When Beth Marie Anderson started on her professional music journey in 2009, she envisioned a career as a country recording artist and performer and has recorded a pair of full-length albums in Nashville, Tenn.
But with country looking less and less familiar these days, she is getting back to the roots of the music.
“I personally think country is going through an identity crisis,” said Anderson. “Because of that, I can’t call myself a country artist. To me, original country music has elements of bluegrass, blues, soul and rootsy folk. Those are the elements in my music.”
Anderson, 28, who splits time between her Parksville home and the recording mecca of Nashville, will be right at home next Friday when she performs as the feature artist in the Qualicum Acoustic Café at Rotary House in Qualicum Beach.
The Acoustic Café, a monthly mix of open-stage acts and feature artist, takes place Jan. 29 beginning at 7 p.m. Tickets, just $7 each or $5 for open-stage performers, go on sale Saturday at 11 a.m. at Diva Vintage Kandy and Kakes in downtown Qualicum Beach.
“When we were looking for someone to feature, we’re looking for more than, ‘Are they good musicians?’” said Joyce Beaton, co-founder and organizer of Acoustic Café. “We also want them to engage with the audience. It’s good to be able to come in and sing the song, but if they can also tell the stories, set the stage for the songs, that’s what lets people, when they leave at the end of the night, feel like they’ve made a connection with the performer.”
And Anderson is up to the task.
“For this type of audience and venue, I equate it to playing a house concert,” Anderson said, noting the cozy, 80-seat venue. “Because I’ll be playing by myself and I’m not plugged in, I’ll be showcasing my songwriting and vocal abilities. It’s not like playing in a bar; you have people who are there to hear what you have to say.”
Anderson hardly needs to be plugged in to be heard. During a recent interview in the back room of Pacific Brimm Coffee Shop in Parksville, she sang a few original numbers accompanied by acoustic guitar.
Upon walking the length of the building to exit, a patron at a table at the front door said, “That sounded great.”
Anderson pens lyrics that range from dark — and darkly hilarious — to achingly intimate. They are delivered with a voice that can command as a Joplinesque growl and maintain its power even when delivered as a breathy confession to a lover.
“I never get tired,” she said. “My voice is a workhorse.
“I think I can thank my classical and opera training for a lot of that, but there was always a seed of pop, rock and country in there.”
Perhaps most remarkably, she has been singing for fewer than 10 years. After learning piano and, later, flute as a youngster, Anderson decided to take voice lessons when she was 19 years old. After startling her teacher after a few months of lessons, she went on to spend a year in the Conservatory of Music in Vancouver and took additional lessons before electing to embark on a career in music.
And her guitar playing is an even more recent development, beginning the year after she started singing.
“I actually asked my parents for a piano for Christmas, and I got a guitar. Yay,” she deadpanned sarcastically. “I was so mad, and my fingers got so sore. But they said, ‘You can take it more places.’”
As it turns out, they were right, and Anderson is thankful in retrospect. She has since learned ukelele and is beginning to play the mandolin as well.
The guitar has also become the staple in her burgeoning songwriting career. After six years of collaborating with songwriters in Nashville and making contacts through showcases and exhibits in the U.S., France and Canada, she is now teaming up with young, emerging Canadian artists on songwriting collaborations as a way to increase her exposure in the industry.
“If you asked me four or five years ago, I would have said I’m a vocalist who writes,” Anderson said. “Now, I’m a songwriter who sings. If I can get on recordings of these young, up-and-coming artists, and one of them hits it big and I have songwriting credits on half of their album, that will benefit me.
“It’s like planting all these seeds everywhere. If I can get my ‘in’ through my songwriting, I’ll take it. If I get it through my singing, I’ll do that. It all depends on which doors open.”
As to that one-time dream of becoming a “commercial” country star, Anderson has put it aside, recognizing she does not fit in the box the industry has constructed for today’s performers.
“If you listen to my first album, you hear a lot of twang in my voice,” she said. “I don’t do that anymore. I think it’s time we have real artists with real music behind them.”