Jesse Stewart was well on her way to being a country singer even before her family moved from Clifton Park to Duanesburg, from what most consider the well-tended suburbs out to the country’s wide open spaces. It’s not that simple, not the stereotypical move to the country, discover country music. The Garnsey Road home she left behind is pretty rural, and she brings it to vivid life in the wide-open yearning of a country song on her new four-song unreleased demo.
She recorded the demo at Bennett Studios with Dae Bennett (yes, son of Tony) engineering and guitarist David Malachowski producing. So it has a big, sleek sound. Her star is rising so fast that you might see her on national TV before catching one of her area club shows. When she plays the Parting Glass on Sunday in a multiact benefit for the Wildwood programs, however, she’ll be bringing only guitarist Tim Bushart. She earned this confidence through the quality of her songs and through more experience than might be expected from someone so young-looking.
Stewart started young, really young.
Drawn to singing
At age 4, she awed relatives at a family party in the basement of the Garnsey Road house by singing Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You,” a natural choice since she fell in love with the tune after hearing her father sing it. “My father was and still is my biggest inspiration,” she said. “I loved the way people reacted to him when he would sing at the local fairs, and I realized through watching him that I wanted to perform for the rest of my life.”
ALSO: Of Keeping Secrets, The Loyalty, Erin Harkes, Sirsy, Black Cat Elliot and the Blisterz.
WHERE: The Parting Glass, 40-42 Lake Ave., Saratoga Springs
WHEN: 3 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $5 advance, $12 at the door, children under 12 free
She started playing guitar at age 10 and writing her own songs at 12, a very good year. At 12, she joined the Select Choir at Albany Academy for Girls, sang at a rodeo at the Cobleskill Sunshine Fair, attended her first country show, by Reba McEntire and Charlie Daniels at the former Starlite Theater in Latham, and recorded her first demo, at Cotton Hill Studios in Albany, where she first met Malachowski. On a cruise ship gig a few years later, she sang the theme from “Titanic,” but the ship reached port safely anyway.
Stewart, meanwhile, kept reaching out to absorb new influences. “There are so many artists that inspire me,” she said. “I love Jennifer Nettles from Sugarland. I think she is fabulous. I love Rascal Flatts, Faith Hill, Wynonna Judd, Reba, Leanne Rimes, Jewel, Celine Dion, Sheryl Crow, John Mayer.”
What does it mean that she listed country artists before pop singers? “I love and respect all music, but country is definitely where I am most comfortable. It’s what I grew up listening to.”
She moved from fan to professional performer after changing her mind about attending the Berklee College of Music in Boston, instead getting a day job in a dermatologist’s office and starting to play area clubs.
“About five years ago, I was with a band called Frontmoney, and we played at Valentine’s in Albany,” Stewart recalled. Now she leads the Jesse Stewart Band, playing country covers every Tuesday at Appletini’s in Albany and other nights in other clubs, including the venerable Saratoga Springs folk coffeehouse Caffe Lena. “It was an amazing experience,” she said, “to be on the same stage that so many fabulous musicians have played on before.”
Stewart’s songwriting ambitions have also led her to record a beautifully produced demo of four original songs. She remembered Malachowski from meeting him at Cotton Hill years before and had watched his performing career soar with country superstar Shania Twain, the Savoy Brown blues band and boogie-rocker Commander Cody. “I called Dave after I got his number from a friend and I asked him if he remembered me,” said Stewart. “He said ‘yes.’ Then we just scheduled a time to meet and we talked about recording some of my songs. We went down to Bennett Studios in New Jersey and recorded the four songs that are on my demo.”
Artists use demos (“demonstration recordings”) to promote their songs to producers, or themselves as performers. Stewart’s songs — “Garnsey Road,” “the Back Seat,” “What’s Up” and “Why” — are well made and melodic enough that they could become hits for other singers — become “cuts,” as songs recorded by singers other than the writers are called in Nashville. But Stewart is also trying to develop a performing career beyond area clubs, and is reaching pretty high.
“I just went and auditioned for [the country singer TV talent show] ‘Nashville Star’ for NBC in Washington, D.C., last week,” she said. “I got through the first round of auditions, performed for the second round of auditions and now I am just waiting for the phone call,” she said. “If I get called,” she said, modestly stressing the “if”, “I will have to go to Nashville to be one of the top 30 contestants for the show to air June 9 on NBC.” Stewart said, “I am crossing my fingers. There were so many talented artists there, I just hope that they thought I was one of them.”
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Categories: Life and Arts