Carrie Rodriguez: As a singer, this fiddler’s green |

Carrie Rodriguez: As a singer, this fiddler’s green

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Sarah WilsonSinger-fiddler Carrie Rodriguez performs Wednesday at Steve's Guitars in Carbondale.

CARBONDALE ” In her one year at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, while she was supposed to concentrating on Vienna, Austria ” home to Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and other classical composers ” Carrie Rodriguez found her attention drifting closer to her own hometown of Austin, Texas.

“I’d find myself sitting in my dorm room playing along to Hank Williams, instead of in the rehearsal room practicing Tchaikovsky,” she said.

Williams wasn’t from Texas ” he was born and raised in Alabama ” but it was enough that Williams’ music generally could be played on a fiddle, rather than a violin.

“I missed Texas, and missed the music there,” said the 29-year-old Rodriguez. “So that’s when I threw myself into the fiddle.”

It was a confluence of influences that drew Rodriguez away from the orchestra and into clubs and bars. There was Austin, where singing and songwriting is as natural as skiing is to an Aspenite.

“I had taken it for granted,” she said. “Living in Austin, and then getting away from it, you realize that’s not normal. You don’t get that everywhere.”

Among the supply of singer-songwriters was David Rodriguez, Carrie’s father, who in the early ’90s was voted the state’s best songwriter three years running by the Austin magazine, Third Coast Music. Carrie, who had begun classical training as a kid, got her first taste of fiddle music when her dad would pull her onstage at local clubs. “But I couldn’t improvise. He’d have to write out the lines for me to play,” recalls Rodriguez, who spent a summer in the mid-’90s studying at the Aspen Music Festival and School.

The swing moment came while Rodriguez was at Oberlin. Lyle Lovett, a friend of her father, was playing in nearby Cleveland, and invited Carrie to join his band for a song during sound-check.

“I don’t think he really knew what I did, how I played,” said Rodriguez. “He told me to bring my fiddle, and had me sit in with his Large Band. I had no groove, no idea how to improvise. I sucked.”

But sitting in with Lovett’s band turned her head. The biggest influence was not Lovett himself, but Andrea Zonn, the fiddler in the Large Band. “After the show was over, I said, ‘I just want to be like her.’ That looked like so much fun,” said Rodriguez.

She transferred to Boston’s Berklee College of Music, to concentrate on music that had nothing to do with orchestral playing, which she found constraining. By the middle of her first year at Berklee, she had another chance to test out her fiddle skills. Lovett was playing in Boston, and again invited Rodriguez to join him at sound check. With Rodriguez on board, they played “Ballad of the Snow Leopard” ” a David Rodriguez tune that Lovett had covered on his “Step Inside This House” album. This time Rodriguez didn’t suck, and she was asked to join the group for its performance. She recalls is as “a beautiful moment.”

Rodriguez began to see herself as a fiddler who would accompany other singer-songwriters. But after Chip Taylor ” a rocker best known for writing the hit “Wild Thing” ” heard her play at an Austin date, he hired her, and put her to work singing as well as fiddling.

Rodriguez now finds herself not a member of an orchestra, not a sideman, but a singer-songwriter herself. (Alas, not an Austin-based one; she lives in Brooklyn.) She has two albums to her credit including last year’s “She Ain’t Me,” which features contributions from Lucinda Williams and the Jayhawks’ Gary Louris. The album was inspired in large part by the loneliness Rodriguez feels in her marriage to another touring musician, Javier Vercher, a saxophonist for Spanish pop star Alejandro Sanz.

Rodriguez, who brings her trio to Steve’s Guitars in Carbondale on Wednesday, no longer thinks of herself as a classical violinist. But she doesn’t think of herself as a frontwoman either. It’s a job title she needs to get used to.

“I still feel new and green as a songwriter,” she said. “But I can’t imagine now going backward and just playing fiddle.”