Up near the panhandle of Texas on a lonesome, deserted plain sits a stretch of land and ghost towns called The Llano Estacado. The dry, cracked terrain, the sweltering heat, and the occasional dance of a tumbleweed across the lonely prairie make The Llano Estacado, or “The Stacked Plains,” the kind of frontier scene that dominated the old cowboy-western genre of America’s cinematic past.
But for singer-songwriter and fiddle player Carrie Rodriguez, the hollow towns of The Llano Estacado evoke a different image– a story of migrating to a place where no one knows your name; where opportunity flourishes, but only if you can find a place to hide. Her song “Llano Estacado,” off of her fifth studio album, Lola, tells the familiar story of a family of Mexican migrants trying to make their way in the harsh physical and social terrain of The Llano Estacado, where they had chosen to take refuge.
As a self-proclaimed “half-gringa, half-Chicana fiddle[r],” Carrie Rodriguez’s sound exemplifies the underlying cultural duality of Texas, finding inspiration in the cross-pollination of Texan and Mexican musical traditions. Rodriguez exists as the intermediary between the two primary cultures of Texas, acting as a perfect voice for those in the United States and beyond caught in a cross-cultural limbo.
“Texas is a very complicated place,” says Rodriguez, speaking about her relationship with her home state, “Though, in my music, I like to sing about the things I find special about the people and the culture.”
Though primarily known these days as a fiddler, Rodriguez’s first instrument was actually the classical violin. “I remember in my first grade class, they started offering Suzuki violin lessons that kids could take during nap time. I always spent my nap time talking other kids and not actually napping, so I guess I jumped at the opportunity to sort of skip out on the downtime and do something active,” she recalls. “I remember walking down the hall at nap time and hearing this squawky violin and just falling in love with that.”
It was only when heading up north to Boston’s prestigious Berkelee School of Music for college that Rodriguez made her transition over to the fiddle. “The violin and the fiddle are the same instrument, but the transition was tricky at first. I grew up listening to fiddle music but I was apprehensive to play at first because I was so used to the structure and form of classical violin,” Rodriguez explains.
Even as her twangy, dynamic fiddle playing has become a hallmark of her music, Rodriguez has set herself apart from other Americana artists due to of her signature use of both Spanish and English lyrics. Carrie explains, “My songs had little bits of Spanish in them, and I didn’t worry too much about what was English and what was Spanish and I just let it come out naturally, and I was suddenly singing Spanglish songs.” For Rodriguez, Spanglish is a way she expresses both her Texan and Latinx heritage, “Spanglish isn’t just something that people who speak English and Spanish understand. It has seeped into the broader culture of Texas.”
Rodriguez’s sound resists easy classification, which means she’s had to navigate uncharted post-genre territory in the music industry. “I actually made my own title for my music, which I call ‘Americhicana’” she says. However, by releasing 2016’s Lola under her own independent record label, Luz Records, Rodriguez feels that the she has been freed from the pressures to curtsy the music industry. “I don’t even think about writing songs that sound like they can be played on the radio anymore, I no longer worry about crafting a ‘single’. This project is completely funded by fans and friends, and that gave me all the freedom in the world,” she says.
Lola is the culmination of Rodriguez’s newly liberated sound. By artfully embroidering traditional Mexican Ranchera melodies and lyrics over a backbone of dynamic fiddle compositions, she harkens back to the days of the great, old Chicana singers, including her inspirational great-aunt Eva Garza.
Carrie Rodriguez returns to Minneapolis to play The Cedar on August 19th, though she’s no stranger to the Twin Cities. Her partner and musical collaborator, Luke Jacobs, lived in St. Paul, so Carrie has had the opportunity to cultivate a relationship with Minnesota. “I’d have to say I’m most excited to reconnect with some of my old friends that live here and just have a good time. The weather here is gorgeous, and it’s such a nice break from the sweltering heat of Austin in the summertime.”
—Michael Karadsheh, Summer Marketing Intern
Get tickets ($18 Advance / $20 Day of show) for Carrie Rodriguez with Pat Donohue at The Cedar on Saturday, August 19th at The Cedar here.