Curious about the other submissions? All songs submitted here!
Thanks so much, Happy Thanksgiving, and happy voting!
That's right! I recently learned open tunings and slide guitar techniques this past August at Song School and I wrote my first slide guitar song! I recorded a rough demo for a song contest. Two lucky winners (50% by votes, 50% by judges' scoring) will get their song fully produced & a full marketing plan implemented for things like radio & TV placements. YOUR VOTE helps!
Curious about the other submissions? All songs submitted here!
Thanks so much, Happy Thanksgiving, and happy voting!
It's hard to believe that my last post was nearly a year ago! A lot has changed for me - physically, emotionally, and musically, and many of these changes impacted the progress on my album. However, I'm back in the studio TODAY! I couldn't possibly be more excited about it!
For my friends in the Midwest, I'm coming home for Thanksgiving, and I'd love to see you! Aside from family time for Thanksgiving (and with my dear friends for Friendsgiving), I am playing a few shows, and I'd love for you to join me! The first one is on Sunday, Nov. 19 at Council Hill Station. My sweetheart Dave Jensen and I are opening with a short performance, and then we're opening it up for an acoustic jam, so bring whatever you'd like to play! We're also doing an opening set at The Lift in Dubuque on Friday, Nov. 24th. We start at 10, and Dave Zollo goes on around 11 pm. We've been working on a blues duo with me primarily on tenor sax. It's different than what you've seen me do in the past, so come check it out! More details about our shows here!
Many of you may know I have a new band called The Catcalls. This is a dream project, and I'm so honored to be working with the talented Kayleen Patrick on this. We're planning a spring tour through the Midwest, so stay tuned! If you're interested in a house concert or have an idea for a venue near you, let us know here!
For a glimpse of The Catcalls and a sneak peek of a Nina Simone tune I'm planning to record today, here's a short clip. If you want to see more, check out our website!
Thanks for your love and support, friends! I hope we can cross paths soon!
Big things are happening - and quickly. I just released my most recent single, "Bloodhounds" and a music video for it. I can't wait to get back in the studio and record the rest of the album - and you can be part of it!
I just launched a Kickstarter to open up pre-orders for my album (and other really cool ways to get involved!). I'm nervous - this is definitely the state of vulnerability Amanda Palmer talks about in The Art of Asking. However, I'm really excited about the project, and I hope people who know me and my music are too. I'm really happy with "Bloodhounds," and that's just the beginning!
What I'm most looking forward to is collaborating with my Producer's Circle for this project. As a one-woman band, I get lost in my thoughts and miss the collaborative nature of being in a band. I miss having other perspectives for my music, so this is a really great way to get multiple perspectives from people who already get me and my music.
I'm also excited to be kicking off my Kickstarter campaign along with my Bloodhounds tour! I hope to see my midwestern friends and family while I'm on the road!
More information here!
Updated! New Job, new song, new beginning
So much is shifting right now, and I feel like I'm still at the beginning. I just quit my part-time job, bought a tour van, volunteered for a week at Girls Rock Denver, started an old time duo, played a show at one of the biggest venues in town, and just spent my first day at Song School. Also, I've been writing for the Bolder Beat, and you can read my published work online. So far, I've covered the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, the CROMA festival, and (most recently) Folks Fest (which gives you a bit more background on what I'm doing right now: Song School!).
When I emailed my boss regarding my two-weeks notice, I concluded with this:
"This decision is terrifying, but liberating at the same time, and of all people I suspect you will understand the most. The week after next, I'm at Song School all week, and I feel like there's no better way to baptize me into this new commitment in my life."
I see this week as a huge opportunity for growth, so I'll be sharing my updates here!
Today began with Kathy Mattea sharing how music remained a way for her to connect with her mother, even during her late stages of Alzheimers. From there, I attended Paul Reisler's "Directed Songwriting" class. We were partnered at random to share a moment in our lives that changed us. I am fortunate to be partnered with a really incredible woman named Jude, and I'm looking forward to Thursday when we share the songs we wrote for each other's stories! After lunch, I attended a workshop on song forms, and I really got a deeper understanding of ways to differentiate refrains from choruses and all the things a hook can be. Furthermore, she introduced specific forms, one of which I was unfamiliar with (the 32-bar A A B A song), and we discussed how bands like The Beatles modified the structures to make the songs stand out (but retain a sense of familiarity to listeners). During the next session, a song listening session where musicians get feedback on their songs, I was surprised by my friend Hassan from American Nomad who was coming through town on his book tour and bought a last-minute ticket from someone who couldn't make it. After a camp cookout, we watched the open stage performances before finding some song circles in the campground. It's been a full day, and I'm looking forward to tomorrow!
