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SUMMER / FALL 2019      © 2021 812 Magazine

Indiana bound

Like the lyrics of her songs, folksinger/songwriter Bobbie Lancaster is rooted in her home state. Now she's balancing music and motherhood.

With a full moon shining on the very first snow of the winter/That was the world on the day you were born/I want to set you free/I want to feel you breathe/I want to give you wings/And I hope one day you're going to fly back home to me.

-- "Edie's Song," Bobbie Lancaster

Last winter, Southern Indiana musician Bobbie Lancaster played a house show in Fishers, Ind. During her performance of "Edie's Song," a woman approaches her in tears. The woman, estranged from her daughter, says she has been waiting for her to come home for the past 20 years.

Lancaster says her ability to help people touch base with themselves is powerful. "It's not just my experience, but a human experience," she says.

Lancaster wrote the song for her 5-year-old daughter Edie, who she says changed her life. On the way to the hospital for Edie's birth, a full moon and falling snow inspired the song.

"I wrote the song down in the car on a brown napkin -- probably from somewhere where they served chicken because that's all I wanted to eat," she says.

For the past couple years, Lancaster has been balancing the role of parent to Edie and her three-year-old son Sam, and life as a full-time musician.

Lancaster says she started making to-do lists again instead of having thoughts rattling around while she's trying to interact with her husband, Jeff Lancaster, and the kids at home.

She doesn't plan on slowing down anytime soon.

Lancaster, now 31, won the 2010 Emerging Artist award at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival for her children's songs, and she was a 2010 Kerrville New Folk Finalist. She released her first solo album and her second children's album "Little Folks" in 2009. She performs gigs all over the Midwest.

"It was a big year for me," she says. "It's as if the universe was giving me a hug and saying everything is going to be alright."

After a busy 2010, Lancaster has signed on for the January and February production of the folk opera "Pure Prine" in Chicago. The opera follows an older couple, younger couple, waitress and bartender who come together in a smoke-filled bar. Without a single word of dialogue, folk singer-songwriter John Prine's lyrics and sounds become the only communication on stage.

How the sky turns to fire against a telephone wire/Burns the last of the day down/And I'm the last one hangin' around/Waiting on a train track, and the train never comes back/And even I'm getting tired of useless desires.

-- "Useless Desires," Patty Griffin

Lancaster attended Indiana University for a semester in the fall of 1997 as a vocal performance major, but soon realized she didn't want to pursue a career in opera. She followed her boyfriend at the time to Vincennes University in 1998. After working three jobs and singing in coffee shops, she came back to Bloomington in 1999.

"A lot of times, a voice guided me," Lancaster says about making decisions throughout her life. "It brought me back to Bloomington, and I knew this is where I was supposed to be."

As soon as she returned, she started working at a nursing home, and soon they offered to pay her way through nursing school. But she wanted a more flexible job, so she started singing at funerals.

Lancaster says it was hard to be around grieving people, but she was grateful to be their "person." And it's worse when the music starts -- people start to lose it, Lancaster says.

Performing "Peace in the Valley," "I'll Fly Away," and "Amazing Grace" at funerals helped Lancaster realize her role in life. She wasn't just there to sing at the funeral or wedding, but to be an emotional release for people attending these events.

Although Lancaster enjoyed her job, she quit to work at a real estate company. She started performing with Bloomington blues band Code Blue until she formed duo Stella & Jane with her second real estate job co-worker Suzette Weakley.

Stella is Suzette's legal name and Jane is Lancaster's middle name. The duo performed open mic nights in Southern Indiana and Tennessee and recorded two albums.

Weakley was the first musician to introduce Lancaster to the mandolin.

"I played until my fingers started bleeding -- it's a part of me now," she says. Lancaster plays mandolin on a few of her children's songs on "Little Folks," which she performs at the Monroe County YMCA every Friday.

In order for Lancaster to sign on for a gig, it must meet her criteria: It has to expose her to a new audience or new territory; it must be a moneymaker; it has to make the "things I want to do in my life" list and it has to give her that feeling.

Last winter, she performed several shows at Indianapolis public libraries, which she will continue this spring. She says her songs about manners, bullying and going to the doctor received a positive response.

As a YMCA part-time employee, Lancaster began to work with teachers on their lesson plans to incorporate messages within children's songs. The titles are mostly self-explanatory: "Clean UP!" and "The Amazing Apple." The lyrics are simple, allowing Lancaster to deliver messages that she hopes will be positive reinforcement for the children.

