Artist Interview: Danielle Gasparro’s Inspired Road

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The Songwriter Unplugged Series at Yoshi’s Lounge is notable for culling the best local talent, but continues to expand its musical horizons by booking acts from across the country. This week, Bay Vibes hosts at least two artists from out of state, Washington’s Jean Mann and NYC’s Danielle Gasparro. In true troubadour fashion, Gasparro’s is arriving in SF via an extensive national tour. The piano playing singer-songwriter, who began performing as a jazz vocalist before presenting her own compositions, talked about life on the road.

Q Can you talk about getting ready for this tour? I know you describe it as grassroots–Did you book it yourself? and are you touring with anyone?

DG: Yes, indeed. This is a lone-songbird enterprise. In terms of booking and promoting the concerts, plotting and planning all of the logistics, communicating with concert hosts and venues, driving the open road, etc. Essentially, I’m the source of things happening, and am responsible for ensuring that everyone involved with the adventure’s needs are met, including my own. However, I must say, once the tour-manager wheels start turning from the home office, I have the joy and fortune of connecting with amazing, gracious people without whom my journey would not be as successful. Or fun. For example, by reaching out to an incredible artist friend of mine in NYC who has performed in California, I met a fabulous person in SF who books house concerts in the Bay Area. They then kindly booked me for a sweet double-bill home concert in Redwood City, and also referred me to Bay Vibes, the music event company that produces the series I’m performing as part of this Sunday at Yoshi’s. Or, to give you a more personal example, in Seattle, a woman referred me to a great and reasonably priced hotel to stay at in Ashland, Oregon, and explained that if I could get that far on my drive down to San Francisco, it would be a great place to stay over, to see the gorgeous mountains I’d be driving through, in the sunrise. Both tips of which I took, and savored. So, I am not really alone in the driver’s seat of this voyage.

Q Are you writing any new material on the road?
DG: Alas… no. In terms of completing a fully composed song, anyway. And to be honest, that makes sense, given that I write musically on piano. Outside of free time being scarce in general, if I’m not in a place with my keyboard set up, finding a piano can be tricky. But more than that, as a writer, especially of lyrics, I tend to need a fair amount of physical and mental space to create, to take something on the inside and give it shape, form and meaning on the outside.
And being on tour, you are constantly doing the opposite, taking things on the outside, in. You’re encountering countless new people, places and things that you are constantly processing and reacting to. The upside of life on the road is, that its laden with bliss, and this translates to many discoveries that may become seeds to songs. All of the people, places and things I’m encountering across roughly 8,000 miles are part of a venture I treasure. So, while I may not be completing songs, I’m certainly catching sparks that may ignite in my mind, that I’ll later get down on paper.
Q What are the three highlights/most memorable moments of the tour thus far (performance related or otherwise)?
DG: Wow. Pick just three? I’m happy to say, that is quite a task. In terms of performing, honestly each concert has offered something significant in the memory-that-inspires-me-deeply department. But in picking just three, I suppose I’d have to speak about my first concert in Colorado. It was held at the home of an incredible couple who host concerts monthly in a beautiful room they built for just that purpose.
The fact that their driveway is at the end of a 14-mile gravel road, in a town that has a population of roughly 900, yet 40-50 music lovers made it out to share a night of song and spirit is remarkable. It’s something I’ll ever reflect on with a smile, and refer back to as a source of inspiration to keep on this path. Another house concert highlight was in Bartlesville, OK. Conversely, it was the least-attended concert of the tour, with just about 20 people, but it felt like I was performing in Carnegie Hall, thanks to the incredibly attentive audience and the level of interconnection that I felt with them as I was singing and playing. The depth of that connection defied the number of people who were there.
I’ve learned ten times over while touring that while you ever strive for a big turnout, a meaningful concert does not rely on a large audience. And I collected more in donations that night than I’ve done at concerts with twice as many people. That I could perform for a room full of people I’ve never met, and inspire them to want to support my journey so notably, both personally and professionally, is more touching than words can express. In terms of a memorable moment that’s been more personal in nature, again, there are countless examples, but surviving a snow storm which came out of nowhere while driving on a state road winding through a mountain pass in southern Utah, was pretty significant.
I left Boulder a day early to avert a snow system, but I still ended up facing some of it, as it arrived much sooner than expected. It was pretty scary. When it started snowing, I knew I had about 30 miles to drive without any chance of an exit ramp, and all the while these little white asteroids were darting at me like mad, and creating a thin white coat of wet on the road, at 32 degrees, in the pitch black of night. Passing signs that read, “Falling Rocks”, “Frequent Deer Crossing Next 5 Miles,” “Sharp Curves Ahead” and, I kid you not, “Starvation Road” was a nice touch. It certainly influenced how grateful I felt for life itself when I came upon “I-15 to Salt Lake City 3 Miles.” The value of coming out of something like that, of staying the rugged course literally by way of extreme presence and vigilance, only to come out victorious, is immeasurable. It translates to my feeling more confident that staying the rugged, uncertain course of my life as a whole, and in particular, as an artist, is worth the ride.

Q What can audiences look forward to at your SF appearance?

DG: Hmmm… Perhaps, the chance to escape the dust of daily life and share some intimate musical moments with a profoundly inspired songbird who has been told by at least one person at every concert along the troubadour trail that she reminds them of Joni Mitchell, Laura Nyro and/or Carole King?… I have to say, I am beyond excited that I’ll be sharing my songs with the fine music-lovers of San Francisco for the very first time in such a gorgeous, world-class venue, as part of such an incredible series as “Songwriters Unplugged.” Two other fantastic artists will be performing as part of the night, and some musical collaborations will take flight between us. I’ll also be joined on a song or two by a very special guest, brilliant San Francisco based singer-songwriter, Brad Brooks. Plus, there’s wine. And might I add, one gloriously radiant full moon, shining up above. Honestly, if you can find a better way to spend $7, I’d like to know about it!

Danielle Gasparro performs Sunday, Nov 21, 2010 at Yoshi’s Songwriter Lounge in San Francisco, at 8pm

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