Missy Raines is thundering into Boulder

After years in bluegrass, Missy Raines is still pushing her own musical boundaries.
D. Jahnke

As a kid in the 1970s, Missy Raines didn’t have a lot of female bluegrass role models.

“I come from a genre that, up until the last 20 years or so, was very male dominated,” Raines says. “And so I grew up in a time when there weren’t many women doing what I’m doing.”

But now looking back as a woman in her 50s, Raines has forged her own path and become a pioneer in her own right. With seven “Bass Player of the Year” awards to her name, from the International Bluegrass Music Association, Raines is both the only woman to have won the award and has won it more than any other person. She has two albums under her belt, including her newest release New Frontier, and plans to release more music later this year.

As Raines continues to evolve as a musician, she’s learned lessons in and out of the music industry.

“I think that the hardest thing for a woman at any age is to ignore what the world is saying about what we’re supposed to be, what we’re supposed to look like, what we’re supposed to be doing, and how we’re supposed to be pursuing our lives,” she says. “And the hardest thing is just to ignore that and to do what it is we know is right.”

Raines’ roots in music began as a child when parents would bring her to bluegrass concerts regularly. She started playing bass after her father brought one home. Before that day, she didn’t even know that her father could play the instrument and the novelty of the bass intrigued her.

“I’d been playing guitar and piano, and then there was suddenly this huge instrument in the house, and so I wanted to pick it up and learn it,” she says.

Raines took to the instrument. But unfortunately, her father passed away when she was 20 years old, before she had the opportunity to ask him when or how he learned to play.

Her thirst for music continued, though. And in 1990, she and her husband, fellow musician Ben Surratt, moved to Nashville and 26 years later they still call it home.

“We made that move so that we could both pursue music fulltime in a way that we hadn’t been able to previously,” Raines says. “We’d been living in Charlottesville, Virginia, but we came here on a prayer and a promise. I mean, we had no money. I had a gig, but there wasn’t anything necessarily waiting for us. We just kind of built it as we came.”

For Raines, each new album is an exploration of sorts. Although she has always had a role in writing the music on her records, her latest album, New Frontier, is entirely original material.

“I’ve evolved as a musician,” she says. “I’m not just playing bass and thinking about just that, but I’m thinking about the whole band and what’s going on and trying to think about the whole production of it when we’re playing. And when you think that way a lot, I think it makes you sharper, and you’re just hearing more and all that.”

Another new aspect of Raines’ music is her increasing use of vocals. She stretches her own singing voice more these days than she has in the past.

“I’ve gotten more comfortable singing,” she confirms. “I would never really consider myself a singer, but I feel like I can sing if I pick out the right song. … I pick out good material. I have a knack for that, but I’m not one of those people that just can sing any style. I definitely have my limit of kind of styles that I sing, but that’s cool because it’s uniquely mine.”

She says her next album will feature more of her own singing and songwriting.

“Ideally, you’re always sort of looking for and listening to the world to see what it’s going to tell you — it’s going to speak to you and then you can go write about it,” she says.

Although her music may be changing, the way Raines feels about performing remains the same. She describes the feeling of being on stage as terrifying but fantastic. When on stage, she says she feels like it’s what she was meant to do.

“I just got to try to get my head in a really good space,” she says. “I just try to get all the negative thoughts out or all of the doubt or all of the worry and all of that out of the way and just try to get into a place where I can get out of my own way and play.”

On the Bill: Missy Rains & The New Hip. 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 6, Chautauqua, 900 Baseline Road, Boulder, 303-442-3282.

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