Folk Singer Ana Egge Hits the Big Time

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Things just keep going right for Ana Egge. The Canadian-born, New Mexico-raised daughter of the heartland now living in Austin, Texas, just keeps landing in one sweet spot after another.

Ms. Egge (pronounced egg-ee) is currently on tour with pop-folk 1998 Grammy-winner Shawn Colvin, at her invitation. Before that, well-known folk-western performer Iris Dement asked if singer-songwriter Egge would open for her shows.

On top of it all, the twentysomething singer has just won a spate of awards, and the offers to play just keep coming. By contrast, just over a year ago she was working in a bakery and playing small cafes.

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No one is more surprised, or humbled by it, than Egge. "It feels big time," she says over lunch in a Washington, D.C., restaurant, standing apart from the K Street-suited lawyers in her Levi's, sneakers, and a friend's gray sweatshirt.

Egge's music is emerging at the top of a new batch of young acoustical performers like Kelly Willis sprouting up in Nashville and Austin. They've been inspired by pioneers like Bonnie Raitt who refused to define her music by category, shaped by the vocal prowess of Colvin, and empowered by the popular appetite for all-female music la Lilith Fair.

Egge's music has the heart and soul of country and the roots of folk, but in truth, it's really neither.

"It's not like Clint Black country music," she points out. "And it's not exactly folk," she snickers at the commercial pejorative the word can have. Rather, it's an eclectic mix of pop, folk, and country music.

As a songwriter, her lyrics are taken from her experiences in America's heartland with a family that has shared an interesting journey. When she was young, her father farmed durum wheat in North Dakota before moving the family of four girls to New Mexico to open an alternative school.

"My parents were hippies," she says with an obvious measure of pride. Both parents have operated the Down to Earth School outside of Silver City since Egge's childhood.

From her "hard-core Scandinavian" roots, and a mother who plays the accordion, came a love for singing. Egge says her music is a vehicle to pass down stories. "It's storytelling with a melody," she says.

"Fairest of Them All," from her acclaimed first CD, "River Under the Road," recalls a family adventure on a road trip across the American West in the family van: "Up in Vegas the neon screams/ loud as the traffic and her nylons seams/ she ran away to the Circus-Circus/ she wears high heels like in her dreams."

The application of episodic memory and clear imagery with powerful acoustic licks is one of the driving forces behind Egge's success.

Onstage in front of a packed house of about 1,200 later that evening, Egge is a display of confidence before the restless crowd. "I still can't believe I'm opening for Shawn Colvin ... pretttty groooovy!" she says to their applause.

When Egge is not on the road, she is in Austin, playing in well-known venues like the Cactus and the Icehouse. She got those jobs by winning a songwriting contest shortly after arriving in Texas.

The prize was a press release of the accomplishment and a trip to New York City. "It was like a stamp of approval from the city of Austin," she says.

"Then I just worked really hard at [the music] and got better and better gigs," she explains, augmenting her income with a second job in a bakery.

She still works from time to time with a craftsman doing fine-wood inlay on instruments. The multitalented performer even built her own guitar.

Most recently, Egge won awards at the Austin Folk Festival in the categories of Best Singer-Songwriter and Best Folk Artist.

"I couldn't believe it when I got those things," she says. "I always pursued my career in [small] steps, and so far it's working out."

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