I spent most of the first few months prepping the release of my album, "BlackTop Road" recorded in Nov. 08 in Nashville with Will Kimbrough. January was the photo shoot on our farm with amazing photographer Coke Whitworth, then two quick trips back to Nashville for mixing with David Henry at TrueTone (also where we tracked) and mastering. The photos turned out even better and more striking than I expected and the master sounded great. Next, I turned the project over to my designer, Eva Crawford (who also designed my first album) and she completely outdid herself with beautiful work that complimented and presented a visual story to go with my songs. While all this was going on, my friend Marianne Bessy and I worked on translations of several of my songs into French, for an upcoming Franco-Americana album. I gave myself the gift of a quick, just-for-fun trip to NYC in March, where I stayed with my dear friend Janis and spent time with her as well as my friend Adam and cousin Kimberly. Best of all, I got to see my favorite actress - and someone who has been kind of an artistic muse for me - Jane Fonda - perform in 33 Variations on Broadway. I also got to go backstage and meet her. I'm sure I made a huge fool of myself, but it was very exciting! Back home I worked to put together a band of SC musicians, Brandon Turner, Jeff Hook and Todd Verdin. We started rehearsing and I kept on working on getting BTR ready, plus playing solo shows and booking my summer tour.
May 5 was my first show with Todd and Brandon at Artisphere in Greenville. I never felt so immediately at ease and had so much fun at a first gig as I did with these guys. Not long after that, I took off for my first trip to Texas. I had been named a 2009 Kerrville New Folk Finalist, chosen as one of 35 out of 800 entries. The festival was an interesting experience and quite an honor, of course. I also spent some time in Austin with my dear friends Jim & Dani Lacey-Baker in their lovely new home and reconnecting with many many pals from my L.A. days. In fact, I think just about everyone I knew in L.A. must have moved there, I felt right at home. The highlight was a gig at Threadgills with Dave Phenicie & by the end of the night, everyone was up on stage, just like old times.
Back in SC in June, I had my first gig with the whole band, including drummer Jeff Hook at the Rhythm on the River series. in Columbia. Well, almost. We got a few songs into our set and then the storm clouds rolled in. But what we were able to play was fun, relaxed and good enough to tell me I had something really great with these guys.
Late June was the beginning of my album release tour. Thanks to the hard work of my great publicist, Kim Fowler, the rave reviews started pouring in (and they're still coming!). I won't fill this up with quotes, but will encourage you to visit my website press page and read some of them: http://www.angelaeasterling.com/content/view/4/4/
Without a doubt the best time in June was getting this from Byrds founder and iconic musician Roger McGuinn: "Angela Easterling is a bright shining star on the country/folk/alt.music horizon! Her gift is so special. I loved listening to her new "Black Top Road" CD! The instruments are multidimensional and have a luster that I love. Brought me back to the time the Byrds recorded "Sweetheart of the Rodeo" - tradition meets youthful exuberance!". (Jun 22, 2009)
Wow! I could never have imagined and still can hardly believe how kind and supportive Roger has been to me. When he said that I thought, "I must be doing something right"!
My 6 week summer tour to the mid-Atlantic and New England was such a blur of shows and driving, I can hardly remember it now! But a few things stand out. One was getting to spend many days in Vermont with my mom and stepfather, Don. Sometimes I only get to see them for a couple of days when I'm touring. But I actually got to visit them for several days 2 different times this summer. Don and I watched Red Sox games every single night I wasn't gigging and yelled at the pitchers and Terry Francona. We had so much fun. It's fun to have another baseball/RedSox fan in the family & Don really knows his stuff! I don't know how much mom enjoyed it but she put up with it. I also got to make my yearly trek to Fenway Park for a game, this time on the 4th of July! (Sox lost) and caught a Red Sox/Nats game while passing through D.C. (Sox won). July 14 (Bastille Day) was the release of BTR which was exciting enough, but made even more so because I got to go see Steve Earle solo acoustic in western MA. I had actually not ever really listened to him much before and he completely blew me away. So much so that I was star-struck-silent when I went backstage to meet him '- not a usual occurance for me J But I thought it was so special that that happened the day my CD was released. Another memorable show was at the DreamAway Lodge, also in the Berkshires. A really cool, hippie place. To my surprise and pleasure, a favorite Acting professor from my Emerson days, Paula Langton, showed up at my gig. It was so great to get to play my music for her and catch up... a magical night!
