I feel the most satisfied when I finish a song 

Caroline Herring is no stranger to the American songwriting tradition.

And that doesn’t just mean the U.S.

As a college student living and working in her adopted hometown of Austin, Texas, she worked for the state Folklife Resource, and often accompanied all manner of “heritage musicians” to their gigs – handling the details so these backwoods masters could do their thing without being encumbered by stressful negotiations.

It was a golden opportunity for this native of Canton, Miss., (who initially planned on a career in education). It was the promise of her own education that led her to the music mecca of Austin in the first place.

However, as she related to journalist Sherry Lucas a few weeks back, “I wanted to be a singer/songwriter but didn't in my wildest dreams imagine that I could be.”

And so, she studied, but also drove established Conjunto players, fiddlers and songwriters back and forth to their shows. Somewhere along the way, her dream started to seem more attainable.

And fulfilling.

“It was really fun to go out with these master musicians, and have nobody know that I'm a musician,” she has said. “I'd just take care of business, make sure everything's lined up, then get out of the way and watch the magic start happening.”

It soon became apparent to her that she was much more suited to this lifestyle than to drier, more academic pursuits. By the time she relocated to Austin (known for its vibrant nightlife and for churning out generations of seasoned, hard-luck should-have-beens along with internationally recognized country stars), she’d already earned a Master’s in Southern Studies at Ole Miss while juggling the responsibilities of playing and singing bluegrass in a traditional country band.

But at some point, though, she put it all down and split.

“I love being in classrooms,” Herring told another writer of that time in her life. “But it can become a very expensive hobby.”

Describing it as a long road with “no promise at the end,” she traded songwriting for homework, and shortly thereafter, the lovely and talented alto had been offered a long-term Happy Hour gig at the famous Stubb’s Bar-B-Q joint.

It was that standing afternoon slot that found her performing in front of many of Austin’s most respected tunesmiths – and several of them (like Ray Wylie Hubbard, Slaid Cleaves and Tish Hinjosa) were forthcoming with praise and advice for the budding guitarist with the guileless lyrical sense and clear, pure vocal tone.

In what must have seemed like no time at all she was named Best New Artist in Austin at the 2002 South By Southwest industry showcase and music festival.

Parlaying her newfound visibility into a debut album was only natural, and that CD – Twilight – earned her even more raves. Soon was headlining nice listening rooms and outdoor events like Rhode Island’s Newport Folk Fest.

With a vocal delivery reminiscent of a young Nanci Griffith or the great Kelly Willis (who contributes backing vocals to Herring’s sophomore release, Wellspring), and a steady stream of expressive laments, both of Herring’s studio efforts reek of truthfulness – as does her latest disc, a live set recorded with fellow critics’ darling Claire Holley.

Still, for her, not even critical success, peer approval, a growing fanbase, and a new baby have been able to quell the restless hungry feeling that’s all too familiar to serious, dedicated songwriters worldwide.

Opines Herring, “While satisfied with a life of playing and writing music, it still can be a little solitary, a little lonely.”

As she told one reporter, “I feel the most satisfied, like I have contributed something to this world, when I finish writing a song. A close second is when some good sounds are belting out of my throat in front of an audience.”

This upcoming concert – her first local appearance since last year’s the 2004 Sidewalk Arts Festival, may prove to be one of many to come, as she and her husband now live in Atlanta.

“I want to build up an audience in this part of the country,” she says – adding, “We’ll be staying here for a while.”

Caroline Herring appears 8 pm Friday at Trinity United Methodist Church (on Telfair Square). Tickets ($10 for the general public and $8 for Savannah Folk Music Society and Trinity UMC members) will be sold at the door a half-hour before showtime.. For more info, call 786-6953, or go to



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Jim Reed

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