Indie folk duo Amanda Birdsall and Wolff Bowden are a Capitol Hill Talent Show sensation
by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
Sometimes you are in the right place at the right time. No one can quite explain how or why this happens - it just does. And it definitely happened on August 17, when Amanda Birdsall and Wolff Bowden, a performance duo who are the core of local band The Winterlings, met at The Grill on Broadway (314 Broadway E.) to celebrate the anniversary of the night they met. They didn't know it then, but within hours they would make their LGBTQ community debut.
While feasting on pine-nut quesadillas and red bean burgers, they noticed a sound engineer setting up a mixer. 'When's the show?' they asked. 'Tonight. It's a talent show,' said the employee.
When the duo found out that there was an open slot for them in the lineup for The Capitol Hill Talent Show, 'and since it was a 90-degree day outside and The Grill on Broadway seemed to have air conditioning and ice water, we figured, why not?' Birdsall told SGN.
What happened at the talent show that night is the kind of thing that bands - and everyone else, from the show's producer and the venue owner to the audience - live for. The Winterlings not only won the contest that night but also made a connection with the audience that was unforced and organic, derived from talent and a commanding live performance.
'In spite of amazing competition, including a drag queen who stapled money to her skin, we won!' exclaimed Bowden.
THE SHOW GOES ON
The Capitol Hill Talent Show is currently taking place Friday nights at The Grill on Broadway, starting at 9 p.m. The one and only Mama Tits, Seattle's Skyscraper Hostess (www.briandanielpeters.com), serves as host of the five-week series (Aug. 17-Sept. 14). Each night, the crowd selects three winners to return for the September 21 finale, when one lucky performer will walk away with $1,000 cash and a trip to Las Vegas - courtesy of The Grill on Broadway's owner, Matthew Walsh. Performers of any kind are encouraged to sign up at The Grill on Broadway's official website, www.thegrillonbroadway.com.
Walsh, who witnessed The Winterlings' performance, linked the video for their original song 'All of the Good Things' on The Grill's Facebook page and said, 'The Winterlings entered and won the first round of The Capitol Hill Talent Show last night! I, of course, nabbed one of their CDs and have been listening to it nonstop. Crazzzzy talented and will be back on Sept. 21st for the Finale! So excited to see them again!'
Although no one in the band identifies as LGBTQ, when Birdsall and Bowden met, Bowden's mother was in a same-sex relationship.
'We almost wrote a song together on the birthday of my mother's lover,' Bowden told SGN. 'As a believer in the openness of the universe, my mother preferred to think of love having less to do with the sex of the person she loved and more to do with the whole person.'
'For many years she lived with and loved a woman,' he said.
HONORING A TRANS PIONEER
The Winterlings also have what they describe as a 'songdaughter,' who lived as a 'songson.'
'We think of each song we write as a child, and we wrote a song about Jennie Hodgers, who transitioned to Albert Cashier, a Transgender Civil War hero who is rarely mentioned in history books,' the duo told me. 'Jennie became Albert at the age of 19, fought through the entire Civil War, then continued to live as a man after the war for the rest of his life. We believe his story is brave and beautiful and needs to be told.'
With songs as vivid as feature films, The Winterlings take listeners on unexpected journeys: across battlefields with one of America's first Transgender heroes, through birthing rooms and chemistry labs, and over the hammered blue waters of Puget Sound.
Delivering literary lyrics with both male and female vocals, guitars, ukulele, violin, harmonica, piano, banjitar, and drums, The Winterlings build bonfires of sound to dance and dream beside - in short, indie folk. Traditional instruments played in nontraditional ways.
