Gaelynn Lea, esteemed folk violinist and disability rights activist, captivated audiences in downtown Tucson on Wednesday, Jan. 31.
Her second year in a row visiting Tucson, she was very excited to come back to the southwest and its beauty. She adores the cacti, mountains and warm air that is so different from her home in Duluth, Minnesota.
The music scene and her fans here in Tucson also appreciate her visit, as she draws in crowds with her unique style.
Starting out in the fourth grade, Lea aspired to play the cello. However, her physical stature prevented her from doing so.
Not wanting to lose an opportunity, her music teacher taught her a unique way to play the violin similar to that of the cello. Elated, Lea went on to excel in playing the instrument and later joined a folk group in college.
“It was different how I learned to play,” Lea said, “but not much harder.”
In college, Lea learned a lot about her musical talents, adapting and transforming traditional Celtic songs to fit her “vibe.”
She learned to focus on lyrics and layering of songs to make original pieces her own. This particular process played out well for her, as she won NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest in 2016.
The competition drew in more than 6,000 entries of original songs, and Lea did not expect enormous success of her submission.
Her song, “Someday We’ll Linger in the Sun” is a beautiful analogy of her own life.
“The first verse came to me in the shower, and it developed over time,” Lea said.
Before marrying her husband Paul, she had a surgery that resulted in complications. During that stressful time, Paul helped her through difficulties and was there for her whenever she needed.
“Sometimes songs come out of a weird place,” Lea said. “But love is still cool even when things are stressful.”
Her life changed after performing on NPR, although she had been performing in Minnesota for about a decade, nothing prepared her for the road life NPR brought on.
Concerts all over the country caused her husband to take a leave of absence for seven months as they tried out her new endeavor, and it proved to be worth it.
A booking agent later booked her full time, which allowed her to travel to 41 states and 6 countries in the past year and a half.
“It was really intense, but it’s been super cool,” Lea said.
Her family is very happy for her, and even visited her in Prague for one of her concerts.
Meaningful relationships extend to her fans also, as she's maintained friendships with many people from different cities, getting to know them better each time she returns to visit.
She never expected how close she would get with people on tour.
“That’s my favorite part of this new lifestyle,” Lea said. “It makes the world seem less lonely when there’s people you look forward to seeing.”
Coming to Tucson was a major goal of Lea as she and her husband were trying to hit almost every state on tour, and her admiration of the Southwest brought them back for the second year in a row.
“The people here are very enthusiastic and the venue is very nice and helpful to me,” Lea said.
Lea loves to play live and experience the different places and people that go along with touring all over the country.
“I get nervous randomly, but I try to be as present as much as I can,” Lea said. “If you get in your head too much it stops being fun.”
As Lea enters the stage, excited audience members revel in her witty opening jokes.
As she perform both traditional Celtic songs as well as her own originals, her execution of the violin is vividly masterful.
The gracefulness of her hands as they move up and down the bow along with her looping pedal technique creates an ambiance of beauty and happiness.
Her songs tell stories of her life, husband and the disability rights movement; they have substance, and a real connection that makes listeners develop a deep respect for Lea.
She is very conversational with her audience — her singalongs are real crowd-pleasers.
For those who may not necessarily be fans of traditional or folk music, Lea leaves us with a fact about her style and her life.
“The music is more about the idea that life is both hard and beautiful at the same time,” Lea said. “I encourage you to listen to the words.”
The show was held at Hotel Congress Jan. 31.
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