Singer, songwriter and fiddle player extraordinaire Carrie Rodriguez is kind of lonely.
She’s currently on the Acoustic Brotherhood Tour with Los Lonely Boys and Alejandro Escovedo and is the only female among the 30 or so men traveling with the tour.
The folk/roots side of the music industry is mostly dominated by white men, and that’s the kind of environment Rodriguez has been playing for the past nine years. There are very few women, and even fewer Latinas, on that side of the industry, but she takes it in stride.
“I am aware that I could quite possibly be the only Latina fiddle player out there,” she says. “Actually, I know another great fiddle player from Texas; her name is Phoebe Hunt, who is half Puerto Rican. But it’s true; I realize that there aren’t a lot of Chicanas playing the type of music that I play. Aside from being a singer, as an instrumentalist, I don’t see a lot of women out there playing instruments and being a part of bands either. That’s something that I really hope changes in the coming years.”
Rodriguez was “discovered” back in 2001 by Americana singer-songwriter Chip Taylor (who is also Angelina Jolie’s uncle) at the South by Southwest music conference in Austin, Texas. The duo recorded four albums and an EP together before she released her Taylor-produced debut album, Seven Angels on a Bicycle, in 2006. In 2008 she released her sophomore album, She Ain’t Me, which focused more on her singing than her fiddle playing, but still had that folk sound. So how did she get into this style of music that rarely has brown and female participants?
“I think a lot of it has to do with where I grew up,” says Rodriguez, who hails from Austin. “I would go out and see live music at a very young age. My mother would take me out to see bands and a lot of singersongwriters. My father is actually a folk singer-songwriter. He used to sing me songs when I was a little girl; like, political folk songs for me to sleep to. I remember him singing me ‘The Ballad of Ira Hayes’ — that was one of my favorites when I was like 3 or 4. I have a feeling that that had a lot to do with me eventually coming to the genre of music that I’m in now, folk music, rootsy, singer-songwriter stuff.”
Rodriguez just released a new album, Carrie Rodriguez Live in Louisville, which was recorded in 2007, on the last day of her national tour with Lucinda Williams. The tour took place during the promotion of her debut album. While that album is a welcome snapshot of where Rodriguez was then, she’s very excited about her upcoming album, Love and Circumstance, which hits stores on April 13.
“It’s an album of all cover songs,” she says. “I’ve been writing original music. The last two records — they were all original songs, and I felt like I needed to take a step back and assess what I’ve done so far and choose songs that really speak to me. I think the process of choosing these covers is helping me in terms of being a songwriter and helping me learn what kind of songs I want to write. So I’ve got some classic country songs. I have a song in Spanish that my great aunt, Eva Garza, used to sing. A lot of the songs on this record are connected to me through family.”
The album will also include songs written by Hank Williams, Townes van Zandt, Lucinda Williams and Ry Cooder.
And while Rodriguez is a talented singer, songwriter and instrumentalist (she also plays tenor guitar and mandobird) who can probably succeed in any genre of music, she won’t be selling herself short for any extra radio play or album sales.
“I really have to love the music that I’m playing, or I would not be happy,” she says. “I think if I tried to write a song to specifically get played on the radio, or appeal to everyone, I don’t think I’d like that as much as what I’m doing now. And you never know. There are certain artists that catch on that aren’t necessarily Britney Spears … Look at someone like Feist. She’s pretty quirky, and she just writes great songs, and they caught on. So I think it’s important to follow my heart and my passion with music. And if that can feed me and give me a house, that’s great. That’s all I really need!”
In the meantime, she’s growing a thick skin to deal with all the fellas around her on an almost daily basis. And it appears that she’s beginning to fit in.
“I really learned how to be one of the boys,” she says. “I’m used to being in a van with a bunch of guys. I can hang with the fart jokes. But it’s fun. A lot of my best friends are men. But every time I meet a girl that plays an instrument, I try to be as encouraging as I can. I tell them, ‘We need you here. Keep practicing!’”
On the Bill: Carrie Rodriguez plays the Boulder Theater on March 1. Doors at 6:30 p.m. 21 and older. She opens for Los Lonely Boys and Alejandro Escovedo. Tickets are $29.50-$36.50. 2032 14th St., Boulder, 303-786-7030