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Maplewood String Band - Gold Guitars performance 2021

From left Robbie Stevens, Monica Barkman and Greg Hings perform on the big stage at the 2021 Gold Guitars.

If it has strings, Monica Barkman can probably play it to some degree.

The online MBA Development Manager plays several string instruments including the guitar, bass, fiddle, and banjo. But it was her ability to play guitar that led to the beginnings of the Maplewood String Band.

“Back in 2019, Robbie Stevens, a very talented banjo player, invited me to play with him at a Dunedin Folk Club open-mic night one evening,” she says. Soon they were performing a song or two every Thursday night.

“Greg Hings, a former staffer at Uniprint, was the next to join and after playing together for some months we talked about entering the Gold Guitar Awards as a group.”

Maplewood entered the 2021 New Zealand Gold Guitar Awards, where the band won the 40-plus Traditional Section category. The same year, they also made it into the finals for the New Zealand song, with a song written by Monica, her husband Geoff and Allison Brown who worked in the University Library.

This year, with a different lineup, they were the runner-up in the ‘Freeze Ya Bits Off Busking’ held in Gore in the week prior to the 2023 Gold Guitars.

Maplewood primarily plays bluegrass music and draws inspiration from old time American string bands.

“Our music is lively and energetic, and everybody sings.”

Maplewood now has four or five members at any time, with musicians ‘coming and going’ over the years. The band is somewhat of an Otago affair, Monica says.

“With the exception of two members, all of us have a connection to Otago, either as current or former staff members or students. We’ve even had a couple who were visiting academics play with us a while back.”

Maplewood String Band - Jo Bone sketch image

Otago’s Jo Bone sketched and painted this picture of Maplewood performing at the Farmers Market. Jo, who works as an Academic Resource Officer, enjoys sketching en plein air and making art in her free time.

Monica only started performing in 2012 and calls herself a late bloomer when it comes to being on stage but is drawn to the magic of creating a ‘clean sound’ when musicians that gel well perform together.

“It’s like ESP when our band comes together, it feels like we can read each other’s minds to create music that everyone enjoys.”

Maplewood is becoming a regular on the local music circuit, having performed at events in and around Dunedin, music festivals like Tussock Country Music Festival in Gore and even a wedding. They are also a fixture at the weekly Otago Farmers Market, she says.

Music is a two-way street, Monica says; she enjoys seeing people sing and dance along with the band.

“There’s a wonderful community feel while playing at the Farmers Market. We often get people requesting songs, joining us in the singing or playing an instrument.”

Monica is keen to expand her musical horizons and is planning a trip to the USA sometime and maybe take part in musical retreats to learn from some of ‘the greats’.

For Maplewood, the performances will continue, Monica says, with the Whare Flat Folk Festival over the New Year fast approaching.

“We’ll just carry on and keep doing what we’re doing while we’re all still enjoying it.”

~ Kōrero by Sandra French, Adviser - Internal Communications

  • Maplewood

    Maplewood’s current lineup, from left Jackson Larrivee, Robbie Stevens, Monica Barkman and Russell Phillips.

  • Maplewood

    Robbie Stevens, Monica Barkman and Greg Hings with the Gold Guitar

  • Busking

    Busking in the winter! Maplewood at the ‘Freeze Ya Bits Off Busking’ at Gore.

  • Maplewood

    The Maplewood lineup featuring visiting Otago academics Steve and Katey Abbott (on the left), with Monica Barkman and Robbie Stevens.

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