The first time I listened to Gaelynn Lea, it was with my eyes closed. I was letting videos cycle on the computer while I took a break and noticed this unique sound coming out of my speakers. A violin that seemed different. A voice unique, emotional and affecting. And the words struck me, “Our love’s a complex vintage wine, all rotted leaves and lemon rinds…”. The effect on me was a mournful joy that Celtic music seems to convey so effortlessly.
When I turned to the screen, I was greeted by the image of this amazing woman playing violin like a cello. The winner of NPR Tiny Desk Concert 2016 was the You Tube headline. She was small and in a wheelchair and I would be lying if I said that didn’t affect me. I watched with equal measures of respect and curiosity. She finished her song and began to talk. Her presence, the solid joy and confidence in her voice taught me some silent lessons that I am still trying to fathom. Her music, her infectious upbeat grateful presence. The way she sang with her eyes closed and her head lifted. I became a fan.
Then I forgot about her until SAW luminary Michael Roth brought her to my attention. Could SAW’s new president help her find a gig? I jumped at the chance and she graciously agreed to do a SAW Serves fundraiser where we split the money. The concert we put together was a frenetic jumble of tasks, decisions, negotiations and deadlines. Some great folks in SAW and at Bethesda United Methodist Church did a lot of the heavy lifting to make things happen. I was my usual frenetic nervous wreck until that moment when she started to play for the small crowd we assembled.
It happened again. Her music, her words, her presence all conspired to make me listen, let go, relax and as she says in one of her new pieces, just breathe. It was the best beginning to a thanksgiving Week I have had in a while. If you missed it, we will post a video or two but know that the 50 or so folks who were there were the lucky ones. Bob Boilen of NPR’s All Songs Considered came and stayed for the show and afterwards. He thanked SAW for finding her a place to play.
Songwriters come from every and all places. And in that crowd, Gaelynn Lea sticks out for me. As Ron Goad opined, “More talent per pound than any other performer!” Thanksgiving can be a stress eating jumble of a holiday. This Thanksgiving I am better aware of my own gratitude and will hold that closely if I get into any political arguments with Uncle Ned.
SAW will have her back again in May. I would encourage you to find the time to see her then