The Sisterhood of the Traveling Guitar

By Max Brzezinski

As anyone who’s done it can attest, traveling with family can be intensely stressful. While many travelers expect a quick spatial fix for their problems, a change of scenery’s never a cure-all. And sometimes, the stress of planes, trains, automobiles, just makes things worse.

So it’s a testament to the sisterly bond of Gail and Yolanda Ceasar that their recent trip to Telluride, Colorado, only strengthened their connection. Considering the fact that it was Gail’s first time on an airplane, and that she was prepping for big shows at the Blues and Brews Festival, makes the depth of their love even more remarkable.

She said, "I need you to play the bass." And I said, "Okay, I can take bass lessons, but is that going to hurt my fingers? My fingers are too soft." Yolanda Ceasar

But Gail and Yolanda aren’t your average siblings. They put the ideals of sorority into practice: care, commitment, protection. While these grand concepts often live more in fairytales than reality, speak to Gail and Yolanda and you can’t help but feel the love. They’re tight-knit in good times and bad – whether sharing time at Ceasar family homes in Virginia and North Carolina, attending church, or in moments of crisis, like last year when Gail and their mother’s house was destroyed by fire.

And their trip to Telluride proved transformative. As Yolanda tells it, beforehand, “baby sister” Gail had been suffering from writer’s block. But since playing a rapturously-received set fronting the Music Maker Blues Revue, Gail’s been newly inspired to write, play and record new material: “it’s given her new fire.”

Now that they’re home, Gail’s even been trying to deputize her sister for rhythm duty: “She said, ‘I need you to play the bass.’ And I said, ‘Okay, I can take bass lessons, but is that going to hurt my fingers? My fingers are too soft. Maybe I can get my son. I could play the drums. I used to play the drums,” Yolanda told me.

Playing with a band, which Gail hasn’t done since her old gospel quartets, has freed her up to really concentrate on fretwork: “when you have a band,” she said, “it takes the pressure off of you, because when you’re by yourself, you have to play the lead and the rhythm at the same time.”

Now, the acoustic country blues on Gail’s solo record Guitar Woman Blues already sound fuller than most bands’. So we can’t wait to hear what an energized post-Telluride Gail Ceasar has in the works. Whatever she does, we’re sure sister Yolanda will be backing her up all down the line.