Coyote Grace redefines traditional music
There’s a line in its bio that says part of Coyote Grace’s aim as a band “is to redefine the meanings of ‘roots’ and ‘tradition.’” When asked how the Nor Cal-based trio is accomplishing this, vocalist/stand-up bassist Ingrid Elizabeth said that “the things that we sing about are not the things you hear in normal traditional music.”
Those things Elizabeth and guitarist/vocalist Joe Stevens are singing about over their acoustic blend of bluegrass, blues, country and folk music are honest and emotional accounts of their lives as a lesbian woman and transsexual man, respectively. And that lyrical subject matter is part of the reason Coyote Grace will be playing at the kick-off for Chico Pride Weekend at Chico Women’s Club this Friday, Aug. 26.
The former romantic couple came together in 2004 in Seattle as a street-music duo, and have spent the last seven years self-recording, -producing and -releasing several albums and nurturing their spirited stage show through constant touring. And, the duo has recently become a trio as multi-instrumentalist Michael Connolly—who won’t be making the Chico trip—has joined full-time.
The CN&R talked recently by phone with Elizabeth, who was in Lyon, Colo., preparing to fly back to California after the band’s annual week-long getaway at the Rocky Mountain Song School and Music Festival.
CN&R: Has going to the Song School helped the band?
Elizabeth: Absolutely. Not only personally for Joe and me as songwriters—to be able to continue working on our craft and learning from other folks—but also lots of networking goes on at these things. A few years ago Joe actually went to a class of Melissa Ferrick’s and played half of a song, and then later that day she asked him if he would open on a two-week tour. So, you kind of never know who you’re going to meet. Last year, we hung out a lot with Girlyman throughout the week and became really close with them, and in the last year we’ve done a lot of touring with them.
Tell me about touring with the Indigo Girls last year.
A few years ago, some mutual friends passed along our first CD—Boxes and Bags—and they asked us to open for a show up in Seattle. We did that show and it went really well and they said, “Hey, let’s do it again some time.” And we said, “Um, of course.” So then, a little under two years later, one of those mutual friends kind of nudged them, and said, “Oh you’re doing a West Coast tour, Coyote Grace is living in California now, do you think maybe you’d want them to open?” So they got in touch with us, and we did about five shows with them on the West Coast and it went so well they asked us back again in July, and again in October. We feel really fortunate to have had that experience and made those connections with them, because they are definitely huge heroes of ours.
How do you balance activism and music?
We’re very conscious about our set-list construction. So, if we’re playing things like Chico Pride, we’re definitely going to be a little heavier on the queer content and the activism because it’s a very celebratory and awareness-spreading thing.
A lot of the activism that we do is showing up and being completely genuine about who we are. A lot of people don’t see it coming because Joe is a trans man and I am a lesbian, and we show up and look just like a normal guy and gal there playing music, but then we sing our songs, and Joe will come out on stage and talk about how his experience informs his songwriting and who he is and spreading that message of really embracing all parts of who you are. And same for me, people look at me and they don’t think that I’m their stereotypical lesbian, but then I sing a song about falling in love with a girl and being from a small town in my own kind of fun, cutesy way.
How does it feel to play music in this band? It sounds like you’re having fun.
It’s amazing. We have a really good time; that’s kind of the goal. If you’re having fun on stage, the greatest hope is that it can only be contagious and that everyone in the audience will feel that as well.