LowellArts has launched a new music program for 2021 called the Featured Artist Series: Connecting You with the People Behind the Music. This monthly feature offers audiences a personal, insider view into the current music scene from the perspective of West Michigan’s talented performers. Check back on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month for a new article or interview from the featured artist. The November artist of the month is Sierra Cassidy
Article by Sue Clements
At the age of 24, Sierra Cassidy has been around. Her musical journey has taken her places that I’ve always wondered about – Interlochen and Nashville to name two.
Her family, teachers, and other musicians have supported her along the road. Sierra explained, “I’ve been lucky to run into these experiences throughout my career as a musician where another person involved in the arts, further along in their career, is willing to give an up-and-comer (such as myself) a chance. I hope to be able to facilitate these opportunities in my career too.”
Sierra grew up in Leelanau County, spending lots of time both in the woods and on the beach. She calls herself “lucky,” stating that her parents brought her to folk festivals to hear a fair amount of live local music. Sierra shared, “I grew up listening to a lot of singer-songwriters, folk, roots, and jam-band style music.”
From early on Sierra was involved in musical theater and choir in school. “The thing I actually miss most about musical theater is the opportunity for dance. I grew up dancing and it’s a close second love right after writing and performing music. I have always had a huge affinity for music that inspires movement.” Sierra adds, “I have early memories of dancing to Bela Fleck and Earth Wind and Fire.” Sierra’s love for movement and dance has influenced her music. It’s no surprise that her music has fans up on their feet dancing.
At 15-years-old, Sierra started writing her own music, trying things out at local open-mics, and starting to perform as a singer-songwriter.
Sierra’s musical journey includes a Michigan icon. Her junior year of high school she auditioned for the Singer-Songwriter major at Interlochen Arts Academy. “I fell in love with Interlochen after my first visit there. The inclusive and diverse community, the space to really dive into your art, the amazing staff and teachers, and the campus, situated right on Green Lake. I still look back on my senior year at Interlochen as one of my favorite years of my life. It shaped me into who I am today. I was so hungry for space and time solely dedicated to not only growing as an artist, but as a person. It’s an extremely rare and remarkable opportunity to be able to do so.”
Sierra’s lyrics captivate me. Sit down and listen to her poetic music. You will find yourself stepping along with her, wondering about the story behind her words while taking a little side trip of your own. There is talent there, and I’m so glad she is driven to share it with the rest of us. No wonder she found her way to a place like Interlochen.
In 2013 Sierra had her first gig, in Traverse City at The Opera House. She opened for the poet Nicki Giovanni, at the “National Writers Series.” Sierra describes her experience, “I was so incredibly nervous. When I booked the gig, I had maybe only ever written two songs and I needed an hour of material. I scrambled to make it happen.”
I asked if she still feels nervous when performing. She does! Answering, she said, “Oh I have terrible stage fright! For smaller and more relaxed gigs, not so much, but with listening rooms and larger audiences, absolutely. This is probably fairly obvious, but something that helps me with the nerves of performing is being OVERLY prepared with my material.”
Describing her stage persona Sierra shared, “You can expect awkward banter. I’ve found that I have the most fun and receive the best response when I’m just truly myself on stage. I think so many performers are really good at creating this very smooth engagement between the audience and themselves. I’m totally clunky and funny and inappropriate when it comes to having a microphone in front of me while speaking rather than singing. That kind of fan to performer engagement is my favorite – what you see is what you get!”
After Interlochen, Sierra spent two years at Berklee College of Music in Boston and then ended up heading to a music mecca, Nashville, Tennessee. During her time there, she met folks she thinks of as family. Sierra spent time doing restaurant jobs and working as a nanny while playing shows on the weekends. She talks about the opportunity to network and the experience of living in a generally like-minded community. Sierra sums it up, saying, “I think the most exciting part of being in Nashville wasn’t really one pivotal moment, but rather a slow burn in really feeling like I’m a part of this amazing music community.”
Sierra’s artist name is i.am.james. You’ll see that associated with her music. Sierra not only performs solo but is also part of the duo Evie (Emily Amber and i.am.james.). They will be touring in November with Kevan Browne. Evie will be in Lansing at UrbanBeat on November 2, and on Wednesday, November 3 in Grand Rapids at Greyline Brewing Co. After that, they head out of state.
You might have caught some of her music over the summer as she released a string of singles that had been recorded for years. She says, “I finally got up the nerve to release them, realizing that there’s quite literally no time like the present.” They are available on Spotify, Apple Music, and iTunes under the name i.am.james.
Currently, she is recording her first EP, a solo project. This will include three newer songs. Sierra shared that, “These songs represent my growth as a songwriter and as a person. They are far more stripped back and vulnerable than the few ‘feel good’ songs I released this summer. I’m really excited to share them.” She hopes it will be released before the new year. Look out for the opportunity to go hear her play and keep your eyes open for the EP release. You won’t want to miss her!