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Dana Oland arts column: Folk icon finds her voice again

Belinda Bowler recorded “Trumpet Vine” at Rich Brotherton’s Ace Recording Studio in Austin, Texas. “We had so much fun,” Bowler says. “We laughed. We cried. We ate really good Mexican food.”
Belinda Bowler recorded “Trumpet Vine” at Rich Brotherton’s Ace Recording Studio in Austin, Texas. “We had so much fun,” Bowler says. “We laughed. We cried. We ate really good Mexican food.” Andy Lawless Photography

Belinda Bowler’s voice can take your breath away. It’s softly soothing, bell-clear and tinged with a touch of grit that tells of sadness, loss and love.

Once a staple in the Northwest music scene — an artist to be contended with — she stepped off the road circuit for a “real job,” she says.

Now, after nearly 20 years away, she’s back with a new CD titled “Trumpet Vine,” and the desire to share her musical gifts again.

“It’s an entrance back into this part of my life,” Bowler says. “There’s been a lot of loss these past few years. It’s made me realize that life is short. So, you ask, ‘What do you have to offer?’ This is what I can do.”

Bowler will launch her CD with a Record Exchange in-store solo performance on Nov. 5 and a full concert with a killer back-up band Nov. 12.

Bowler recorded “Trumpet Vine” in Austin, Texas, at her longtime friend and fellow musician Rich Brotherton’s Ace Recording. Brotherton played with Bowler and John Hansen back in the day. He now plays with Robert Earl Keen.

Her friends Curtis Stigers and Jodi Peterson stepped up to produce the Nov. 12 concert after hearing the CD. Bowler will be backed by Dave Manion on guitar, Thomas Paul on guitar and vocals, Jay Multanen on bass, Casey Miller on percussion and Lisa Theo on vocals —with special guests Stigers, Hansen, Johnny Shoes and Michael Baltzell.

“I have a lot of musician friends who give me CDs, and they’re always good, but I couldn’t take this one out of the CD player,” Stigers says. “It’s such a great record. She deserves a great coming-out party.”

From the title song, Kate Wolf’s “The Trumpet Vine,” to Stigers’ “End of the Afternoon” to Isham Jones and Gus Kahn’s “I’ll See you in My Dreams,” the musical journey goes from sweet to sad to inspirational. “Every song has meaning for me,” Bowler says.

Bowler grew up in Denver and moved to Boise in high school when her parents relocated. Her father, Holden, was also a singer who made his mark in the state. Belinda Bowler, called Bindy by friends, performed across the region, hitting the Sandpiper Circuit though Idaho, Oregon and Montana. She lived and performed in Seattle, opened for major acts such as Arlo Guthrie and toured England with another Idaho musical icon, Pinto Bennett.

“When I was coming up, she was one of the cats in Boise, you know, one of the finest musicians in the city, with this voice that’s like the great outdoors,” Stigers says. “When I finally met her years later, it was like meeting a hero.”

The life of a working musician is tough, and Bowler wanted something more stable. In the late 1990s, she went to Boise State, eventually getting a degree in education. She married photographer and filmmaker Andy Lawless 10 years ago and taught elementary school in Star and at Anser Charter School, often using music as a teaching tool. She kept her little toe in the music scene by performing at Stigers’ Xtreme Holiday Xtravaganza each year. Last year, she stepped back from teaching.

She had always wanted to record a children’s album of songs she wrote to teach subjects like the Western expansion, but what happened in the next two years sent her in another direction.

She lost her mother, her father-in-law, her sister and one of her best girlfriends. She decided on another kind of album — a cathartic collection of the songs she loves to sing. Each one has a deep personal connection and memory attached to it.

“I used to sing Curtis’ ‘End of the Afternoon’ to my mom,” Bowler says. “She loved that song. The night she died, I sang it to her before she went to sleep.”

The CD will be in stores on Nov. 5. It features Bowler on guitar and vocals, and Brotherton on everything else.

