by Nancy E. McCarthy
Ithaca area folk musician Travis Knapp is recording his fifth studio album and he’s very excited about it. It’s been a while. The last album Knapp released was One by One back in 2018. “The main reason it’s been so long is because I hadn’t been writing very many songs during that time,” he explained.
While some songwriters exploded with creativity after the 2020 onset of COVID-19, Knapp instead pulled inward and spent time with loved ones and at home on his farm. The eventual result: 10 reflective songs (including the pandemic-inspired “We Will Get Through This”) on the new album he’s releasing next year.
The pandemic also shut down his livelihood: teaching music, performing, accompanying work and theater. In 2020, he dove into farming because it was something not affected by lockdowns. Farming wasn’t new to Knapp but it became a full-time endeavor. He grew, dried and sold organic culinary and medicinal herbs.
These days, Knapp happily splits his time between writing, recording and performing music and farming at Heartseed Herb Farm in Erin where he and his wife, folk artist Annie Sumi, live.
Knapp grew up in Cazenovia until he was five and then Clinton. He was active in various sports and an outdoorsy kid, but music-making was also a big part of family life. Knapp’s two older siblings played guitar, piano and flute. His parents are now retired and his father takes piano lesson while his mother, who plays piano and clarinet, sings in a community rock choir.
Although he could already play, Knapp started piano lessons at age 5. He played violin from fourth until ninth grade. As a teen, he was inspired by his cool older brother to pick up the acoustic guitar and learn classic rock songs. He sang in his high school choir and musicals. Much later, in 2012, he discovered the banjo.
Knapp moved to Ithaca to attend music school at Ithaca College (IC). He sang with Ithacapella, IC’s all-male a cappella group where he learned about performing and putting on a show. Knapp overcame his performance anxiety thanks to Ithacapella and performing as an accompanist to many singers. He wrote songs during his college years, too.
Knapp graduated in 2007. He remained in the area because of the beautiful landscapes, vibrant music scene and thriving organic agricultural community. In 2008, Knapp won the BMI Foundation’s John Lennon Award – an annual competition which awards cash scholarships to outstanding student songwriters – for his original song “Before You Go” and was flown to L.A. for the ceremony.
It was the first of many meaningful musical milestones to come: releasing his first album Bright New Way in 2013; winning “Best of Bound for Glory” performer on WVBR-FM’s live folk radio broadcast in 2016; named “Best Falcon Ridge Folk Festival Emerging Artist” in 2019 and much more.
In addition to his busy music career, Knapp nourished a deep love of plants and a particular interest in farming and wild-harvesting methods that strive to co-exist with and preserve natural eco-systems. From 2011 through 2104, he combined his two passions working as head gardener and musician-in-residence for Body Mind Restoration Retreats at the Ithaca Zen Center. The garden provided sustenance to retreat attendees and he relished performing for the guests.
“When people are on a retreat and tending to their physical, mental and spiritual well-being, they are receptive to music in a way that is rare to find in the “normal” bustling world,” said Knapp. It led him to approach music with more reverence and a respect for the impact it can have on an open-hearted listener.
“His music and vocals always brought joy and magical camaraderie to our guests,” said David Radin, retreat founder and director. Knapp played at special music nights during retreats and frequently entertained the guests spontaneously. “He and his music are beautiful and moving. Whenever I think of him I smile.”
In 2014, Knapp left his retreat position and moved to the farm in Erin – a calm environment to focus on music. He released two more albums: All the Stars You Hold in 2014 and For Everything That’s Good in 2016.
In 2017, Knapp, an avid cyclist, embarked on a bicycle-powered solo music tour. “I’d done bike tours and music tours but never together,” he explained. He took a train to Oakland, CA and for six weeks pedaled 1,000 miles north to Vancouver, BC, Canada. Along his planned route, he visited friends and family, stopped to play 15 shows and wrote some songs. “Writing to the rhythm of the turning bicycle pedals is very satisfying,” Knapp said.
Back home, Knapp was involved in numerous music projects. While he continued to perform and record as a solo artist, he connected with musicians Jon Keefner and Kiera Carman. The three played as the house band during circus shows at Ithaca’s Circus Culture for two years. They eventually formed the Travis Knapp Trio and perform Knapp’s songs together. “It’s great because we have a nice full sound instrumentally and vocally,” said Knapp.
He was also involved in Ithaca’s Kitchen Theater as an accompanist, performer and then as music director for some shows. “I love his songs and his lyrics. He has such an honest and open approach to writing and performing,” said Rachel Lambert, a friend and the theater’s artistic director for a decade. “I always feel like he takes me on a journey to reflect on life, relationships and the world around us when I listen to his albums.”
In 2019, Knapp met Canadian folk singer/musician Annie Sumi during the Northeast Regional Folk Alliance conference in Stamford, CT. “Her music was deeply moving to me, and we started writing letters after some brief conversations at the conference,” Knapp said. The pen pals developed a romance but during the early pandemic, they were often separated by the complications of border crossing. “While I tended the homestead in New York, Annie was living in Ontario,” he said. “It felt like a holding pattern, a waiting game.” Knapp’s song “North” explores those feelings.
The couple married on June 28, 2022 at the farm. While they maintain their separate music careers (Sumi has released three albums to date), they often perform shows together. Sumi sings and plays guitar on Knapp’s forthcoming album, a chamber folk collection of songs that also features the Trio and a string quartet.
Knapp and Sumi performed together at a Fruition Seeds farm concert in Naples this past July. Knapp, who purchases organic seeds and plants from Fruition, is also a longtime friend of the owners Matthew Goldfarb and Petra Page-Mann. He has played several shows at Fruition through the years.
“Travis is a dear friend and phenomenal musician,” said Page-Mann. “I love how he puts to music and words feelings, emotions and dreams that are so relatable.”
Aside from finishing and releasing his new album, Knapp’s next focus is to play more live shows across the Finger Lakes Region. He’s performed in a wide variety of venues – locally, across the country and abroad – sharing his uplifting music and stories with appreciative audiences. “Travis has an extraordinary way of bringing hope and life in a time when so much feels hopeless and lost,” Page-Mann said.
Like scattered seeds taking root in fertile ground, Knapp connects deeply with his audiences through his music.
Visit travisknapp.com for more information. Follow Knapp on Facebook and Instagram @travisknappmusic.