BTR was selling out at Amazon and CDBaby faster than I could send them more copies. Thanks to my Dad, who helped me keep up with all my shipping while I was on the road. The day after I arrived home from touring, I got to go see Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson & John Mellancamp in concert with my aunt Ruthie. Then I found out I was chosen one of the "25 Most Beautiful Women" in Greenville by Talk Magazine, so had another photo shoot for that. This is when the year really started going at warp speed. I had some of my best gigs of the year in August, such as the Hendersonville, NC and Decatur, GA Libraries; and opening for Ellis Paul at a beyond-sold-out (but still quiet and rapt) Eddie's Attic, also in Decatur. My band played the Reedy River Concert Series with me at the Peace Center Amphitheatre. We hadn't been together all summer, but as soon as we all started playing the first song, I had this feeling of warmth and peace and joyfulness just wash over me. At that moment, I knew I wanted them to come to Nashville with me in September for the Americana Confererence.
Americana. September. I could write a whole book about just that, but I'll try to keep it brief. I was chosen for an official showcase at 2009 conference, a goal I had had for the past several years after attending many of them. Two weeks before, my album entered the top 40 Americana chart, thanks to the hard work and great talent of Leslie Rouffe of Songlines who was doing my promotion. How exciting to be going to the AMA with an album in the chart. I was nervous, but excited, especially when I got word from Will Kimbrough that he could play the set with me & my band. Showing up in Nashville on Weds, I was treated to a phenomenal, legendary (and quite sweaty) night when I saw John Fogerty and his amazing band including one of my fave drummers, Kenny Aronoff, play in the Mercy Lounge. I'd never seen Fogerty before and here he was, just a few feet away. Wow! Another night I was at the Station Inn with Brandon when Jim Lauderdale came over and told me he was a fan of mine. I was so surprised and honored and I'm sure I probably made a fool of myself again :) The whole week was a definite highlight of my year, seeing old friends, making new ones and hanging with my band in Nashville. And our showcase was one of the most fun times I've ever had onstage. The Basement was hot and packed and receptive, my band was hot, Will K was hot, I'm just hoping I held up to all the hotness, LOL! It was an amazing experience I never wanted to end. Standing on a stage between Will and Brandon is a great place to be, folks. It was all I could do to remember to play. Then you throw in Jeff and Todd who are so talented and put all their heart and soul into that rhythm section and, wow, am I lucky or what. I felt like I had been playing with those guys forever. It was our third gig - and my first with Will. This was probably one of my most important shows I'd had to date and those guys just made me feel so comfortable and relaxed. They made me shine. If I was good that night, I owe it all to them. Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0u5vml5Rpo0
Not much time for post AMA rest as October packed in more touring. Shakori Hills festival in NC was definitely another highlight of the year. My afternoon duo set with Brandon on the main stage, looking out at the crowd of all ages dancing, feeling all the love wash over me, being treated like royalty -in a cool hippie way, by all the staff and volunteers, I really made myself stop and take in that moment. I also realized at that show what a cool thing Brandon and I had going with the duo thing too. My album surprised all and most especially me by staying in the Americana chart for seven weeks! It was an honor, yet also pretty wild to see my name in there every week with all those other great artists: Roseanne Cash, John Fogerty, Steve Earle, Son Volt, Wilco, Nanci Griffith, John Prine, the list goes on. I did several radio appearances throughout the fall, wherever I happened to be touring, as well as call in interviews to ones far away. I really appreciate all the stations who were so supportive of my music and gave it a chance and lots of spins!
