photo by Kyle Spears
by Lee Edgren
Her father's family was musical. Whenever the family gathered, the instruments came out. She started singing when she was three and always knew that music was what she was here to do. She's a Roots/Americana performer, with strong strands of bluegrass, gospel, and country winding through her songs. She's been flown to Wyoming to perform for Reba McIntyre, and written songs with Travis Howard. The first line in her on-line bio proclaims: "If her songs sound authentic, it's because they are."
But singer-songwriter Cari Ray will trade her iconic cowboy boots for white go-go boots, slippers, and character shoes this September, as she steps into the role of Ruby Lee in Platinum Girls at the Brown County Playhouse.
Platinum Girls is a revival of the original show written by Russell Moss and successfully presented in seasons past at Nashville's Palace Theatre. It's about three women who once had a hit record. They long to trade being headliners at Brad's Bowl & Roll for a return to their glory days. Will they be able to plan that comeback performance, or will their divergent personalities keep them in the alley? Ray co-stars with Brown County native Toni Ham Tolliver and Julie Powers.
"I'm really having a ball playing the role of Ruby Lee. I did a lot of theater in college, and haven't done it since. It seems to be coming back, kind of like riding a bike. Ruby Lee has a very different personality than mine—She's soft and simple, so it's really fun. Part of the joy in doing theater is becoming somebody else. Fans will get to see me in a way they've never seen me before."
At the end of September, fans again will be able to see Ray and hear her performing her own songs as well as covers that interest her. She will return to the stage at Out of the Ordinary Restaurant and Hickory Sports Bar, accompanied by Chuck Wills on lead guitar, Dionne Ward doing harmony vocals and percussion, and maybe a bass player, depending on the night. She'll be performing every other Saturday, starting Saturday, October 5.
She's also working on songs for her third CD. Songs usually present themselves to her in the early morning, between waking and sleeping—a few words, a bit of a melody at a time. But one new song was consciously written for a tribute album featuring various artists with ties to the Wabash, in honor of Paul Dresser the composer of "On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away," Indiana's official state song. Ray is excited by the more collaborative way of working evidenced in the song, "Wade On In," with Wills and Ward taking a more active part in working out guitar lines and harmony than is usual for Ray.
"The inspiration is really the easy part, the challenge is the discipline to spend the time to work the craft and take the time not to settle for just a good song. When I had the opportunity to work with Travis Howard, a mover and shaker in the country world, I paid attention to what he said to me, because he has written number one songs. His caution to me was this: 'You have this killer voice and people would buy a CD of you singing the phone book. As a songwriter, you will need not to settle for good enough.' I've tried to take that to heart."
Authenticity, simplicity, and universality are things she insists on in her music. "My songs are about revealing my own human experience. Songs have to be simple and relatable. It's important that it is an authentic sharing of a personal experience, but I also need to file off the personal pointy edges so that anyone listening can put themselves in the songs.
"Revealing and telling don't come easy to me. The music has been a place where I can do that. I would rather perform before 500 people than five in somebody's living room, although that's changing a little.
"For me, performing is a collaborative experience, whatever room I'm in, whatever the audience is like, we're all having a shared experience. For me, music isn't what you hear, it's what you feel when you hear it. There are all kinds of levels going on. Everybody in the room is a participant, I get to bring the gift that I have. I look at it like love. You don't have to love me back for me to love you."