On March 5 Rachel Baiman makes her Swallow Hill Music debut in Tuft Theatre with Vivian Leva & Riley Calcagno. If the Chicago-raised, Nashville-based singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist is new to you, a great place to start is with her most recent album, 2021’s Cycles.
Folk Alley heaped praise on the album in their review. Saying, “These songs on Cycles wash over us with bracing shivers of truth and cleansing quivers of vulnerability and hope.” In noting her “emotional clarity” and “crystalline” voice, they write “Baiman knows well the faltering rhythms of the human heart and its resilience in shuffling through life’s passages, and her lyrics convey the jagged ways we move from hope to loss and back again.”
We were very fortunate to catch up with Rachel via email as she prepared to head out on tour. Read on to learn more about her connection to Colorado, what to expect at her concert, and her perspective on social justice issues in the music industry.
The first time I listened to your latest album my ears perked up at “When You Bloom (Colorado),” which follows the equally wonderful “Wyoming Wildflowers.” How long have you been coming through this part of the country? Do you have any fond performance memories of Colorado or Wyoming? I ask this with the understanding that Colorado and Wyoming both act as much as metaphors as physical places in these songs, all the same you capture them so well!
Thank you! These songs are both actually entirely literal in their place references, although they are being used to create messaging that is more metaphorical. I explain that because YES, the West has such a special place in my heart. When I was a teenager, I would come out to Colorado every summer for a week long masterclass type fiddle camp. I had a band with a group of friends, we would meet up every summer, and it was really a unique chance for me to play with people my age.
Growing up in Chicago I didn’t have those kinds of peers around. It was always this amazingly beautiful week with the mountain landscape and gorgeous weather, friends, and music. Now I treasure every opportunity to come out west. Something about all the space makes everything feel immensely existential and beautiful. My sister now lives in Boulder (the subject matter of “When You Bloom”) and one of my best friends and long time bandmates Shelby Means grew up in Wyoming. Wyoming Wildflowers was written while I was out there for her wedding.
For folks who have been following your career, as a solo artist, with 10 String Symphony, and other collaborations, what can they expect to hear in Tuft Theatre on March 5?
This is going to be a really special show because it’s in collaboration with Riley and Vivian. It will be more acoustic leaning than the Cycles album, but more song-based than the 10 String Symphony material. However, since Riley is a great fiddle player, there may be some twin fiddle action! I’d say it will be closest to the sound of the “Shame” album, with lots of banjo and acoustic guitar, but we will be covering material from Shame, Cycles, and Thanksgiving, as well as Vivian and Riley’s songs!
The aforementioned “Wyoming Wildflowers” also touches on some social justice themes. You’ve been a working musician and at times activist in Nashville for over 10 years. From what you’ve seen, what impact have recent social justice movements had on the music industry?
I do actually think there has been a lot of progress in the inclusion and uplift of female, black, indigenous and artists of color. While the conversations can feel so pointless sometimes, I really do see a lot more diversity in lineups, and I actually feel the impact on my own career. I notice now that a lot of people are trying to include women and/or BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) artists in their bands or festival lineups and I think my work has increased in part for that reason. Maybe it’s performative, but I honestly don’t care because not only is it helpful to all of our careers, it will have a huge impact on the next generation of musicians. Young people are now seeing a diverse cast of characters on stage, and will look to them as leaders and mentors.
Where I’d like to see a lot more progress is in studios, with session musicians, engineers and producers. That process is more hidden and I think people get lazy about finding diverse people to hire because it’s less visible.
How has it been getting back on the road after pausing for COVID-related restrictions? Were you excited, apprehensive, or perhaps a little of both?
I was so excited, and I had a great summer of touring in 2021. That made it all the more devastating when there were so many cancellations this winter. I honestly just can’t wait for this all to be behind us.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
I just can’t wait for the show and to share live music with you all again!!!
Thanks again Rachel!