Katie Conrad, English Prof and Local Band Member

Katie Conrad is an associate professor of English and a member of the Lawrence band, MAW


The Lawrence band MAW is a group with deep KU connections. Fiddle player Kit Cole works at KU on course content accessibility. Three other band members Tracy Floreani (guitar, vocals), Julie Schwarting (bass,vocals)and Jeanie Wells (guitar, banjo, vocals) are KU alumnae and mandolin player and vocalist Katie Conrad is an associate professor of English. MAW plays fiddle tunes and story songs, “about things like murder, mining, lost love, murder. Did I mention murder?” Conrad said.

We caught up with Conrad and asked her a few questions about the band and her passion for music.

When did you get involved with music and why?

I’ve always been interested in music—I had a record player that I would listen to every night before going to sleep, starting around age 5. I sang in a church choir for 12 years, and played a little guitar (and, much less successfully, piano and violin) when I was younger.  My husband, Kory Willis, who is a talented multi-instrumentalist, taught me to play the mandolin shortly after we met—maybe around 2000.

How did you get involved with this group in particular?

We were all friends already — several of our spouses were in bands together, and we were looking for an excuse to hang out more often. And my band mate Jeanie (banjo, guitar, vocals) wanted a band named MAW before we ever got together, just as a spoof on the successful Lawrence indie rock band PAW.  (Incidentally, Mark Hennessy of PAW just received his doctorate from the English department.) 

 What is your favorite song to play?

That’s a hard one. Right now, though we have a lot of originals and traditional songs I love, I think it’s our cover of the Woody Guthrie song “Do Re Mi.”  We played it in Oklahoma recently and our audience—every single one of them—sang along to the chorus.  Plus I get to play kazoo.

 Where do you typically play? And where is your favorite place you’ve played?MAW2

There’s not really a typical for us; we’ve played festivals and different kinds of events, including the KU Common Book Party last spring. But we are a bar band, really, and our most frequent venue of late has been Frank’s North Star Tavern. 

One of my favorite places to have played was a venue in Cobden, Illinois, called The Old Feed Store.  We got the gig because I was going to be giving a lecture at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale and I thought it would be fun to have company on the drive.  We didn’t know anyone in the music scene there, so we were coming up empty, but we finally got a bite and I arranged a gig at a place none of us had ever heard of in a tiny town in the hills. We played there after I’d driven all day and given an academic lecture (all on two hours of sleep). It was such a pleasant surprise—great sound, great venue, a generous and fun audience, and even great pay. It is rare to get all of those things at once.

What is the most unusual thing that has happened with the group since you’ve been involved?

I think the strangest things have happened on our mini-tours, like the one to Cobden/Carbondale.  Something unusual happens.  One mini-tour to Indiana involved a stop in St. Louis.  We played at the City Museum in the evening outside of a little log cabin set up as bar (it’s now an ice-cream shop) on the grounds of the museum. That place is crazy in a wholesome way during the day, but once the sun goes down, it apparently gets weird.  We felt like a freak show in a Fellini film.  It was outdoors and excruciatingly humid, so we were miserable, and our “stage” was approximately 20 feet from a giant ball pit in which surly pre-teens hurled balls at each other in a demonic game of dodgeball while their parents ignored them—and us—and drank beer sullenly.

What is your favorite thing about being part of the group?

Hanging out with my band mates.  And watching people in the audience enjoying themselves.