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By Karen Newell Young
In tune with the foothills
Sands Hall is a musician, actor, writer and director, but one of her latest accomplishments is bringing performers and songwriters together for a cabaret style mix of music and wine.
She launched Songwriter Sunday two years ago to bring some of her favorite writers and musicians together at the Nevada City Winery.
The bi-monthly event has featured, among others, songwriters Kelly Fleming, Saul and Elena Rayo, Juliet Gobert, Nory Fussell and Robert Hairnedt. The final songwriters’ event of the season, on Sunday, Aug. 7, features Stephen Holland.
“The idea behind it was to bring people together in a convivial atmosphere to listen to lyrics and the stories behind the songs,” Hall said. “We all play a musical instrument and sing, but aside from that our approaches to music and our lyrics are all quite different.”
Hall’s path took many turns before landing her in Nevada City. It’s fair to say that she followed the path of a writer, musician and actor through many gigs, including stints in San Francisco, Iowa and Squaw Valley.
The daughter of acclaimed author Oakely Hall, who wrote “Warlock” and “The Downhill Racers,” both of which were turned into movies, Hall has been surrounded by writers her entire life.
She grew up in Squaw Valley, where her parents founded the annual Community of Writers, a family business — her sister Brett Hall Jones is now its executive director— where she has worked for most of its 47 years.
It was serendipity that brought her to Nevada County. After earning two Master’s degrees, she was at a crossroads in her life and wondering what direction to take.
While teaching at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival, she met a woman who said she had an apartment to rent in Grass Valley. She saw the apartment, took in the beauty of the foothills and attended a grape-stomping event that featured all kinds of musicians. She decided it was her kind of town.
“It all seemed so lovely,” Hall said. “I thought, ‘what a cool little town.’ ”
Among the things that drew her to Nevada City was The Foothill Theatre Company, for which she acted and directed. The now defunct company also produced her play, “Fair Use,” which explores the long debated plagiarism in Wallace Stegner’s “Angle of Repose.” She also published the novel “Catching Heaven,” a 2001 Willa Award Finalist for Best Contemporary Fiction. She currently teaches creative writing at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa.
Hall graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in drama from the University of California, Irvine. She also earned two Master of Fine Arts degrees from the University of Iowa, one in theatre arts and the second in fiction from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. And she studied at the American Conservatory Theatre Advanced Training Program in San Francisco.
Through songwriting, penning stories and writing plays, Hall is not so much a free spirit as a free agent — she is able to cross boundaries as easily as she writes lyrics, always with words as her guide.
“My fascination has always been with words,” Hall said. “Spoken as well as written. That is the common denominator.”
Hall will perform with Maggie McKaig and Randy McKean, young songwriter Hayley Prichard and featured songwriter Holland at 5 p.m. Aug.7 at the Nevada City Winery.

Sands Hall’s latest venture a mix of wine and music