Centennial graduate returns to open for Kevin Costner band

Sara Beck knows that people are curious. The Nashville based singer-songwriter, currently on tour with Kevin Costner's band Modern West, is used to being asked the question.

"People want to know if he's actually any good," says Beck of the Oscar winning actor.

The Ellicott City native is quick to point out that Costner's country/rock outfit is no movie star vanity project.

"I think the band is pretty amazing," she says by phone from a recent tour stop in Dallas. "It's really evolved into something unique and special."

Beck should know. For the past several years she's toured with Modern West as their opening act and is married to their lead guitarist, Park Chisolm.

When she's not working with the band, the 1997 Centennial High School graduate is an accomplished solo artist. A vocalist with a lovely and clear voice, Beck has released four CDs, the first when she was still a junior in college. That 2003 debut, "Open Window," included the track "Severn River," a sweet musical nod to her roots.

"I'm excited to be heading home," says Beck, who will open for Kevin Costner & Modern West when they perform three area concerts next week. On April 3-4, the band will play two sold out shows at the Rams Head On Stage, in Annapolis, and they'll headline the Music Center at Strathmore, in Bethesda, April 5.

Growing up in Howard County, Beck was something of a jock. "I played basketball, ran track and I was a swimmer," she says. "I have so many great memories of summers at the Dorsey Hall pool."

Beck also played field hockey at Centennial and was a member of the 1995 state championship team. "Yes, I am a proud champion," says Beck, who played forward.

Athletics, however, were hardly Beck's only endeavor. The musician also performed at numerous high school functions with her band, Iapetus.

"My family is very musical," she says. "We grew up with music and dance."

The musician's sister, Heather Beck, frequently performs at Toby's Dinner Theatre and just wrapped up the leading role of Anna in Toby's recent production of "The King and I."

Woodstock residents Scott and Vickie Beck organize the One World Coffeehouse at the Owen Brown Interfaith Center in Columbia.

"My parents are still a big influence on me," Sara says.

Beck graduated Centennial and headed to Vanderbilt University, in Nashville, where she majored in cognitive psychology. She has lived in Music City ever since and is a respected artist in the Nashville music scene.

Her latest CD "Technicolor" nicely showcases her soulful lyrics and sweet singing voice. It's no surprise that she caught Kevin Costner's attention a few years ago when a member of his band played him a demo of Beck singing a song that Modern West was planning on recording as a duet.

"Their producer and guitarist Teddy Morgan worked with me on a couple of my records," Beck explains. "I sang it as a favor not intending that I was going to be the actual singer but everybody just kind of fell in love with it and I ended up on the record."

The track "Let Me Be the One" was featured on Modern West's second album, 2010's "Turn it On," and Beck soon became a regular opening act for Costner's crew.

"Some of my most enthusiastic fans have come out of my involvement with the band," she notes.

Beck is also a guest artist on Modern West's upcoming concept album inspired by Costner's work on the mini-series "The Hatfields and the McCoys," which debuts on the History Channel in May. In addition, the 32-year-old musician is about halfway through work on her next CD, an acoustic collection she plans to release this summer. By then, Beck will be back to playing solo shows, including a concert in August at the One World Coffeehouse.

The musician also is a favorite on the flourishing house concert circuit.

"It's something that's really grown over the last few years," says Beck. "A person who might be a fan of my music will seek me out and say I'd love to have you play in my home. It's a really organic way to connect artists and fans in a really casual setting. It can range from 25 to 100 people. I think everyone feels good about it. The hosts and audience feel like they are supporting musicians directly and we feel like we're doing what we want to do with our lives."

For Beck, it's the best of both worlds. She's able to perform her own music and to collaborate with a group of musicians she admires.

"The band is really like a family," she says of Kevin Costner & Modern West. "I feel very fortunate to have been welcomed in."

Sara Beck with Kevin Costner & Modern West, April 3-4 at Rams Head On Stage in Annapolis, is sold out. They will play April 5 at 8 p.m. at the Music Center at Strathmore, Bethesda. Tickets are $35-$90; available at http://www.strathmore.org. For more information, call 301-581-5200.

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