Rachel Harrington

Retro: Quick Q and A with Eliza Gilkyson

Eliza Gilkyson is lauded as one of the best musicians in Folk, Roots and Americana. She is respected by her peers and her songs have been covered by Joan Baez, Bob Geldof, Tom Rush, and Roseanne Cash. She is a member of the legendary Austin Music Hall of Fame and has been given numerous awards by organizations such as Folk Alliance.

Eliza’s latest album 2020 is a collection of politically charged songs including her originals as well as covers of Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” and Seeger’s “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” Gilkyson’s songs are intended to light fires under listeners. She was well aware that her fans were weary and her songs offer hope. Gilkyson has plans to tour the album leading up to the 2020 election, but alas COVID got in the way. This album is a testament to this peculiar time in history and will, no doubt, continue to be one of Gilkyson’s most remembered records.

Learn more about Eliza Gilkyson by going to her website.

“Peace in Our Hearts” is a stellar song on 2020.

Here’s an interview I did with Eliza in 2010.

I remember seeing you for the first time at an outdoor show at the DeCordova Museum in Lincoln (MA). If my memory serves me correctly, you were on the same bill as Nanci Griffith. I’m supposing that gig was pretty early on in your music career. What’s it like playing on a multi-artist bill like that and introducing your music to new audiences? Is it intimidating or is it freeing?

I think that show may have been my first introduction to an east coast audience and I was very nervous because it was the first time these people had heard me. I was fairly well known in the southwest so I was by no means just starting out, but the east had been a giant mystery to me. I have learned to rename “being nervous” as “being excited”, so let’s just say I was very excited that evening!

Your song “Man of God” probably didn’t endear you to a lot of your Texas neighbors. What kind of reaction did you get to a song that so clearly dissed President Bush?

Because I live in Austin, a progressive city, the song was well received at shows, and even the local NPR station KUT played it a lot, though the local Americana station wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot pole! Initially I was scared to death to play the song out because at the time very few artists were speaking out against the Bush Regime — there was a lot of flag waving, bullying and nationalism going on everywhere in this country and the UK as well. I would get halfway through the song and think “they’re going to kill me” because they were staring at me so intensely, but then when I got to the end they would explode with applause and cheers, maybe because they were so glad someone was naming the elephant in the living room.On the other hand, I did get heckled occasionally and got the usual hate mail. It was very offensive and belligerent, but I am happy to think some buttons got pushed along the way.

One of your fans asked me to inquire about your desert island records! And more importantly, are any of your desert island records lacking the recognition that you feel it deserves!

Right now, I guess I would say I would like to have some Blind Boys of Alabama to keep my spirits up, and the following:

Bruce Cockburn, Life Short Call Now
Joni Mitchell, Blue
Bob Dylan, Infidels
The Chieftains with Van Morrison
Beatles, Day in the Life
Mary Chapin Carpenter, Elysium
Emmy Lou Harris, Ballad of Sally Rose
Greg Brown, Covenant

Those got plenty of recognition, and as for the more obscure ones I love the following artists:
Rachel Harrington
Dueto Zacan (Indigenous music from Michoacan — I’m crazy about this stuff!)
Dougie Maclean
Ray Bonneville
Lynn Miles

Can you tell us about a concert that you have performed that was extra special for some reason?

A few years ago I played a show in a small outdoor courtyard in a city (possibly Gronningen) in the north of Holland, a balmy spring day, with my guitar player Robert McEntee. At the end I launched into “Beautiful World” on the keyboards and a large bird in the blackbird family (they are all a little different looking over there) came down onto a branch nearby and sang with me . . . It waited for the space between my phrases and sang these beautiful counterparts in each interim. At the end when we solo out it took charge and sang its heart out right to the end of the song and then sat there silently looking right at us. We were all terribly moved by it. We just sat there afterwards in shock. On the flip side, I have had many disaster nights for all manner of reasons, everything from sound system hell to showing up a day late. But the all time worst was a house concert where the host had a nudist swim party on the day after the show outside the guest house where the artists were lodged. Imagine waking up to that!