Reflecting as she wrote her liner notes a few weeks ago, Bowler thanked her family first of all. “Where would we be without family,” she says.

Watch Belinda Bowler sing “Christmas in the Trenches” at the Xtreme Holiday Xtravaganza.

LED Follow-up

Could the next big thing come out of Boise? If you saw “This Side of Paradise,” LED’s fusion debut performance of music, dance and film at the Morrison Center on Oct. 10, then you know that’s entirely possible.

It was truly one of the most dynamic and inventive performances I’ve seen in a long while. Mixing music, dance, projection and spoken word at this level gets tricky. One element usually feels left out or given short shrift, but not in this case.

The front of the stage was occupied by six dancers — co-founder Lauren Edson, Jason Hartley, Jessica Liu, Sayoko Knode, Evan Stevens and Yurek Hansen — each original and individual in their style, yet able to coalesce into a unified, spitfire contemporary dance company. Composer and musician Andrew Stensaas led the 10 musicians who played his moving, layered score.

The night left the audience cheering and wanting more.

“We were pretty overwhelmed with the response we received,” Edson says. “It was an amazing way to launch our company.”

The next step is taking the show on the road, Edson says. She and Stensaas, her LED co-founder and husband, networked at the Arts Northwest booking conference that was held in Boise earlier this month. They are now looking at ways to scale the scope of the production to make a tour more affordable.

Creative entrepreneur and Treefort Music Fest partner John Michael Schert is helping Edson and Stensaas make contact with promoters in Chicago and on the East Coast. After LED’s in-store show at The Record Exchange on Oct. 1, store owners Michael Bunnell and Jil Sevy are working to help Edson connect to independent record stores for performances through the Coalition of Independent Music Stores they helped found.

“Oh, my gosh, it was one of the coolest in-stores we’ve ever done,” Sevy says. “We’ll do anything we can to support them. It’s such a great concept, and they’re both such amazing artists.”

Stensaas also is working to remaster the score for release on vinyl in January.

Edson and Stensaas are setting their sights on another fall show at the Morrison Center in 2016. They plan to launch a working collaboration with filmmaker Kyle Morck at Treefort in March that will use image mapping and other cool technology. As with “Paradise,” they will workshop it through the summer.

Edson also wants to bring Danielle Agami’s Los Angeles-based Ate9 Dance Company for some sort of co-production that is in development.

Holiday happenings

The Boise Philharmonic will celebrate the holiday season with two events.

▪  It will present Handel’s “Messiah” with the Boise Philharmonic Master Chorale at 8 p.m. Dec. 4-5 at St. John’s Cathedral, 775 N. 8th St., Boise. Tickets are $30 and $35 general, $20 students and 17 and younger.

▪  In the past two years, the Boise Phil’s Holiday Pops, also with the Master Chorale, has become a sold-out hit. This year it’s at 8 p.m. Dec. 11 at Swayne Auditorium, 707 Fern St., at Northwest Nazarene University, Nampa; and 8 p.m. Dec. 12 at the Morrison Center, 2201 Cesar Chavez Lane, Boise. This is part of the season. Individual tickets are $22-$71.50.

Get tickets for both at BoisePhil.org, 344-7849.

You won’t want to miss Ballet Idaho’s production of “The Nutcracker,” again with the Boise Phil in the pit. Performances are 8 p.m. Dec. 18; 2 and 8 p.m. Dec. 19; noon and 4 p.m. Dec. 20 at the Morrison Center. It’s also part of the season. Individual tickets are $38-$58 at BalletIdaho.org, 343-0556.

‘Trumpet Vine’ CD Release

▪  6 p.m. Nov. 5, The Record Exchange, 1105 W. Idaho St., Boise. Free.

▪  8 p.m. Nov. 12, El Korah Shrine, 1118 W. Idaho St, Boise. $25 at BrownPaperTickets.

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