GAELYNN LEA MUSIC

Tiny Desk Contest: Hitting the Road!

aaaaaWay back in January, two fiddle students and a close friend told me about this music contest that National Public Radio was hosting called the Tiny Desk Contest. Many of you are probably aware that NPR’S Bob Boilen regularly hosts a three-song podcast called the Tiny Desk Concerts, and I had listened to my fair share of those over the years. This particular contest was geared at finding new music by an unsigned artist via a YouTube video submission of one original song that was filmed (and this was required) by a desk. The winner would have the opportunity to give a real-life Tiny Desk Concert out in Washington D.C. and then do a mini-tour of four shows around the country, all sponsored by NPR and Lagunitas Brewing Company.
Well, once I was told about it for the third time, I realized I should probably enter – what could it hurt? I was playing an evening gig at Bulldog Pizza a couple weeks later and I asked the audience (consisting of about 15 people eating pizza) to help me choose the song I would submit. I played them three different songs and they chose (by a vote of 4 people) my newest song, “Someday We’ll Linger in the Sun”. Armed with my crowd-approved song selection, I enlisted my good friend Leah to help me film my submission video. We recorded the song on my smartphone up in my lesson studio and then headed down for half-price wine night at one of my favorite restaurants. Late in the night on January 29th, I uploaded our creation to YouTube and submitted the video to the contest.
Fast forward a little less than a month later and still no word from NPR. I was pretty sure my low-tech creation had no chance of catching anyone’s eye… But indeed, the universe works in mysterious ways! One Friday afternoon at the end of February, I quickly checked my email before starting a fiddle lesson with my student Rachel. Lo and behold, it was a lady named Jessica from NPR, and she wanted to talk. Preferably that day.
My body went into panic mode – my hands literally started shaking. Perhaps I was a finalist! I felt that was kind of a long-shot out of 6,000 videos, but I couldn’t help thinking that this was going to be good news.  So we set up a time to chat between lessons and I tried to focus on fiddle music and Bach for the next two hours. At last the appointed time came and I got the call from Washington D.C. To my surprise, it was Bob Boilen himself on the other line, a genuinely nice and warm human being, albeit with a very recognizable voice. And then to my UTTER DISBELIEF he told me that the judges had unanimously agreed to choose my song as the winning entry. To say I was excited is a gross understatement… It was the most surreal phone call of my life to date. It still barely makes sense to me!
Anyway, I couldn’t talk about it to anyone but family for an entire week, which was a kind of torture, but also fun. People would say, “How’s music going?” and I would just smile and say “Great!” NPR announced the contest winner on March 3rd and in that first week I received more emails then possibly the last five years combined. So many kind words were sent to me by family, friends, and strangers; it was humbling and heart-warming, and these notes of encouragement still makes me smile. Thank you to those of you who reached out… It meant a lot!
Gaelynn Lea Promo Pic 4The very next week, NPR flew out me and my husband Paul, as well as my bandmate (and friend, and dare I say musical mentor) Alan Sparhawk to perform a Tiny Desk Concert in Washington D.C. That was Surreal Day #2, as I was blown away by the kindness of the NPR folks and the amazing vibe of the 200-people audience that afternoon at Bob Boilen’s legendary desk. I performed two songs by myself – the winning entry and also a live-looped rendition of a traditional fiddle tune called South Wind. Then Alan joined me for two songs I had written over the years for The Murder of Crows, called Bird Song and Moment of Bliss. Again I was shaking, but it was worth the nerves. The energy in that room was very powerful… It’s a performance I will never forget.
And now, as I write this, my husband and I are just a few days away from heading out on the Tiny Desk Tour! First stop is New York City… I am playing two songs at a live taping of NPR’s “Ask Me Another” at the Bell House Theater in Brooklyn on Tuesday April 26th, and then on Wednesday April 27th I am playing a solo set at The Knitting Factory Brooklyn. After that my husband and I are heading to Chicago to perform at theLagunitas Taproom on May 3rd with the NPR crew. Then on May 9th we will be in Portland at the Doug Fir Lounge, also with NPR. The very next day, Alan Sparhawk is flying out to join me for a pair of shows in California… May 10th we are performing together for NPR’s “Songs We Love Live” at the Lagunitas Taproom in Petaluma, and then on May 10th we will be playing a full set at the Starline Social Club in Oakland.  Phew!!!! It’s going to be a fun and busy few weeks… I am so excited!
Anyway, I just wanted to say thank you so much for all your support along the way. I would not be here if it weren’t for the love, guidance, and support of so many caring individuals… I hope you know just how much I appreciate you. 2016 has proven to be a wonderful year thus far, and I am curious and excited to see where this adventure takes us! Any uncertainty about the future is continually dwarfed by my deep sense of gratitude. I am not sure where this unexpected musical journey will lead, but I am determined to enjoy the ride… and I hope to see you on the road!

Author: violinscratches

Gaelynn Lea is a musician and public speaker from Duluth, MN. She is passionate about disability advocacy, personal growth, and authentic living. She was the winner of NPR Music's Tiny Desk Contest in March 2016.

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