown building, Kammerer learned of a more adventurous possibility.
“I was in my parent’s house and not really seeing a way out as any job that I could get that would offer me the chance to get my own apartment would have me living in near poverty while commuting several hours a day to do something tedious and obnoxious,” Kammerer said. “Then, one night I found out about the Montana Conservation Corps from somebody that I was drinking with at a bar. I went and applied for the Conservation Corps and I got in.”
Kammerer packed up his clothes and his banjo and headed west about 1,500 miles to Big Sky Country. The next thing he knew, he was out in the wilderness shoring up trails, mending cattle fences, doing rock work, building small bridges and maintaining fire towers. They would spend five to 10 days out in the wilderness at a time, and that meant encounters with wildlife of all sorts.
“Fortunately, all of my grizzly bear encounters were from the inside of a vehicle,” Kammerer said. “A black bear you can bluff, but a grizzly you cannot bluff. My roommate in Montana was also a photographer and one day he was charged by a moose. It was a mother moose with young calves and any animal that has kids with it will be territorial. The moose got about three feet from him and he knocked it with his bear spray and stopped it dead in its tracks.”
Kammerer had an encounter of his own one night.
“One day, we were all up on a lake, high on a ridgeline and a bunch of crews were camping out and I pitched my tent on the edge of the lake,” Kammerer said. “Every night I would have these deer come out from the woods and walk around my camp and I would kick my tent and the deer would run off. Then, I heard something else coming out of the woods and I thought it was more deer, but then I hear it splash into the lake water. I stuck my head out of the tent and it was a big bull moose, just drinking some water during the sunset about 20 feet away from me and it was very cool.”
While Kammerer was in Montana, after his banjo playing talent got up to snuff and he began to combine music with poetry, he began to perform under the stage name Old Sap. While traveling from town to town in that large, rugged yet and beautiful state, he would meet many travelers who would mention the music scene of Asheville.
After his stay in Montana played out, Kammerer decided to relocate. So, he packed up his gear and hit the road for a 2,200 mile trip to the Western North Carolina Mountains. He has lived in Asheville for about a year and a half now and is currently touring the Old North State as a part of the N.C. Songsmiths Series.
Monday, May 27, Old Sap will perform in Boone. More information on the show can be found on our Nightlife Listings, page 17B.
“I’m a bit of a beer geek and even before I moved to Montana, I had read about the Asheville and North Carolina craft beer scene,” Kammerer said. “I always thought it would be a fun place to go and I’ve always loved the Great Smoky Mountains. I play with a band now, but I also do my solo act with me playing barefoot on a stomp box (percussion) and my banjo while singing songs that I have written and throwing in poetry every now and then. There are times when it will sound more like hip hop than folk music. Musically, I have been influenced by everyone from Pink Floyd to Bon Iver and John Prine, the Avett Brothers, Andrew Bird, Modest Mouse and a band out of Durham, called Sylvan Esso.”
Kammerer loves the music scene here as well as its own version of wilderness. After spending three years in Montana in grizzly bear country, it took relocating to North Carolina to have his first real bear encounter.
“I’ve had some crazy bear experiences here near Asheville, although I am thankful they are just black bears,” Kammerer said. “One day I did get in-between a mama black bear and her cubs while running on a trail near Montreat. For a second there, I thought I was about to get my head clawed off. I’m running downhill on a trail and I came around the bend on a switch back and saw two black blobs to the left of me and they start scurrying up a tree. Then, I see a much larger blob out my right eye and she roared at me. I was about 10 feet away from her and thankfully she was in some bushes. I was already running when it happened and for a minute I thought she was chasing me, so I took off running even faster.”