Mama’s Broke: Live in Harrisburg, PA

Mama's Broke

Here at GDW, nothing beats enjoying live music!  When the live music experience happens to take place close to home, even better – especially on those pesky work day evenings. When the live music being performed close to home features Canadian artists, how can we stay away?  

The fine folks at Susquehanna Folk Music Society always bring a variety of solid global acts to the PA mid-state, leaving us paying attention when they announce their concert series schedules. Once the 2023-24 season was made official, we immediately noticed that Nova Scotia JUNO-nominated folk duo Mama’s Broke would be gracing the stage at Fort Hunter’s Barn on a Tuesday night.

Mama's Broke

We discovered this duo back in 2018 at a Canadian music festival, and took delight in how they successfully fused traditional and contemporary folk music with bluegrass, Acadian, and Balkan influences. Circling the date on our calendar, tickets were promptly purchased – and after one of those pesky work days, we capped the evening with two solid sets of music from Amy Lou Keeler (vocals/banjo/guitar) and Lisa Maria (vocals/fiddle/mandolin/percussion).

It may have been a cool November Tuesday evening, but Mama’s Broke were greeted to the barn stage by a packed room, and the duo would reward all present with two sets of music featuring tunes from their “Count The Wicked” and “Narrow Line” albums, along with some traditional and other folk covers. Opening with the instrumental introduction to “Even Though” – Lisa simultaneously performed fiddle and podorythmie whilst accompanied by Amy on banjo – before adding their vocal harmonies to this tune from their debut album. “It’s great to be back in this area, we saw a beautiful sunset on our drive in,” Lisa shared following the song. “We’re mostly from Nova Scotia, but only spend about a week of the year as a band there, so it’s a vague home base.”

Mama's Broke

Naturally, the duo happily shared tales behind their music, delighting the room with some insights of how these latest songs had developed. “I’m originally from Nova Scotia, grew up outside of a town of about 600 or 700 people, so there wasn’t much to do,” Amy offered prior to “Windows.” “I spent a lot of time looking out onto Wallace Bay right where my house was, and dreaming of getting into a boat and sailing away. I thought it was the Atlantic Ocean, and that if I did sail, I would get to Europe in a day or two. I eventually did start travelling and went all over the world, then spent a decent amount of time fantasizing about going back home,” adding that this strange sort of duality inspired the song.

As for the latest album’s title track, Amy would once again take advantage of ‘tuning time’ to provide the audience with some more tales from behind the scenes. “We wrote this one over the course of a few years. Some songs take a few hours, some take a few years,” she recalled. “This one kind of grew every verse with an indirect response to things that were happening in the world and in our lives, and then we recorded it at the pinnacle of the pandemic in Montreal, a winter lockdown, and it was the time where we had to remind ourselves to keep things simple and just get through the storm.”

Mama's Broke

Having tuned the banjo whilst sharing that tale, Amy promptly handed the instrument to Lisa (who also played acoustic guitar on select tunes too) for the performance of “Narrow Line.” Not to be outdone, Amy would also remove her guitar mid-tune on another tune, picking up fiddle sticks and rhythmically tapping them against Lisa’s fiddle neck while the instrument was being played during a solo. “We’re going to do a traditional song about dating,” Amy stated prior to a later number. “Does she live?” asked an audience member, this folk society being all too familiar with the ill-fate of womenfolk in these older compositions. “She lives, she definitely lives, she thrives in this one because this is about a woman who is sort of very unimpressed with a man who is really bad at growing corn,” Amy continued. “She is like, ‘I have no time for this.’ This is the American folk music traditional version of ‘No Scrubs’.”

Closing the show with a stunning combination of some delta blues (“Dying Blues”) and the up-tempo banjo and fiddle ‘breakup song’ fueled “How It Ends,” Amy and Lisa would exit the stage to a standing ovation. Returning for a short encore, the decision was quickly made to send the audience home with a traditional Cajun tune. “This song is also about dating,” Amy offered, tying back to an earlier theme. “It’s also full of red flags,” Lisa added, earning nods from many around her. “A lot of these old Cajun tunes are so high drama,” Amy continued. “My favorite pick-up line of all time is in this song, and it’s: If I had five days left in my life, I’d give away three of them to spend two with you, I want to die in your arms. Try that one out, and see how far it gets. If you say it in French, it’ll probably work a lot better.”  Appreciating the laughter bouncing around the room, Mama’s Broke would perform the song in French, demonstrating their incredible versatility once more, and earning an open invitation to return to the PA mid-state again soon.

Set List:

  1. Even Though
  2. Just Pick One
  3. Windows
  4. Silver Dagger (Trad.)
  5. Count The Wicked
  6. Silver Whistle (Silly Sisters cover)
  7. *Trad. Balkan music
  8. Wrecking Need
  9. Narrow Line
  10. The Wreckage Done
  11. The Boy Who Couldn’t Hoe Corn (Trad.)
  12. Dirty Mattresses
  13. The Ones That I Love
  14. Dying Blues (Coot Grant & Kid Wilson cover)
  15. How It Ends


  1. *Trad. Cajun cover

The British guy that crossed the ocean and crash landed in central Pennsylvania (to quote Greg Keelor, “And I wonder what am I doing here?”). As the youngest of four siblings, exposure to music from a very early age nurtured my passion and appreciation for many musical genres. Continuing to discover some amazingly diverse and talented musicians based in Canada, I gravitate to live music experiences and remain devoted to spreading the word about such a vibrant music scene.

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