Days 2 & 3
I can’t believe how quickly these last few days have gone. It’s already the last day of Song School, and I’m already feeling there’s so much more to do when time feels like it’s slipping out of reach. Days 2 & 3 were so formative. In addition to my “Directed Songwriting” class, I sat in on a master class with Pat Pattison (who is incredible - and if I can come back next year, I’m definitely pursuing his class, which is limited to 12 pre-selected students). I learned so much just by watching him workshop students’ songs, especially in regards to the lyrics and melodies, and I sat in on Steve Seskin’s class on melody, which really illuminated specific structures of melody in ways I haven’t thought of before. I also attended a workshop on children’s music, which is definitely a facet of music I’ve contemplated exploring. Furthermore, I heard a first-hand account of what it takes to tour internationally from Mike Beck, and I also got a one-on-one mentoring session with Darrell Scott. He gave me some great validating feedback on “Bloodhounds” and also gave me ideas on what to do with my song for Jude. Today, Jude and I will perform our songs (in whatever state they’re in) to each other. Although I still have work to do on mine, I’m excited to exchange what we’ve come up with so far. Being partnered with her has been one of my absolute favorite parts of this experience, and I’m looking forward to really doing her story justice and developing her song more fully.
I stayed up late Wednesday night and spent Thursday morning and my lunch break finishing my song for Jude. To do her (and her story) justice, I really wanted everything to be perfect, and yet in the 24-hour crunch time to write the song I didn't polish it quite at the level I wanted (or figure out a bridge for the song). However, it felt really good just to share it with her. Although I recorded my performance for her, I really want to tighten up my performance and make a nice video for her, because that's what she deserves. I'm looking forward to sharing that with you soon!
Aside from our Directed Songwriting performance class, I attended an impromptu workshop with Darrell Scott. He shared how his best songs come from raw inspiration - and chasing after that inspiration in the moment while it lasts. We ended the afternoon with a group song in the Wildflower Pavilion, singing "What a Goodly Thing," which led into us singing "Wade in the Water" while we walked into the St. Vrain River as a group. It was really powerful sharing that moment through music with the people I was surrounded with all week.
After this sense of communion, we had a group cookout and the final showcase. I was grateful to have an opportunity to perform for the final showcase and to be accompanied by the house band rhythm section, Ingrid Elizabeth (bass) and JJ Jones (drums). I'll be recording this tune with a full band for my next album!
So what's next?
I'm not really sure. I'm about as terrified as I am liberated. I haven't crunched the numbers, so I'm not even sure how much I need to make to survive. However, since putting trust in the universe, I've certainly had great opportunities come up, and I'm looking for ways to meet my financial needs without doing something that's in any way soul-crushing. After all, my confidence in quitting my job came after I spoke to my former boss at Whole Foods about why my time off for Rockygrass was ignored. He suggested I become a seasonal employee (which would give them clearance to hire someone else and grant me all the time off I need). The plan was to stay part-time for now and start seasonal employment in September, but at the time, I didn't have any gigs set up that month. I sat down with my white board (a child's toy I bought at Target for $10, thinking it would be great for jam sessions writing out chord progressions and for songwriting workshops that I've been planning to start leading for months) and brainstormed how I could make a living outside of Whole Foods within a month. When I looked at what I could start doing immediately (and long-term), I asked myself, "Why wait until next month?"
Since then, I've set up over a dozen shows for The Darling Ravens (my new duo with Clara!), I've done some busking, and I've started teaching lessons and classes at the Harmony Music House. I also applied for a grant through a local arts council (still waiting to hear back!) to fund songwriting workshops for at-risk demographics (including women's & children's shelters, homeless shelters, and women's & juvenile prisons). The Darling Ravens is also organizing an open mic / silent art auction as part of the Concert Across America to End Gun Violence to benefit the Crossroads Safehouse in Fort Collins. Although I'm a bit unsure of how everything is going to play out regarding my own finances, I feel so much better putting my efforts into things that I love and knowing that I can make a difference in people's lives, which is worth the risk.
Arriving back in Boulder and re-immersing myself in the daily grind has really been like waking from a dream. My first tour experience was beyond incredible. I've heard so many horror stories from touring musicians that I was bracing myself for the worst and hoping for the best. However, what actually unfolded was even better than the "best." Beyond what I hoped for (not having my car break down on the way to a gig, having my voice hold up for every show, not having to navigate through snow or heavy rain or tornados, having people show up for me in towns I've never been to before), all of that happened and so much more. Not only did people show up, but they shared so much appreciation for me and my music, and it created this reciprocity of love cycle in the rooms I played.
