Kalyn (II) (detail) — 21st Annual Woody Guthrie Festival, 2018

Woodyfest 2018: Kalyn Fay

Tsa-La-Gi Songstress

Expat-Tulsa Singer Returns to Woodyfest

Your hum­ble author [Sidenote: This is the nine­teenth install­ment in our ongo­ing series on the 21st Annual Woody Guthrie Folk Festival, fea­tur­ing singer-song­writer Kalyn Fay.] first met musi­cian Kalyn Fay in when jour­nal­ist Nathan Poppe brought her to the Bureau’s stu­dio. She had come to sit as one of the ear­li­est sub­jects for OKIE-X: Portraits of Oklahoma Musicians on X-Ray Film, an ongo­ing Bureau project. I had not heard her music at the time; my rec­ol­lec­tion is that John Calvin Abney sug­gested I invite her to sit.

The next time I saw her was dur­ing one of Woodyfest’s infa­mously rained-out open­ing days. The “Muddyfest” saw a toad-stran­gler of a , forc­ing the clo­sure of the out­door Community Improvement Association (CIA) stage and the main stage at the Pastures of Plenty. Fay was sched­uled to be the third per­former at the CIA stage, but the rain started . So the pow­ers-that-be moved her to the upstairs din­ing area of the Brick Street Café — the base­ment stage was already in use as a fes­ti­val venue, as it has been most years. [Sidenote: The Brick was closed dur­ing the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival.]

Fay did her best despite being more than a lit­tle damp. Abney accom­pa­nied her on gui­tar and occa­sion­ally pro­vided vocal har­monies. Despite every­one being out-of-sorts from the weather, fes­ti­val-goers received her warmly, patiently wait­ing for the many re-tun­ings the humid­ity neces­si­tated. I found myself bat­tling with con­den­sa­tion in all of my cam­era lenses, even though they and the cam­era bod­ies are weather sealed.

Kalyn Fay Plays “Oklahoma” for the V-Dub Sessions (Episode 115)

Returning for her third Woodyfest appear­ance, Fay played an set at Lou’s Rocky Road Tavern. A long­time unsanc­tioned-but-pop­u­lar fes­ti­val venue, this marked the Tavern’s first year as an offi­cial per­for­mance space. Festival-goers could not have asked for a bet­ter singer to usher in the stage’s newly accred­ited sta­tus. Playing a mix of old mate­r­ial and new, the singer had even the most fid­gety audi­ence mem­bers sit­ting quiet and still.

Fay was accom­pa­nied by gui­tarist Stephen Lee. Lee is a famil­iar face on the fes­ti­val stages, adding his licks to many a per­for­mance. You could call him a pinch-hit­ter of the gui­tar. Tulsa band­leader Jacob Tovar joined the two toward the end, har­mo­niz­ing with his twangy low tenor.

Fay’s songs address the con­tra­dic­tions in her upbring­ing: Cherokee and White, steeped in Southern Baptist reli­gios­ity and Native American spir­i­tu­al­ity, sur­rounded by fam­ily secrets. Her sul­try alto is inti­mate and breathy, but hints at some­thing pow­er­ful under­neath — a force­ful spirit one would best avoid wak­ing. It’s a voice that ren­ders heartache and anger, long­ing and defi­ance by turns.

In the title track to her fresh­man album, Bible Belt, she avoids merely cat­a­logu­ing the unset­tling con­tra­dic­tions and hypocrisies, but the cho­rus — I still call that town my home /​ ’though I’ve left and I still roam /​ Can’t explain just how I felt /​ Livin’ in the Bible Belt, — tells the lis­tener exactly how con­flicted she is. Nostalgia and home­sick­ness leave an ashy taste in the singer’s mouth, over­whelm­ing her grat­i­tude and relief at hav­ing escaped.

In “Black and Blue,” Fay turns the metaphor lit­eral: Take, take, take take take me home /​ ’cause I’m not where I belong /​ Make, make, make this body new /​ ’cause the wrath of the belt has made me black and blue /​ Yeah, the wrath of your belt has made me black and blue.

In the same vein, she con­trasts stay­ing or going, home­sick­ness and insu­lar­ity, nos­tal­gia and suf­fo­ca­tion in “Oklahoma”: Oh, my Oklahoma /​ I think I’ve known you too long /​ Now, even the wind blows /​ And it sings to me its songs. In the cho­rus, Fay spells out the dilemma of an intel­lect at war with emo­tions and spir­i­tu­al­ity: Oh-oh-oh-oh /​ The head, it knows /​ But the heart, it don’t /​ And it’s killin’ me.

Fay finally did make the move from Oklahoma — she is cur­rently at the University of Arkansas work­ing on her sec­ond MFA in print­mak­ing. Her sopho­more album, Good Company, drops on Tulsa’s Horton Records on .

Gallery: Kalyn Fay


About Chris J. Zähller

International Man of Mystery. Cocktail Nerd. Occasionally designs websites. Sometimes snaps a picture or two.

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