Angela Easterling likes playing gigs at libraries. People are there to listen, and she hardly ever gets shushed.
The South Carolina-based singer-songwriter plays in all kinds of settings, of course, both solo and with her band, but her library program, “A Songwriter’s Journey
Through American Music,” is special because it captures and shares some of the artist’s own educational inclinations.
“I get a different crowd at a library,” Easterling told The Beat.
“A lot of the people are interested in writing, and they want to listen. And there’s an educational component to those shows.”
That educational component grew from Easterling’s own research into American music, which began as a youth with the music of Broadway and the Great American Songbook.
“When kids my age were getting into grunge (music), I was listening to Judy Garland, Bing Crosby and Ella Fitzgerald,” Easterling said.
She studied musical theater at Emerson College in Boston, but also began to immerse herself in folk music and other American roots forms, in artists she was encountering as she began her own career as a folk songwriter.
“I started doing research into Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Emmylou Harris,” Easterling said. “I did it on my own because these were artists that inspired me.”
It became clear to Easterling “this was music that was buried deep inside me.”
She spent much of her childhood on a Greer, S.C., farm that has been in her family since 1791 – seven generations.
She has settled in Greenville, S.C., in the same area in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
“There are so many cultural influences here: blues, bluegrass, folk, rock and roll.”
Her library program combines her research with insight into the songwriting process.
Easterling will start by playing a cover song, then talk about the artist and move into a discussion about how that artist influenced her.
She’ll follow that up with an original song that displays that influence, and discuss her own songwriting work and inspirations.
“(The program) is pretty broad,” Easterling said.
“I’m interested in history, but also music history and especially people’s history. Personal stories inspire me.”
She said those personal stories find their way into her songs, even if they’re not her stories. She sings them in the first person in the same way you would step into a character in the theater.
The program draws from Easterling’s four records, including, but only briefly, from her most recent release, a French-language album titled Mon Secret, which she completed with the help of her friend Marianne Bessy, a professor of French at Furman University.
“The music is still American roots style, but I wanted to see if I could do it,” Easterling said. “It was a challenge to work out the timing and the rhyme.”