Rolling with the Tides
by Nancy E. McCarthy
GRAMMY Award winner Lonnie Park grew up in the small village of Freeville in Tompkins County. His Freeville roots go back generations. It’s where Park raised his sons and still lives with his wife Jody. Freeville (pop. 523) is near Ithaca, but worlds away from the music hubs of New York City, Los Angeles and Nashville.
Living in a remote outpost can present a disadvantage for a music career. But those who know Park aren’t surprised by the 2021 GRAMMY he won for co-producing Divine Tides, a New Age album featuring Indian composer Ricky Kej and drummer Stewart Copeland of the legendary rock band The Police.
“He was born to do this,” says Kevin Hicks, a lifelong friend and creative collaborator. “As a musician and producer, I think Lonnie’s biggest strength is his flexibility. He has had his hands on everything from rap to country to world music and he executes it all very authentically.”
“He didn’t win this GRAMMY by accident. He did it through talent and perseverance,” says Chris Xaver, a former colleague and close friend. “His motto is, ‘Say yes to everything.’” It piles work on but clearly paid off.
The recognition is even sweeter because before high school, Park didn’t listen to contemporary music. His strict Baptist religion considered secular music inappropriate, even sinful. Yet Park’s innate talent and perseverance eventually prevailed. It helped that his parents supported his passion. When they witnessed how gifted and focused their son was, it reframed their own core beliefs.
Park’s strict Baptist upbringing forbade secular music. His parents altered their own core beliefs to support their son’s chosen musical career.
Park’s father passed away in November 2019 and he was unable to witness his son’s remarkable GRAMMY achievement. After Park’s win, he received a text from his mother:
“What a blessing to watch your best vocational reward by the music world to date. You will have many more in the future and your truly amazing blessings will be personal, spiritual, and family. Not there to hug you but ask Audette to give you your Mom hug. You blessed the Village of Freeville! A 1 square mile Village with your name attached to it.
3 generations of us were born and raised there from 1914 to 1947 to 1968 and 1970. Our roots are deep there. Your proudest attendee to the event was your Dad standing at a portal in Heaven watching and cheering you on. I know he was watching. Did you sense him? Love you more than you know. Your One and Only Mom”
Creating in the Finger Lakes
“The Finger Lakes Region is a very creative and art-minded area, a beautiful place to create music and art,” says Park. “I absolutely love the familiarity to where I grew up, the people are amazing, and the setting is inspiring.”
Church and gospel music were prominent in his formative years. His mother Sally was church pianist and father Leonard played guitar. Park and his sister Audette played piano. In his teens, he began writing original Christian music and performing in church with Hicks. Park also sang and learned to play many instruments by ear including various guitars, bass, drums, banjo, and harmonica.
In 1986, after transferring from private Baptist school to Dryden High School for his senior year, Park dove into contemporary music. “I loved ’80s hard rock from Def Leppard to Tesla and eventually progressive rock like Dream Theater.” Park and Hicks talked music, listened to music and formed bands together.
Park attended Tompkins Cortland Community College (TC3) as a communications major by default; there wasn’t an audio program. He left after a year to chase his music dream. Park married and became a father at 20. Nick was born in 1988, Dorian in 1990.
After Park had an established music career, he finished his TC3 degree. As there was still a dearth of audio production courses, he partnered with Xaver, chair of Communication and Media Arts, to fill the gap. They developed a TC3 Broadcast Production program, which included audio courses with professional-grade equipment. Park also taught a recording production class for a couple of years. It was a subject he wished had been available to him.
A Career in Music
“People jokingly say that ‘music is my life,’ but I can genuinely say that my professional life has been music since I was about 20,” says Park.
From 1992 until 2010, Park and business partner Steve Barnes owned The Ultimate Music Center, a music store, recording studio and pro-audio business in Cortland. Park focused on the recording and pro-audio side. He was a hands-on parent while he continued to produce, write, record and perform music.