In my hometown, Monroe, WI, I was nervous about filling up a theatre, but I ended up being surrounded by packed seats and smiling faces, 90% of them belonging to people who raised me (my beginning violin instructor, my best friend since elementary school, my high school friends' parents, BOTH of my parents (who haven't been in the same room together in over a decade), cousins/aunts/uncles, family friends (some of whom probably changed my diaper), and too many other connections to list. At one point between songs, I said "They say it takes a village to raise a child, and it feels like that village is here tonight." When people asked how it went, all I can say is there was so much love in the room.
My other shows were all great, and all in their own ways. At Breckenridge, a woman who listened intently the entire time shared with me after the show that she is a violinist, though she doesn't have time to play anymore, nor an ensemble to play with. After chatting with her for some time, she apologetically asked if she could play my violin. I said, "Of course!" and she sat in the bar by herself playing through classical repertoire she could recall for about 15 - 20 minutes while I chatted with others and started packing up. When she brought my fiddle back, she handed my instrument to me like a priceless relic and thanked me, telling me that I have no idea what that meant to her. Really.
It was great to see more familiar faces at Spring Green, Galena, and Iowa City (which was recorded live! Special shoutout to Steve for the killer mic!). I was nervous about the rest of the shows where I only knew a couple (or zero) people, but the folks at Sam & Gabe's showed me their love (and one of the bartenders is a great violinist!), in Milford people welcomed me with open arms (special thanks to Kelli, Jon, Scott, Melissa, and Jamie!), and the Omaha folks got down HARD (especially for a Sunday show!). For real, stop by and see Mike at Pat & Mike's if you're in Omaha. You'll leave with new friends for sure! The next time I'm in town, we're planning on having an old time jam - who knew Omaha had an old time scene?!?! (PS: thanks, Kevin!)
Really, I'm just overwhelmed with gratitude for people's generosity - for showing up, for listening, for being moved, for moving me, for opening their homes to me even if they didn't know me. Everyone gave me so much on this tour, and I'm looking forward to giving more of myself through music on future tours.
Despite how I feel overwhelmed by what I am trying to build in life, I am overflowing with gratitude. So much of my past, present, and future life has been created through the support from people I love, and I want to start by acknowledging your contributions. Thanks for all that you do!
Thanks to the help of so many people, there's certainly been a lot of things underway. It's an exciting time right now! I recently drove across the country to pick up my tiny home, I'm just two weeks away from embarking on my first tour, and I just got my first sponsorship!
My tour is set up, and things are looking great! I'll be traveling from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi on my tour and playing in four different states. This tour's theme: The Awakening. Why? Because of my first sponsorship! I am now sponsored by Litographs, and throughout my tour, I'll be wearing my Litographs shirts of The Awakening by Kate Chopin. To celebrate, I'm kicking off this tour in Boulder with a special performance for Boulder Arts Week. It's a collaborative show with performance artist Mikaela Nichols-Lionetti called "The Awakening," and we're thrilled to debut it at the start of my tour! I'll also be writing songs, reading excerpts, and doing other cool things related to the book. If you want your very own Litographs shirt, tote, (temporary) tattoo, or poster, you can use the promo code rileyann when you make a purchase at Litographs.com to save 10% on your order through the end of April. Also, if you don your Litographs apparel to any of my shows, we're totally taking a selfie!
In all seriousness, I'm quite impressed with this company. Aside from the fact they're promoting literacy (which is rad), Jack, who is Head of Community, was very responsive to my email concern I submitted over a year ago when I suggested they increase their female representation of authors featured on their products. I suggested a number of female authors and their books, one of which being Kate Chopin's The Awakening, and within a few months, that shirt was released. Since then, I've noticed many more female authors be featured on their products, which is great! I really appreciate how receptive they were to my suggestion, and I'm proud to have them as my sponsor.
I hope to see you on the trail!
Peace, love, and music,
I'm so inspired by the people I've met and the people I continue to meet. Although moving filled me with so many contradictory emotions, I'm finally starting to feel grounded in Colorado, and I continue to be amazed by the people I meet here. The loving community I physically left stays with me, which is why I'm thrilled to fly back for a few days before Thanksgiving. However, the new communities building around me feel so right and so perfect, it's somewhat surreal.
