UMD Alum wins spot on NPR's Tiny Desk Concert

BY KAHLA STATEMA | The Statesman  

Duluth is home to many great musicians, like Trampled by Turtles, Low and The Crunchy Bunch, to name a few, but another local is on the rise.

Local musician and fiddle instructor Gaelynn Lea was announced as the 2016 NPR Tiny Desk Contest winner in March.

“It was a total surprise. In like zero percent chance did I think that I was going to win. When I found out they were calling me, I thought maybe I was a finalist,” Lea said.

Lea’s video for her song “Someday We’ll Linger in the Sun” was selected by the judges out of nearly 6,000 other submissions.

“It’s not that I didn’t like the song that I submitted or didn’t think I could win, it’s just out of that many artists, it’s really weird for me,” Lea said.

Lea has been playing with bands around Duluth since 2006 and has been teaching fiddle lessons since 2013.

“I wanted to do something and I was self-employed,” Lea giggled at herself before continuing. “And I liked music a lot, obviously. Then I started thinking about how, y’know, I should see how it goes and see how I like it.”

Lea started teaching four students and now has an average of 15 students scheduled to take lessons with her.

“I play shows quite a bit, so I probably wouldn’t want a whole lot more than that because I want to have energy to perform and practice and all that stuff that goes with that,” she said.

You may have seen Lea playing her fiddle down on the boardwalk over the summer or around town at places such as Carmody’s Irish Pub or the Red Herring Lounge.

Lea went solo shortly after she began teaching fiddle lessons.

The group that she was playing in broke up, but she continued playing with Alan Sparhawk (of the band Low) in their band the Murder of Crows.

“When the band broke up, I kinda realized that if I wanted to play more often, that I was going to have to get comfortable playing by myself,” Lea said.

Lea booked herself weekly gigs at Bulldog Pizza, which provided a less intense atmosphere.

“It’s a restaurant with only about 40 people, so I was only background noise,” Lea said.

After playing at Bulldog for a while, Lea was asked if she wanted to perform in the Acoustic Salute to the Music of Bob Dylan showcase at the Sacred Heart Music Center in May of 2015.

This was Lea’s first big solo gig.

“It was pretty full, like there were probably a couple hundred people there,” she said.

Lea recalls this moment as being nerve-wracking for her as well as feeling out of her “norm.”

“I had never been in an environment where all eyes were actually on me. It wasn’t like background noise. But it went really well and that kind of gave me courage. It made me think ‘If I can do this, then I can do other stuff,’ you know what I mean?”

Lea is now getting ready to tour the United States for the NPR Tiny Desk Contest tour.

You can catch Lea at this year’s Homegrown Music Festival on May 6 at 6 p.m. at Beaner’s with the Murder of Crows and at 10:30 p.m. at Teatro Zuccone.


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