By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer
Though she had to force herself to become a solo musician, the risk was worth it for Gaelynn Lea.
The Minnesota-based indie singer-songwriter fell in love with music at an early age, and after overcoming some major hurdles, she began playing fiddle and singing harmony in bands all around her region, including the duo The Murder of Crows with Alan Sparhawk of Low, which they formed in 2011.
Two years later, Lea finally started performing on her own, utilizing looping technology to add layers to her sound.
"I never wanted to do a solo show, but I forced myself," Lea said. "I booked myself a weekly gig at a pizza shop ... and played there a whole year (before recording) my first album."
But her solo music struck a chord, and she found success beyond her expectations. Now, Lea is touring the country full time, performing 200-plus shows in 2017 in 41 states. She'll make her Amarillo debut with a 10 p.m. Friday show at Golden Light Cantina, 2906 S.W. Sixth Ave. Cover is $7. Call 806-374-9237.
Lea's career took off in 2016 when she won NPR's Tiny Desk Contest — the judges' top performer among 6,100 entries.
Her simple video for original song "Someday We'll Linger in the Sun" captivated the judges, including organizer Bob Boilen: "Truth be told I saw musicians with better craft than Gaelynn, heard singers more capable. That was true of last year's winner as well. Skill and craft is a part of how we select a winner. What Gaelynn Lea did for all of our judges, myself included, was to make something memorable."
The video lays bare the way Lea has overcome significant challenges to build her music career. She was born with osteogenesis imperfecta, or brittle bones disease, a congenital disorder affecting her height and mobility.
"It's considered a rare disorder — one in every 50,000," Lea said. "It varies a lot. It doesn't look the same in everybody."
Because her violin is very nearly as tall as she is, she plays it upright, like a cello — an adjustment she perfected as a child. But despite the disability, Lea said she was never discouraged from playing — quite the opposite, in fact.
But until she won the Tiny Desk concert, the prospect of a national tour was well off her radar. With husband Paul, she began hitting the road in September 2016.
"We went all in — sold our house and got a van," Lea said.
Without him, Lea said the tour would be impossible.
"We tour together partly because I need his help and partly because I don't want to be away from him that long," she said. "I know a lot of couples that try to have one on the road and one at home, and it doesn't end well.
"I definitely need support," she continued. "People with disabilities, if they want to tour, they need support. But it's not impossible."
While some indie musicians can couch-surf their way across the country, Lea said that's not an option for her.
"We don't because so many places are inaccessible," she said. "And then of course, the venues (have to be accessible). That's frustrating ... but it's the (lack of accessibility) for people in the audience with disabilities that bothers me the most."