Birdsall and Bowden met one night in Florida at a Buddhist fire ritual. As a visual artist and poet, Bowden says he'd been seeking a way to lift his art to a new and more magical realm, a way to distill color and language into song. At the time he couldn't play any instruments. Birdsall was already a performing songwriter and a lifelong musician but had thoughts of giving it all up. She was the muse and the music Bowden had been waiting for, and his life as an artist reawakened her desire for a creative life. They flew kites on the beach at night and decided to head west, landed in Oregon, then wandered north. They started out writing songs individually with no intention of becoming a band, but found that they each wanted to add to the other's songs - harmonies, rhythms, and other sounds.
'It has been, and continues to be, a great joy to work together,' the duo told SGN.
They officially formed The Winterlings in 2010, with Birdsall on lead and harmony vocals, guitar, banjitar (or gitjo), violin, harmonica, and sometimes piano or harmonium; Bowden on lead and harmony vocals, guitar, banjitar, harmonica, ukulele, and foot drums; Peter Race on drums; and Howard Hooper on bass.
A VIVID DREAMSCAPE
The band's name comes from the supernatural swamp beings of Bowden's childhood. Here's his memory of it:
'When I was a kid, I lived in a house on stilts above a swamp. In the summer, I watched my stepfather blast water moccasins off tree stumps from our porch, and I swam in a lake where the alligators were so thick that the black surface of the water was textured with their heads.'
At night, owls filled the trees like dogwood blossoms in spring, and when he wasn't running through the ferns, he says, he was dreaming.
'I read Egyptian myths. I drew thousands of turtles and penguins. And when I slept, my dreams were vivid,' said Bowden.
'One morning, I was eating oatmeal when I suddenly remembered that the dream I had the night before was one I'd had before,' he recalled.
'Mom,' I said, 'I keep dreaming the same thing twice.'
'What do you dream, Wolff?'
'I go down the path and light a fire and then some people come out of the trees and their faces are animals.'
'What do you mean?'
'They're like you, Mom, and like the other people, but they have faces like alligators and lions. Even eagles are in there. Some have tails and wings.'
'Are they scary?'
'Maybe. They sometimes walk close to me.'
'What do you do then?'
'Do you remember what you sing?'
'No. I just sing and they stop walking and they look at the fire.'
'What do you call them?'
'She reached for her journal, where she wrote all this down,' said Bowden. 'I was six years old.'
'Guess what, Mom.'
'We all have Winterlings.'
'The Winterlings have become a metaphor for the voices in all of us that urge us to pursue our creative desires and create an authentic and meaningful life, whatever that means to each of us,' Bowden said.
MARRIAGE EQUALITY ALLIES
Something that The Winterlings believe to be meaningful is the freedom to marry.
'We wholeheartedly believe in marriage equality,' the band told SGN. 'We honor all the ways in which the LGBTQ community has fought for a more free and creative world.'
In fact, Birdsall has participated in Gay rights demonstrations in solidarity with Lesbian friends. 'Shortly before we became The Winterlings, I performed solo for a Lesbian couple's commitment ceremony reception, in a state where Gay marriage is not recognized,' she said.
According to Bowden, who is a visual artist as well, two of his major art collectors, Mike and Ray, adopted a little girl who might have otherwise ended up on the streets of Manhattan. 'She is the luckiest little daughter in the world,' he said. 'They are stellar fathers. They threw her a 'get as messy as you can' fifth birthday party with fingerpaint, water balloons, bubbles, and whipped-cream pies. They take her on nature walks and play in streams. It was a joy to spend a week in their home and watch great parents at work.'
The Winterlings will perform at a 'Live at Lunch' show in Bellevue on August 28, and, because they won the first round of The Capitol Hill Talent Show, they will compete for the grand prize of $1,000 cash and trip to Las Vegas on September 21 at The Grill on Broadway.
'We are working on new songs and building a fuller band,' said the duo. 'We'd love to hear from any musicians who resonate with our music and might want to collaborate or create with us, especially sassy, quirky souls who love to harmonize.'
If you are interested in booking The Winterlings or would like to audition for the band, contact them at email@example.com. For all other information visit their official website, www.winterlings.com.
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