Home at last: Mary Gauthier puts down roots of her own at festival’s Rockingham Meetinghouse show



Mary Gauthier has a strong, loving, long-term relationship with Bellows Falls.

After selling her Cajun restaurant in Boston, Gauthier hit the road and shortly thereafter landed at a tiny place called Oona’s in front of about 20 curiosity seekers back in 2000. While honing her craft over the course of the next 14 years or so, she slowly built a fervent Southern Vermont fanbase, playing a variety of venues in this region.

The local space she visited in these parts more than any happens to be the oldest public building in Vermont that still exists in a condition close to its original state -- The Rockingham Meeting House, where she will close out the 15th Annual Roots On The River Festival and where she will be singing to the choir -- in a place with no electricity or running water, no clanging glasses or hustling waitstaff, just old, old wood, and fresh Green State air. And that is just fine with Gauthier. "I love it, love playing there" she said in a recent phone exchange. "It is beautiful old place. They called it a meetinghouse, but it is a church. It is a go-back-in-time. I find it perfect for the songs I write. People sit in their little boxes and listen.

"It is on a Sunday, and I do have a ministry-like quality to me when I am onstage anyway. I will just be the minister Sunday and take everyone on a little bit of a ride."

That ride will include songs from her about-to-be released "Love & Trouble," a record that speaks more to trouble than it does love.

"It’s a break-up record, but it is more than that. It is about moving into a new life and moving into a deeper place as a person as a result of loss. I am trying to go past your typical breakup record -- it is more story-like, and more transformative."

The loss of a long-term relationship was certainly painful for the Nashville-based songwriter, but she did not flinch in using the hurt to pen some brutally honest compositions.

"I wrote 35 songs or so for the record, and we decided to release eight. I was looking for the songs that would tell the story and how ever many it took. ... I just had to write what came and then look at the pile and figure out which were the vital ones, and that’s what I did. ... It has a beginning, a middle and an end. Every single song on it has to be there. There is no filler."

To record such a personal, painful, and intimate collection, Gauthier surrounded herself with musicians she had long-term relationships with.

"I worked with my friends on this one. These are not strangers -- these are people that are close to me and that was intentional. I put people in the studio that I feel safe with, and that I love, who have known me for a decade. Right down to the photographer who took the picture on the front of the record, to the graphic designer. These are people I have worked with for a long time, who I know and who I love, and who I trust."

Gauthier’s unique journey has had its bumps and bruises along the way. Born to a mother she never knew, she spent her first year in a New Orleans orphanage, then was adopted. She ran away from home at 15, then spent the next several years battling addictions and bouncing between friends and facilities. After running her restaurant, then finally achieving sobriety, Gauthier dove into a career in music and wrote her first song in her 30s.

Like many adoptees, long-term relationships have been a struggle for Gauthier. But she has fallen in love with the road, and embraced the life of a traveling troubadour.

"I have been up and down every highway that you can name. I certainly put in my 10,000 hours Š and learned how to do my job. I love that I am comfortable in my skin wherever I go now. You know, I have reached the journeyman status! After I sold my restaurant, I told myself if I am broke in five years then the universe does not want you to this. You can always open another restaurant, And, I haven’t had to. I get to keep going."

Dave Madeloni writes a music column for Ovation. He can be reached at madeloni@aol.com.


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