For both "Little Folks" and her debut solo album, Lancaster's songwriting was influenced by songwriters including Gillian Welch, Steve Earl and Patty Griffin.

In relation to the lyrics, Lancaster says she is often caught up in what she wants, and gets stuck in that wanting place. She says it's a constant battle to let go.

For a large portion of her life, Lancaster had always wanted to be doing more. It may be her time now.

They're closing down the textile mill across the railroad tracks/ Foreman says these jobs are going boys and they ain't coming back to/ Your hometown, your hometown, your hometown, your hometown.

-- "My Hometown," Bruce Springsteen

When Southern Indiana musician Tim Grimm heard Lancaster perform at the Players Pub on South Walnut Street in Bloomington, Ind., three years ago, he was not only impressed by her remarkable voice, but the spirit behind the voice. Her stage presence is a relaxed yet focused approach.

Lancaster performed at Hoosier Dylan in late 2009. As only one of two females on stage, she didn't seem intimidated to be performing Dylan songs with a mostly male ensemble. As she started singing "Man Gave Names to All The Animals," her voice drifted to the farthest crevices of the balcony..

Lancaster has participated in several of Grimm's Hoosier concert series: Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams and Bruce Springsteen -- all tributes organized around male singer-songwriters.

Worried she wouldn't even have a band, Grimm booked Jason Wilber who plays guitar with John Prine, Gordon Bonham -- the Indiana blues man -- and Troye Kinnett, who plays keyboard for John Mellencamp.

During the Springsteen show, Lancaster says she never knew Bruce as a songwriter, but grew to love him as she dug through hours of songs to find ones that spoke to her as a woman. She found "Used Cars" from the "Nebraska" album and "My Hometown."

"Used Cars" is about a child sitting back in his seat while his parents test-drive a car, but more so about a child growing up where his family didn't have a whole lot of money, which was similar to Lancaster's situation growing up in Rochester, Ind.

Lancaster says she was waiting to hear a song that caught her emotionally, because she performs best when there is a powerful connection.

Troye Kinnett helped Lancaster perform "My Hometown," and Lancaster is still considering recording that song on her next album.

"I grew up in a small town where every time I'd go home, there would be a new shop closed up or factories closed that used to be the staples of the community," Lancaster says. "So it's my story, too."

Her self-titled album's first single "What You Do To Me" dips in the country waters as Lancaster subtly expresses her desires. "Tragic Tale of Maggie Donovan" tells the story of a woman who lost her husband but not her faith.

The track "Fading," features backing vocals from another Southern Indiana singer-songwriter, Jennie Devoe. Lancaster gives listeners insight to her life through the song lyrics off her self-titled debut solo album.

She has already started conceptualizing her next album, which will be a collection of love songs. She hopes to record a live album at Farm Fresh Studios, a "giant sanctuary," similar to the Grateful Dead's "Live at Fillmore East."

"Lindsay Lohan can sound great in the studio, but if you're live, you're naked, and I know I can deliver," Lancaster assures.

Well I'm thinking I'm knowing that I gotta be going/You know I hate to say so long/It gives me an ocean of mixed up emotion/I'll have to work it out in a song.

-- You Got Gold, John Prine

Writing and recording for the next album will take place sometime after her busy January and February when she is singing and acting in the production of the folk opera "Pure Prine" in Chicago.

She performed "Pure Prine" on the Phoenix Theatre stage in Indianapolis last summer, but before those shows, the last time Lancaster contributed to a theatre production was 13 years ago.

Lancaster says she appreciates Prine's bold and brave songwriting. She says he is one of those individuals not afraid to say what's on his mind or what he thinks politically.

Listeners don't have to wonder what he's talking about-- he keeps it simple.

Lancaster, influenced by Prine's songwriting, says she is not a very technical mandolin player, so her writing is simple.

"I'm not ashamed of that, because it doesn't need to be crazy technically to be powerful," she says.

Grimm says the "Pure Prine" performances give Lancaster a great opportunity to perform for a much larger audience.

"She's a rising musician," Grimm says. "What's very admirable about her is that she is balancing life well with her music."

While performing "Pure Prine" in Chicago, Lancaster will be away from her husband and children for weekends at a time, but if it's anything like 2010, she will make it work.

"I was performing like psycho with 174 performances all year including children's shows," Lancaster says. "I'm proud of that."