November didn't start off that great when I had to have some surprise oral surgery right before heading down for some shows in GA and FL, but everything went OK and the trip was lots of fun. Brandon and I made two trips to Tennessee, the first to appear on the amazing new show Music City Roots broadcast on WSM in Nashville. This was another night I could write a book about. We were on the bill with Charlie Louvin, a music legend if ever there was one. The MCR folks have a great show and a great focus and again, we were treated like royalty! Will came to play with me and Brandon and those two tore it up again. Check out this video if you haven't already: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0u5vml5Rpo0. Being on WSM, as a lover of music and music heritage was a thrill. I can't wait to do that show again. Brandon also trekked out to Johnson City and Knoxville with me for shows and radio appearances. He even came over to the Hammett family Thanksgiving and we played some tunes for everyone. I feel so lucky to have him to play with, there is really no one like him and no one better. One more development in November: I became a first time homeowner when I acquired through my mom and aunts the house that was built by my great-grandfather in 1900. Very exciting, and scary and, oops, there went all the money I thought I'd saved this year :)
December finally slowed down a wee bit and I got to actually spend time with my friends and sister Joy who had just moved back to SC. I closed out the year with a couple of house concerts, at one point I found myself on a yacht with some hippies up in Southport, NC for a Christmas-boat-parade. What a life I lead. BTR wound up on many 2009 "best-of" lists, including Kevin Oliver in Free Times, & the TwangNation blog. WNCW listeners chose it as one of the top 100 CD's of 2009 as well as one of the top 20 by regional artists. Best of all, my song "The Picture" was listed as "Best Political Country Song" in the Boston Herald.
As the New Year approached, I had many plans for how to start off the new decade. But 2009 did not leave me where I thought it would. I did not make it through the whole year without a huge dose of sorrow. Around 5PM on December 31st, I got word that my sweet and generous stepfather, Don Messa, had lost his 27-year battle with cancer. And it was a battle, he had fought so valiantly without any complaint for so long. He had beat it many times, but this time it was too much. All plans were dropped and Joy and I flew to Vermont to be with our mom and sisters. He touched so many lives. Everyone from his doctors, to the mailman, to the people at nearby restaurants he frequented remarked to us on what a special man he was. He never lost his smile and he taught me a lot about patience, how to deal with hardship and how to enjoy the journey in life, not just the destination. He made my Mom so happy. They had so much fun together. I'm so glad we had him in our family, even though it wasn't long enough. I'm so glad my tour worked out for me to spend all that time with them this summer. A couple months after Mom and Don married back in '05, I got a check in the mail from him for quite a large amount of money. I called Mom to ask her about it and she didn't know anything about it. Don said that it was for me to finish my CD (what would become my debut, Earning her Wings) I had been trying finish it for years, recording it bit by bit, but finances were not in my favor at that time. That money from Don, from someone who was, at that point in my life, practically a stranger, gave me not only the funds, but most importantly, the ENCOURAGEMENT to get my act together and finish that record, the first step in the journey that lead me right to where I am today. I cannot imagine where I would be without it. We will miss him, but hold dear all these special memories and wonderful times and the example he left behind.
What happens next... well, the events of the last couple weeks have gotten me off my previously plotted course a bit, but that's life, and like Don, I will enjoy the ride wherever it takes me. I've got my next record a little more than half written and a band rehearsal tomorrow. I've got lots of shows coming up. I don't have any money yet, but I've never had any money, so I can deal with that. I've got great friends and a supportive family. I get to travel all over the place and play music. I'm a lucky girl.
Thanks to everyone this year who booked me, who bought a CD, came to a show, wrote a review, spun me on radio, retweeted me on twitter J offered me encouragement and support. You make this possible!
2010, here we go!