Musician from rural Washington finds success without having to commute: NPR

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Singer-songwriter Margo Cilker has carved out a niche for herself performing original country songs from her home in rural Washington State.

Kirk Siegler/NPR


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Kirk Siegler/NPR


Singer-songwriter Margo Cilker has carved out a niche for herself performing original country songs from her home in rural Washington State.

Kirk Siegler/NPR

BOISE, Idaho — Margo Cilker’s songs take listeners to some of the West’s most forgotten places: from Highway 99 through the California countryside in the south to Tehachapi Pass in the north and Jordan Valley, Ore.

“I took a room in the old Basque hotel, it was like a kind of prayer when the eyelids fell,” explain the lyrics of That River, the first track from his first full album. Pohoryl.

The lack of live concerts over the past two years has been especially difficult for up-and-coming musicians from small towns and villages like Cilker. But in the end, it may have evened the playing field.

“I was one of the lucky ones to come out of the pandemic with more opportunities in the industry,” says Cilker.

Originally from the Bay Area suburb of California, Cilker spent most of her fledgling career in the rural northwest, from remote eastern Oregon to eastern Washington, where her husband works as a clerk. ranch.

During the closings, Cilker did odd jobs around the ranch and sometimes performed live for cowboys and vets. And she wrote a lot. Everyone was distant and virtual and his rural life figured heavily in his music. This seems to have given his career a boost.

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“So many people are concentrated in the big cities, and it shows in their writing,” Cilker says. “It becomes seamless in and of itself. I never felt like I could move to Nashville or Los Angeles or New York. None of that would feed my art.”

And even though she doesn’t live in those traditional music homes, she still gets noticed. Seattle indie rocker Will Cahoone is helping produce his second LP, due out later this year. This summer, Cilker also landed a lucrative gig on tour with Texas singer-songwriter Hays Carll..

Country rocker Cilker appears to be part of a small but growing trend of musicians realizing they can stay where they are and make it through the pandemic. And in some cases, some are even leaving cities for smaller towns, according to Sean Lynch, who manages two indie rock bands and a club in Billings, Montana.

“The consumer at that point has everything they want at their disposal,” Lynch told NPR. “If it’s good, it’s good. It doesn’t matter if it’s from Billings, Montana, or New York. If it’s good, people are going to listen to it.”

Touring and live shows are essential to making money right now for any band or singer, and this has especially been the case coming out of the pandemic. Lynch advises his fledgling artists that it’s much harder to make money and afford to go on tour today if they live in Nashville or Los Angeles due to high rents.

Margo Cilker performing at an independent festival earlier this year in Boise, Idaho.

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Margo Cilker performing at an independent festival earlier this year in Boise, Idaho.

Kirk Siegler/NPR

During her tour – her schedule has recently resumed in earnest – Margo Cilker has given a lot of thought to how her art can dispel stereotypes about rural life. Interviewed on stage at Treefort Music Festival in Boise in March, she said she often sees more women working on cattle branding crews than in music festival lineups.

Cilker sees herself and her music as straddling the line, moving through the two worlds of a divided America.

“I’ll see something and think that’s why people hate liberals,” she laughs. “And then I’ll see something ridiculous on the other end of the spectrum, and it’s like, of course, that’s why everyone’s flocking to big cities.”

Among the crowd favorites at the Boise festival was a song inspired by the Oregon Poet Laureate’s work titled Barbed Wire (Belly Crawling).

“There’s a farmer we know, who walks into the tavern, where the bright lights grab the spirit,” she sings. “The band gets an encore, the farmer a good dose, and we’re all getting closer this time.”

Although her career appears to be on the rise, Cilker hasn’t lost sight of her rural influences, as she attempts to bridge the country’s growing rural-urban divide through song.

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