The Local Music Makers ...
Amy and Jeff Benedict, our new favorite couple, have an endearing and enduring chemistry both on and off stage. Getting to know them as a couple is easy, even as they
entertain us from the stage.
by Peggy Ratusz
If it weren’t for my vocal coaching side hustle, chances are I would have never met Jeff and Amy Benedict. They were the first “couple” I ever coached.
For their band My New Favorites, they wanted help polishing up harmonies and smoothing out their blend.
Gradually we started spending time together after our sessions ended, commiserating about life, love and the pursuit of the perfectly written song. Pretty soon we were attending each other’s performances and with my husband Bryan, double dating.
I called them up for this interview and the first question I asked was, “When was the first time you felt that romantic chemistry?”
Jeff answers: “The first time I saw Amy I thought she was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen, which was inconvenient since at that time we were both with other people. It wasn’t until years later that we were able to express ourselves. So we had to put our feelings on the back burner.”
Jeff, Amy and her then spouse were actually in a band together. Amy played guitar and Jeff played claw hammer banjo in that project. Eventually and after everyone went their separate ways, the opportunity arose for Jeff to call up Amy and ask her out on a date.
“I was excited to hear from him because I’d been attracted to his overall positive energy,” Amy reveals. “He is active and adventurous; into doing the same things I like to do. And of course, his musicianship attracted me and still attracts me.”
I ask about how their band, My New Favorites started. Amy explains, “Years after we were married, Jeff came to me and said, ‘I’m writing a lot of music so I need you to learn how to play string bass so we can start a band.’ ”
An accomplished swing dancer, Amy appreciates the rhythm that an upright bass provides on the dancefloor, so she was excited to learn to play one. For her birthday in 2009, Jeff took her on a “secret” road trip. Unbeknownst to her, it was so she could pick out a tour-worthy string bass.
“As we meandered through this neighborhood in Fishersville, VA I was puzzled and kept asking – ‘where are we going? Where are you taking me?’ So we pull up to this house and we knock on the door and we walk inside to find that this guy’s entire home is full of Kay basses. And I mean in every room!” Jeff interjects and says “He had a very understanding wife.”
It took Amy over five hours to choose the bass that’s been her perfect onstage dance partner for the past fourteen years.
My New Favorites was born in 2010 and for a while there, Jeff was the only male member. He quips, “It was the first band I was in where shoes were often the topic of conversation and the question ‘what are we gonna wear?’ was a concern.”
Conversely, it was the first band Amy was in where she wasn’t the only female member having to put up with what we all put up with when there’s boys in the band.
Though members have come and gone, Jeff and Amy’s pride beams for their current and “favorite” members, Jason Carpenter on drums and Westly (with a “t”) Harris on fiddle. These two virtuosos have been with the group for five years.
Jason’s Jazz and marching band leadership background brings a dynamic that shows up in unexpected ways. Jeff uses the word “remarkable” several times while describing his band mate.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve turned to him in amazement after he’s done something out of the ordinary that works. He brings this polyrhythmic notion to our sound that Amy refers to as “Eclecticana-Roots.”
Copper Hill, Tennessee native, Westley Harris “is a phenomenal talent on fiddle and effortlessly plays different styles and fits in so very well,” Jeff gushes.
“With a look or a lick on guitar, he’ll amp up the intensity, digging deeper in just the right way at just the right moment. His overall style and approach elevates our game in a myriad of ways.”
Jeff is the conduit for their compelling original material. His writing style runs a gamut between danceable murder ballads to profoundly sad or romantic love songs, to humorous ditties ripe for singin’ along with lyrics that peak and hold interest.
“The world is full of hooks if you just pay attention. There’s no linear path for me that’s predictable when it comes to writing. I get ideas; I put them on the page. As the tune evolves in our collaborative rehearsals, whatever idea I started with might not make the final cut.
"Whatever tempo or style I felt strongly would work might not in the long run. So I shed a tear and move on – or put those elements in another song.”
Amy’s passion for painting, dancing and playing music as she explains it are, “woven together like a ball of yarn inside of me.” When she heard Old Time music for the first time, she had to dance to it.
When everyone around her was playing music, she learned to play guitar. Painters she was in awe of, inspired her to pick up a brush. “Music, art and rhythm excite me; and when I’m on stage, I especially love it when people are dancing!”
Amy and Jeff have an endearing and enduring chemistry both on and off stage. Getting to know them as a couple is easy, even as they entertain us from stage. Whether it’s their playful teasing back and forth or his heartfelt nod or her flirtatious glance, the feels just wash over audiences like a warm hug.
From Bristol Rhythm & Roots Music Festival to dance halls, breweries and house parties, you’ll find them touring Tennessee, Virginia and the Carolinas any time of the year. To follow them, visit their website: https://www.mynewfavorites.com/
As we begin to wrap things up, Jeff reminds me that “We’re sometimes referred to as great; but we’re always referred to as fun!”
Peggy’s February Show Schedule:
Thurs Feb 1st, River Arts District Brewing – Acoustic Blues with Kelly Jones & Peggy Ratusz, 6pm-8pm
Fri Feb 2nd, Highland Brewery Downtown with Jonathan Pearlman, 6pm-8pm
Sat Feb 3rd, One World West Invitational Blues Showcase with Peggy Ratusz & Daddy LongLegs Blues Band, 4pm-7pm
Sat Feb 10th, Purple Onion Café, Saluda, NC Peggy Ratusz Trio 7pm-9pm
Thurs Feb 15th, River Arts District Brewing, Acoustic Blues with Kelly Jones & Peggy Ratusz, 6pm-8pm
Sat Feb 17th – Trailside Brewing Hendersonville, Peggy Ratusz Trio feat Kelly Jones & Ryan Kijanka, 6pm-9pm
Peggy Ratusz is a vocal coach,
song interpreter, and songwriter.
For vocal coaching email her at