In the music scene here, I've been playing drum set with a folk rock band (though I told them that once they found a permanent "real" drummer, I'd hand over the drumsticks). I love trying to find the right groove for each song and listening for transitions to find the perfect complementary rhythms. I also had the opportunity to rehearse with a bluegrass / country swing band on mandolin, and it was great to play with such a high caliber of musicians who have been playing in the scene for years - for some of them, probably longer than I've been alive. I'm not sure what the future is of either of these, but they're both great musical challenges and comprised of outstanding musicians and great people, and I'm glad to have the opportunity now.
I've also met an incredible number of great musicians / people by starting the Coalition of Women Songwriters. We had our first meeting this past week, and I was so inspired by the women I met and how much mutual respect and love there was in the room. Between meetings, the conversations and support continue online through our Facebook page, and I love seeing such a strong community of women embracing each other, which in no way reflects the competitive, critical side of the music industry. These women are so open and positive with each other, and I'm really excited to see the direction the group moves and the impact we'll have not just on each other, but also on the larger community.
In addition to the songwriters' organization, I'm really thrilled to start building a community on a larger scale through the use of my NEW TINY HOME! I'll be picking her up at the end of my first tour (!!!) with River Glen this January. We're in the process of organizing the specifics, but the plan is for River to tour to Colorado, for us to do split bills around the area here, and then tour back to (and around) the Iowa / Illinois / Wisconsin area and then down to the St. Louis area. I'll be picking up my tiny home there with a rental truck while River continues heading south. My tiny home (Wanderlust) will be a great space to facilitate big things. It needs some work, but I'll be taking her on tours with me in the future. I plan to host and film concerts for area musicians wherever I go as Tiny Porch Concerts (similar to NPR's Tiny Desk Concerts). I'll also be teaching songwriting and creative writing workshops in libraries across the U.S. with my tiny home, and I plan to have Wanderlust be a tiny free library on wheels (similar to tiny libraries in various communities). I plan to build shelves along the upper perimeter inside (with plexiglass ledges). I'm hoping to collect one book from every fan, family member, and friend - that one book that everyone needs to read - and for the donor to write a letter to the reader on the inside cover. While I'm sharing our library, people who borrow a book have to promise to either return that same book to Wanderlust or donate whatever that one book is for them (or, even better, do both). This is a great way to share the love of literacy and a sense of community across state lines, and I love the idea of helping facilitate this web of connection between all of us and taking part of you with me on the journey. The great thing about Wanderlust is that the people that are my place (my community, my tribe) will be wherever I go.
Just like Little Scream says, "People is place."
It's been one month since my CD release party, and in that time I've moved halfway across the country and started two part-time jobs, neither of which are related to teaching. It's exciting, but it's also uncomfortable - not in the sense of distress, but because everything about my life is different, foreign, new. This isn't a bad thing, as it offers me a new space to grow and achieve something greater.
Several months ago, my sister loaned me her copy of The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. Through her research, Rubin attempted to create a formula for happiness and became aware of what many people miss in their pursuits:
I searched for the missing concept - was it striving? Advancement? Purpose? Hope? None of these words seemed right. Then I thought of a line from William Butler Yeats. "Happiness," wrote Yeats, "is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that, but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing." Contemporary researchers make the same argument: that it isn't goal attainment but the process of striving after goals - that is, growth - that brings happiness.
I came across this passage during silent free reading time in my classroom this spring. Because of how powerfully it resonated with me, I had to pause in my reading to process what I read. In that moment, I knew I was ready for this change. Despite what I love about teaching, the mental, physical, and emotional requirements of being a good teacher forced me to compromise what I wanted to do with my personal life. It felt restrictive, limiting my potential as an artist. Furthermore, despite what I loved about my band (really, The Matriarchs felt like my baby), what I was writing as a solo artist was new and fresh and raw. Instead of writing for a 3-piece female folk band, I was trying to convey the same amount of energy as a solo artist. It was filled with new challenges, as the songwriting and performance aspects were completely different (especially with my loop pedal), but these new challenges (and moments of frustration) opened a new space for me to explore musically and personally, and that was fulfilling. I was growing. Teaching and The Matriarchs and Galena were all comfortable, but I wanted to keep evolving, not be complacent.
Fortunately for me, I have an incredibly supportive tribe of people helping me through this transition. Through people's generosity with their own time, money, and actions, I've been overwhelmed with gratitude. My friend Karen has helped me in more ways than she's probably aware of, and with one of her particularly generous offers, I told her that she changed the game. She wasn't the only one. I was surrounded by game-changers, and the impact of what they offered is still with me.
