Songwriter. Musician. Storyteller. Poet. Seasoned performer.
"[Rachel Nelson's] singing and idealism recall Joan Baez back in the day."
Chris Riemenschneider, Minneapolis Star Tribune
Rachel Nelson is a storyteller, songwriter, and musician whose passion is live performance. She sparks her stories with physical acting techniques, and often acts as her own “theater musician.” As a roots musician whose feet have been planted firmly in the tradition of live performance for over twenty years, she likes to push the edges out to keep roots music a growing tradition. Using fiddle, banjo, guitar, mandolin, hand drum, and maybe a washtub bass, she mixes traditional Appalachian and Celtic music with her own original songs, which range from traditional simplicity to swing, blues, and jazz.
Nelson' original songs are showcased in the CD Change is a Thousand Hearts, exploring topics from peace and community to global economics and deep ecology. Her children's CD "I'm Awesome!" said the Possum blends stories with original and traditional songs.
CDs now in the works include Crazy Bay, which will feature a mix of character songs, stories, and accompanied poems featured in her BardLive theatrical shows Living the Questions and The Urban Hermit. She is also working on an Urban Hermit EP, featuring more music from that show. Visit her website at www.bardlive.com
“Rachel sings from the heart . . . She is irresistible.”
- Betsy Barnum, Great River Earth Institute
"I like to condense the things I do into the term BardLive," says Rachel Nelson. "The old bardic tradition was all about the live, oral performance of songs, stories, and poems. And live performance is the center of my work. I'm passionate about it. It's the exchange of energy between audience and performer that interests me. Every performance is unique, a thing we create together in the moment."
Accompanying herself on fiddle, banjo, guitar, hand drum, and washtub bass, Nelson has taken her brand of interactive live performance to venues as diverse as Arkansas' Acoustic Sounds Cafe, Minnesota's Oak Center General Store and Cedar Cultural Center, and North Dakota's WomanSong Festival. She presented her story musical Living the Questions at the 2008 National Storytelling Network Conference Fringe.
Nelson began her performing career in old-time and contra dance stringbands, including Mama's Apron Stringband, Buttermilk Hill, Spider on Ice, and Joe Shannon's Appalachian Acoustic Ensemble. Later, with her solo old-time act, she honed the performance craft, working each show as a blend of songs and stories designed to make a real connection with her audiences. She charmed audiences who had never given two hoots about fiddle and banjo tunes. During this time, she lived in Boone, North Carolina, giving her the opportunity to learn from many Appalachian musicians and storytellers. In 1994-95, she was a North Carolina Visiting Artist, sharing old-time music and stories with three piedmont counties.
Nelson's musical territory has been wide-ranging. While living in North Carolina, Nelson founded the Irish ensemble Bonnie Kate. Vocally, she expanded into solo features and harmony arrangements with the Boswell-style harmonies of the Virtue Sisters, the swing harmonies of the Tony Lama Country Swing Band, and the bluegrass and country harmonies of Wild Mountain Rose.
"Rachel sings from the heart . . . she is irresistible."
- Betsy Barnum, Great River Earth Institute
Songwriting is coming to the fore in Nelson's musical work, as demonstrated by her CD of original songs, Change is a Thousand Hearts. Here, her poetry and music meet. Some of her songs come out of the Celtic/Appalachian tradition she has performed for years, while others have a swing or bluesy feel. And in her arrangements of the old traditional tunes, Nelson enjoys "pushing the edges out: My take on folk music is that it has to grow and develop to be a living tradition. When I write songs, whether they have that 'old' feel or a more contemporary acoustic sound, I am participating in the living, breathing folk tradition."
Storytelling broke into Nelson's recorded work with her new CD of songs and stories for young listeners, "I'm Awesome!" said the Possum. Her mix of stories with traditional and original songs recalls the work of Pete Seeger or John McCutcheon. She now sits on the Board of Minnesota's Northstar Storytelling League and is their current Story Slam champion and has been a featured teller and workshop presenter at Northlands (Midwest) Storytelling Network conferences.
Theater has been a distinct and prominent thread in Nelson's musical career. She has composed, written songs, been musical director, recorded music, and performed as live musician or actor/musician in theaters from Minnesota to Tennessee and North Carolina. Her theater credits include work with Margolis-Brown Theater, At the Foot of the Mountain Theater, the Radisson Playhouse, Park Square Theater, In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater, Appalachian State University's Drama Department and Tennessee's Wood and Strings Puppet Theater. For five years, Nelson studied physical acting techniques with master teacher Kari Margolis. These experiences led to the creation of her musical theater piece After Leaving Eden: Living the Questions. Her newest "weird musical" The Urban Hermit premiered in June 2012.
All these diverse paths have converged on a new focus for Nelson: live oral performance. To describe her live performance mix of songs, stories, and poems, Nelson coined the term BardLive. "These days, I claim the old Celtic tradition of the bard, which held that a song, a story, and a poem were simply three versions of the same thing - that stuff that bards trade in. Live performance is the heart of what I do. I'm a communicator."
"Come hear the sassy, social-issue-oriented songs of Rachel Nelson."
- Jodi Ritter, Granary Girls
08/28/2012 Copyright BardLive Music 2012