In the Winner’s Circle
with Katherine Archer
BY Rosalie Cocci
Her story begins in a “small town environment” in Virginia where Archer started playing music at the age of 12, though she admits being “kind of obsessed” with guitars and microphones at age five. Archer describes her first guitar as “an awful little thing” and laughs about the quality of the instrument. It came with a book and a record that taught all the basics, which included tuning by ear- a skill practically lost due in part to today’s technology.
She then moved to playing along with her favorite records and would spend hours at a time practicing the songs. “I was just so determined. My records were so scratched up because I would repeat songs constantly and play the parts over, and over. I couldn’t imagine doing it like that now.” Archer reflects on the amount of time children have to focus on their passions and adds, “We didn’t have all these distractions either.”
As she got older, the recordings of Joni Mitchell and Dan Fogelberg became her vocal and guitar teachers and in essence, Archer learned from the greats. “Really I did. They were the best.”
Archer continued to pursue her interest in music into college and studied at Shenandoah Conservatory of Music. “Music was my outlet. It gave me a sense of self-worth.” After being bullied throughout elementary, middle, and high school, Archer found herself amongst her flock within the collegiate music program. “As soon as I got there it was like kismet. We were all like-minded individuals: awkward insecure geeks who turned to music and it was awesome.” Learning the classical approach to music and guitar work really “refined” Archer’s articulation and exploration of what she calls “the space in between.”
After graduation, the budding musician heard that the “grass was greener on the other side” and headed out to San Diego. “I loved California, but at a certain point, I was on a spiritual quest. Like I was trying to figure out who I was and I got so involved with the ‘crunchy granola new age movement’ that I became really uncentered. Lol.”
Attempting to find balance, Archer moved to New York where the folk music scene was starting to pop near the end of the 1980’s. Performers like Tracy Chapman and Suzanne Vega were big on the scene. Drum machines and other electronic “stuff” were being used everywhere else in the US, so Archer took her show to the Northeast.
When Archer first arrived in New York she met up with singer-songwriter Cindy Lee Berryhill who was signed with Rhino records at the time. Archer went on a tour as her road manager and got to travel all over Europe and the Eastern Seaboard of the United States.
Archer played a lot of coffee houses and well known New York folk venues after returning from the tour. She had opportunities to play alongside some of the well-known folk musicians, including Tom Chapin and Pete Seeger, as the resurgence of the Folk Music movement spread across the United States and passed through New York.
Following her extreme interest in the environment, Archer began to add to the cause by working in the folk rings where many of her fellow musicians’ passions were also focused on the environment and humanity. Through this Archer began to perform as part of festivals and groups teaching children and community members with the use of music and song. “I never had so much fun in my life,” she says, “talk about creating [life] value!” There she began to do songwriting workshops in various schools to help inspire teachers who wanted to include environmentally conscious music in their curriculum. “I made a living creating and performing kid’s music.” For this musician, a dream come true, but again, sometimes the grass is greener on the other side.
Eventually, Archer wanted to keep moving and shaking in the music world and felt like “a window of time” was beginning to close. She decided to leave New York. Making a relatively quick stop in New Orleans, Louisiana, Archer made her way to Florida and fell in love with the tropical environment that the region had to offer, especially after all of her time that was spent writing and performing ecologically friendly songs. Archer learned of the musical opportunities St. Augustine has become known for and permanently moved here in 2003. Doing a proverbial cannonball into the musical pool of St. Augustine, this singer-songwriter started out performing multiple gigs a day, just about every day of the week. “I had a blast performing kids and environmental music, but it was amazing to be performing folk music, which I really loved, and making a living with it. It was different than New York.”
Over the years, Archer has carved a path around this city and describes her natural tendency to stick to her routine of playing music and enjoying her small-town home life and says, “For me, [as a bit of an introvert] to go out there and perform all the time is not that easy.” And though this is exactly where she wants to be, the musician recently made a pact to get out and enjoy the other talented local musicians who perform in the area and see what they had to offer. Pulling inspiration from the release of the Local Honey documentary, Archer began to make an extra effort to be a part of the bustling music scene of St. Augustine.
Adding her name to the list of singer-songwriters, it was the first time she had been a part of this competition and was also an element of this new found mantra. Archer chose to theme her performances, hugging closely to some of the classic focuses for the singer-songwriter genre: losing a love, being in the present moment, and reflecting on a past memory. “It felt right,” Archer explains. “When I was up there [on stage] I went back to my coffee house days,” and “pulled from all of my past experiences.” The winning musician ultimately was thrilled to have the opportunity to get to know her fellow performers better during the time they were in the competition together.
Planning to take her prize winnings of 10 hours of studio time, Archer is set to record her next children’s album themed around a story she wrote. Also included in the prizes was $1,000 cold hard cash. With this Archer bought a plane ticket to Australia to visit a friend with plans of some serious busking while down under. “Winning this competition has given me a new spark!” Check out Katherine Archer and her award winning music at KatherineArcher.com, ReverbNation.com, and iTunes. You can also look forward to her next album sometime in 2016.
Over the span of four weeks, 40 musicians competed in the awe-inspiring, fifth semi-annual Singer-Songwriter competition hosted by Amy Hendrickson. After weeks of live performances, the group of musicians was whittled down to ten, then to three, and finally down to a single performer. Coming out on top was local singer-songwriter, Katherine Archer, a familiar face around the blue-collar musician circuit that can be found pulsing throughout the streets of St. Augustine.