Some career highlights included the thrill of Park’s first record label recording (playing piano on Wrathchild America’s 3-D album on Atlantic Records); serving as recording engineer for country legend Merle Haggard (Park phoned his father and kept the call connected so his dad could hear the session); forming Ten Man Push with singer/guitarist John West, releasing two albums, being named “Official Band of American Motocross” after MX Racing used their original song “In the Dirt” as its theme song and performing at major motocross events.
Park and Hicks often intersected creatively, sometimes leading to serendipitous outcomes. When Hicks was selling online music libraries, Park contributed a piano loop library: short musical passages that composers mix and match to create songs.
Singaporean composer Arun Shenoy purchased Park’s loops and then invited Park to collaborate as a composer/performer on his next album, Rumbadoodle (Gypsy Rumba Flamenco “doodling” across other music genres). A 2012 GRAMMY Award nominee in the Pop Instrumental Album category, it was a career milestone for Park.
Park and Kej shared many exhilarating concert experiences. In 2016, they performed in the United Nations General Assembly Hall (live-streamed worldwide) when Kej received the Excellence and Leadership award as a global humanitarian artist. In 2020, they played a show during a popular Indian beach festival. Park was glad he found out after the concert that there were 88,000 attendees. He has struggled with stage fright and even wrote a song about it. “Make Your Mamma Proud” is on his solo country rock album Almost Showtime.
A Divine Friendship
Ricky Kej is an internationally renowned, award-winning composer, performer and environmentalist in Bangalore, India. Lonnie Park is a singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and record producer in Freeville, USA.
Mutual friends urged them to collaborate. “Our work flow was fantastic and rolled into other music projects,” says Park. “We became best of friends. We tour together, write together and we won a GRAMMY together.”
Kej describes Park as an important collaborator on all his projects since 2016. “I cannot describe how amazing it has been to have Lonnie in my musical life. He fronts our band all over the world.”
In 2020, they partnered on a follow-up to Kej’s Winds of Samsara album (a 2015 GRAMMY winner). The two invited virtuoso percussionist Copeland to join them. The result was the richly textured soundscapes, melodies and pulsating rhythms of Divine Tides featuring Kej, Copeland and international guest artists. “The emotional impact of these mixes of culture is very profound. I am sometimes moved to tears by the beauty of this music,” says Copeland.
The three co-produced the album. Park was also a mixing and mastering engineer and involved in the complex logistics to bring the project to completion – no small feat with all recordings executed remotely during the pandemic.
A GRAMMY Award is a music career pinnacle. “The moment we were announced as winners was one where you just pray this isn’t a dream,” says Park. It was a dream come true!
Park’s marriage ended in 2003. He wed longtime girlfriend Jody Mosher in July 2018. Park’s recording studio, Barncastle Studio, is attached to their house.
Jody is supportive and engaged in his career decisions. “A music career is tricky to navigate and sustain alone,” says Park. “It really is amazing to have love and support from a partner in your personal life and professional life.”
In April 2022, Jody was by his side at the GRAMMYs in Las Vegas. “It was surreal,” she says. “For Lonnie it was an overwhelming mix of emotions – nerves followed by sheer joy and a huge sense of achievement.” The couple celebrated afterwards at a star-studded party in Barry Manilow’s penthouse suite.
Some of Park’s friends, family and fans back home feted his award in June at The Center for the Arts of Homer. The catered event included live performances by Park and some of his musical collaborators as well as videotaped messages of congratulations from around the world.
It’s back to business for Park now: another solo album, writing and singing on movie soundtracks, producing artists and more Kej collaborations. Pre-GRAMMY, he had a steady work flow but the award opened some new doors. It’s an incentive for others to seek him out in the tiny village of Freeville.
That’s a win for Park, his clients and his collaborators.
Visit lonniepark.com for more information. Follow Park on Facebook and Instagram.