As I continue moving forward in this new space, I feel changes continue to happen internally and externally. I've done 18 consecutive days of yoga and I've never felt more awake. I feel a sense of accomplishment seeing my album for sale on Amazon and iTunes and available for streaming on Spotify (along with dozens of other online platforms). I continue to meet really amazing people and musicians at shows, jams, and open mics (like Ky Burt - a great Americana singer-songwriter and a sweet guy). I'm in the process of developing a split bill with Rachel Ann Harding, a Boulder musician and storyteller (Riley Ann & Rachel Ann - what a great billing!) and discussing long-term touring possibilities with other musicians. I've come into a space that's significantly larger than me, but that just leaves more room to grow.
The nature of time is that it passes most quickly when we want it to linger. Since getting back from Telluride, I feel like I've been in a whirlwind of to-do lists and "last chance to"s as my Dubuque debut (July 16), CD release date (July 26), and move west (July 31) approach. It was this anxiety that almost caused me to bail on working at the bluegrass festival to continue forging ahead with the logistics of everything. Fortunately, I didn't miss out on this opportunity. Working at the festival solidified my faith in wanting to be immersed in the music industry despite the fears that arise within that pursuit. As Amanda Palmer expresses so honestly in her book and Ted Talk, beneath the love of music - writing it, performing it, sharing it - is an undercurrent of fear, or, as she describes it, the "Fraud Police" and being a "real" artist:
"People working in the arts engage in street combat with The Fraud Police on a daily basis, because much of our work is new and not readily or conventionally categorized. When you’re an artist, nobody ever tells you or hits you with the magic wand of legitimacy. You have to hit your own head with your own handmade wand. And you feel stupid doing it. There’s no “correct path” to becoming a real artist. You might think you’ll gain legitimacy by going to university, getting published, getting signed to a record label. But it’s all bullshit, and it’s all in your head. You’re an artist when you say you are. And you’re a good artist when you make somebody else experience or feel something deep or unexpected."
At Telluride, I mused to myself - I wonder if Chris Thile and Bela Fleck have their own Fraud Police? The thing is: it didn't matter. They played at the same caliber I expected from watching their documentaries and listening to their albums, and they made me feel something. Even more, the informal nature of the Punch Brothers' "happy hour" set allowed the boys to be honest about not being up for certain requests. I thought, My god, they're real. That was empowering.
I still have a bit of recording to do (one track being a song with my loop pedal that I haven't actually performed flawlessly, even in my apartment), but instead of having a debilitating fear of what's left, I'm trying to approach it for what it is: I am an artist, I am human, and this is my art.
Yesterday I attended the last graduation of my seniors, and tomorrow will be my last day teaching my students. Bittersweet doesn't convey the weight of the dichotomy I feel. As a teacher, few things are as rewarding as watching the senior slideshow to see each student's transformation into young adulthood and getting a glimpse of their lives that has been hidden until that moment, reflecting on their growth in my classroom for four consecutive years, and then seeing them pick up their diplomas with smiles that light up their faces. The kids who seem most ready to go are sometimes the hardest to let go - they're ready, but I'm not emotionally ready to say goodbye.
I imagine tomorrow will feel similar, only I've spent less time with these kids (1 - 3 years). I'm not sure if that makes it easier or more difficult. In some ways, I've had less time to get attached (but even one year in a school our size makes that relative state less significant). However, by having less time, there's so much more I wanted to share with these kids. Despite this, everything feels just as it should - it feels right, even if it's difficult. This year has given me a new perspective on what we've discussed in the classroom. Watching Steve Jobs' commencement address, discussing the status quo versus the individual's path in our transcendentalism unit, even linking our Native American archeological survey field trip with Joseph Campbell's expression on the importance of mythology and the hero's journey marked by his adage, "Follow your bliss," all of these (and so many more) reinforced what I knew was necessary for my own self-fulfillment.
This experience reminds me of a woman I saw present at an education conference a couple of years ago. Ann Bancroft left the teaching field to pursue crossing Alaska with a team of sled dogs. She was able to do that by being granted a sabbatical. However, when she returned to the school and saw the hallways filled with students' project about her adventure spanning virtually every subject, she realized that she had been teaching her students all along. I hope my students see this transition as the best lesson I could ever teach them. As Steve White, my musical mentor to whom I owe so much, said, "The people who follow their dreams are never the ones who have regrets."
Pictured: Steve White (Jan. 25, 1959 - Nov. 17, 2014) playing piano at our weekly open mic at his coffee shop, Rendezvous Coffee & Tea, in downtown Galena, IL.