We are delighted to support to these singer-songwriters in safely connecting with their audiences in person across the midwest:
Kilgour: For me, the pandemic gave me the chance to just live a life without constant movement. I gave into the hard work of consistent relationships and community building in my hometown and I practiced slowing down and providing for myself. Those life experiences always impact my work. I didn’t feel particularly inspired to write during lockdowns, but I did find ways to connect with people – hosting small community concerts on Zoom for groups of friends and neighbors and book clubs was really fulfilling for me. We had to be really creative in how we used technology to share ourselves in impactful ways.
Pettis: I signed a record deal in January 2020 with MPress Records. So that was a pretty big win. At a time when there were no gigs on the calendar and a very uncertain future for music makers on the horizon, a record label paid me to go to Nashville and make a new album, called Working Woman. I got to hire some incredible musicians, including my friend Mary Bragg, who produced it. I also started a podcast called Troubadours on Trek. I interview my musician friends and we review episodes of Star Trek together. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time and never had the time or excuse to dive into. I started a Patreon page and planned for two album releases, one for the Working Woman LP, and one for the new Nobody’s Girl LP, which took up a lot of time and creative energy. I wrote a lot of songs too, alone in my office and with co-writers over Zoom. I made new virtual friends. I also got involved with a movement to relocate some racist Confederate monuments in Bastrop, down the road from where I was living. My friend Cheryl Lee spearheaded and organized those efforts, and I got to support her by planning and running a virtual festival called “Move Forward Fest,” that raised the actual funds needed for relocation. That was in January 2021, MLK Day. Right around the time when insurrectionists were storming the Capitol and waving Confederate flags around. It felt really good to help dismantle a little white supremacy in January. We got some amazing Texas artists to participate too: Ruthie Foster, James McMurtry, Eliza Gilkyson, the Chicks, and others.
Kilgour: Grace and I have talked a bit about this! I think I can say that both of us were grateful to have had the opportunity and recognition right at the onset of our careers. I was in my early 30s when I finally started touring and taking songwriting seriously as a way of life. The validation and exposure I got out of winning the contest really made way for a lot of opportunities for me and gave me the confidence I needed to dive in.
Pettis: This is something Rachael and I have talked about a lot. Winning that contest was incredibly meaningful for me and marked the beginning of my career. I was just a kid; it was the first time I’d sung into a microphone on stage. But more than that, it was one of the first times I took myself and my art seriously. The validation that came with being picked as a finalist (and then winning) was vital to my confidence and spurred me on to become a working musician.
Kilgour: As always, just be your truest self. Something I appreciate about the Newsong Contest is the variety of entries it invites. There is no formula for being an artist. One person will win, and if it is you, enjoy the ride! If it is not, just remember you are the only you in the world. Dig in deep and keep finding ways to reveal yourself.
Pettis: Remember that winning is not the most important thing. Your music was picked out of so many worthy entries from your peers. You’ve been invited to share those songs on a real stage to a big crowd. You’ve already “won” at this point. So don’t forget to take home the real prizes: confidence and a sense of purpose, and the friends in music you will now have for life. Those other musicians will be on festival and venue bills with you for decades to come. They’re your co-writers, your co-conspirators, your future bandmates and allies. The first time I got to hang with my Nobody’s Girl bandmate BettySoo was at NewSong! It took almost a decade for us to be in a band, writing songs together. But those seeds were planted at NewSong. That’s the real grand prize- the friends you get to make.
Kilgour: I love to visit small towns and pretend that I live there; visit their libraries and local food co-ops, walk through their neighborhoods…it’s a wonderful way to prepare for a performance. Of course, more than anything, I live for the exchange between myself and an audience. I don’t think we often, in our culture, take pause to appreciate and notice one another. It’s really special to be able to share my very human experience of the world and be seen and understood by strangers. And I think, I hope, that audience leave feeling understood themselves.
Pettis: I love those rare and precious moments behind the scenes, when I get to experience something a little off the beaten path and beyond the pages of the brochure. Like after one show at a bar in Dublin, Ireland, when the owner of a nearby pizza parlor opened his place at like 2 in the morning to make a custom pizza for my Nobody’s Girl bandmates, BettySoo and Rebecca Loebe, and I. Or this one time at the Dallas Museum of Art, when I was commissioned to write a song to accompany a piece in their permanent collection, and subsequently was allowed to steal a glance at the paintings not on display, lined up neatly in crates with multicolored labels in the basement of the museum. Or yesterday, when Rachael Kilgour and I took a 30 minute detour to a beach along Lake Michigan and walked barefoot across a boardwalk to see a lighthouse up close. Those are experiences that stay with you. Touring is mostly an endless parade of gas stations, peppered with experiences like that.
Kilgour: I’ve just recently finished a collection of songs about my father. He died in 2017 and I’ve just had so many thoughts about him and his passing that have turned into songs. I was awarded a MN State Arts Board Grant in 2020 to work on the project and I was so grateful to have their support. I’m hoping to have those songs recorded later this year with a release in 2022. I also have a duo project with my partner, Sara Pajunen, called ‘Sound an Echo’. It’s been really lovely to make music together and learn from the ways she sees and hears the world.
Pettis: My brand new album Working Woman was released in May on MPress Records. It has some amazing special guests on it: Indigo Girls, Dar Williams, Ruthie Foster, Gina Chavez, the Watson Twins, and Mary Bragg. And the creative credits are all womxn. Every single name, from my producer Mary Bragg, to our Grammy award-winning mixing engineer Shani Ghandi, to all the co-writers, players, graphic designer, etc. I’m so proud of it. My band Nobody’s Girl also just released our first self-titled LP in July on Lucky Hound Music, produced by Michael Ramos. We’ve been waiting over a year to put this record out and we’re thrilled to get to play a few shows together after a year and a half of being apart because of Covid.