Former ‘American Idol’ star Crystal Bowersox plays Vilar Center’s Underground Sound Series
If you go …
What: Crystal Bowersox with John Paul Hodge and Taylor Tesler, part of the Underground Sound Series.
When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 4.
Where: Vilar Performing Arts Center, 68 Avondale Lane, Beaver Creek.
Cost: Single tickets are $24, or purchase an Underground Sound Pass for $100, which includes seven shows and seven drinks).
More information: Purchase tickets now at the VPAC Box Office, by calling 970-845-8497 or visiting www.vilarpac.org.
The life of a musician is about balance, finding that delicate equilibrium between complacency and compulsive ambition, between time on the road and time with family, and Crystal Bowersox manages that balance with a steady hand and a clear vision.
“Nobody does it alone,” she said. “I have great friends and family around me, and they really help it all work out. My son’s in school — that’s my top priority. I turn down gigs if it’s not going to work with our schedule. And that’s the way it goes.”
The alternative would be longer hours in a tour bus away from home, and that wouldn’t be OK, Bowersox said. Her son, Tony, comes first, and true fans seem to understand and encourage that.
“It’s a matter of keeping it all in perspective and knowing that each moment is one to cherish and you won’t be in that moment forever, so make sure you’re present, every day,” she said.
Bowersox exploded onto the music scene in 2010 with her alternately gritty and intensely emotional performances on Season 9 of “American Idol,” landing the runner-up slot and a recording contract with Jive/19 for her first album, “Farmer’s Daughter.” The TV show catapulted her career, but it doesn’t continue to define her as an artist.
“I’m forever grateful, of course, for the exposure and my time spent on ‘American Idol.’ So many people come to shows and say, ‘I’ve loved you since your first audition,’” she said. “But I don’t really feel like my wagon is hitched to that show anymore. I’ll always have to give credit where credit is due; however, the majority of my fans have come to my shows through word of mouth or recommendations.”
After her sophomore album, “All That for This,” released in 2013 with Shanachie Records, she broke away from labels and contracts and became an independent artist. Five years removed from “Idol,” Bowersox is still traveling the country, selling out venues and doing what she loves for a living, she said, and that’s a blessing.
“It’s a really beautiful thing,” she said. “It’s less pressure when I can work at my own pace, as opposed to the schedules and demands of a record label. With the Internet and word of mouth and the extensive variety of shows and opportunities there are in today’s world, it seems to be that’s the direction that a lot of artists are taking, to go the independent route.”
Bowersox’s most recent release is a seven-song, crowd-funded EP that she started recording back in 2011 or 2012, when she began sifting through unreleased songs and finding tracks to finish up and bring to daylight.
“I have amazing fans that really came through for me and made it possible to finish that project,” she said. “It’s called ‘Promises,’ which is also the name of the title track. One of the songs I had started writing when I was 10 years old and didn’t finish it until just a few years ago.
“And I feel like this latest release — it’s been a year now, I’m already working toward the next — that release was the closest I’ve come to capturing the live essence of live vocals at a live show. It’s a challenge for me, too, in a studio to bring the same energy that I have when I’m performing in front of people.”
Normally, Bowersox said she would feel rushed to release something new as soon as the last project was completed, but she’s learned to take it easy, settling back into her home base in Nashville and collecting songs slowly through her own writing and collaborations. It’s all about the songs, she said, and making sure each one is something great.
“My new policy is that the less f***s you give, the happier you are,” she said, “and that comes through in my songwriting, as well. I’ve been playing a lot of new material that isn’t on any release at live shows. I’m noticing that I’ve grown a lot in my personal life and as a songwriter through working with other amazing songwriters.
“Living in Nashville is not too shabby for any moment of the week to have a great writing session with someone. Being an artist and doing it on my own schedule and on my own terms has really helped me relax and open up more, channeling what it is that allows writers to write songs, and it feels really good.”
On the road
Bowersox tours perpetually, a few weeks on and a few weeks off, making time to be home with Tony to provide him some stability. In the midst of one of those eight- or 10-hour drives, an idea for a song might pop into her head, a flood of notes or lyrics.
“Other times, I’ll have a concept and I’ll have to sit down and really work at it and craft the right verbiage to get the point across, and that could take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks,” she said, adding that there’s no scripted process for her songwriting.
“Some songs come out in a matter of minutes, a lightning strike of imagination. Between soccer practice and Boy Scouts and touring, I have to devote a time, when I have an hour of opportunity, to work on something.”
She said she loves being able to travel the country and play shows for people, no fireworks or pyrotechnics, just the music and a desire to leave people feeling better than when they walked in. Occasionally, she’ll bring Tony along.
“It’s a great way for him to have a wide range of experiences in his young life and observe how the world works and kindness and generosity,” she said. “We have so many people who are just wonderful to us on the road, and you really depend on the kindness of strangers at times, and I think it’s important for him to know that the world is not an awful place.”