Bozeman-based singer-songwriter Kelly Nicholson is preparing for not one, but two opening performances for acclaimed blues guitarist Tinsley Ellis. She’ll be opening for him at the Top Hat in Missoula on March 23rd and the Rialto in Bozeman on March 24th. As a Montana-based artist making some big moves in the local music scene, we thought we’d catch up and get the scoop.
What’s the small town in Georgia that you’re originally from?
I grew up in Griffin, about halfway between Atlanta and Macon. It’s a good place to be from. I can be pretty nostalgic about my southern roots, so they tend to find their way into my music even though I’ve been gone for a while.
What landed you in Bozeman? What’s kept you there?
I spent the better part of a decade traveling around the country, working seasonal jobs so I could move to a new place every few months. Montana was always the hardest to leave, so I stopped leaving. There’s something really special about the mountains here and the people that live in and around them.
When did you first start playing music and why?
I got my first guitar when I was eight. I can’t remember what drove me to want to play back then, but I do remember that my teacher taught me some of the easier songs I heard on the local classic rock station and I thought that was awesome. It felt like magic to bring those sounds out of an instrument all by myself. I didn’t start singing until many years later.
What’s your most memorable performance?
My first gig in Bozeman, hands down! I was asked to play an opening set at the Filling Station a couple of years ago, supporting a local band I love, and was absolutely ecstatic about it. The day of the show rolls around, and we’re about to get on stage, when I spot my dad hiding at the bar. He had flown out from Georgia to surprise me at my Bozeman debut. One of my favorite memories ever.
How’s it feel to be opening up for Tinsley at both the Top Hat and the Rialto?
I’m so excited to share the stage with another southerner, and a blues legend at that! Tinsley Ellis absolutely rocks and when my sets are over, I’ll be right up front trying to learn a few things. I’m really grateful to be on the bill for both nights!
What’s your history with both the venues?
I’ve seen some incredible shows at both venues, but I’m still pretty new to the stages. This will be my first solo appearance at both locations.
You’re usually playing with The Kelly Nicholson Band, but these will be solo performances. Will you be playing the same material or do you have specific solo songs that you’ll be performing?
I’ll mostly be playing stripped down versions of my original songs that I play with the full band.
Which artists have had an influence on your sound?
I grew up listening to stuff like The Allman Brothers, Little Feat, The Band, Led Zeppelin, and Crosby Stills & Nash, and these days I really dig the music that artists like Tedeschi Trucks Band, Larkin Poe, Joe Bonamassa and Beth Hart, and the Marcus King Band have been putting out.
How do you feel about the Bozeman and Missoula music scenes? Montana as a whole?
I haven’t gotten over to Missoula much, but the Bozeman music scene is great. I found my voice here and I owe a lot to all the folks that have played with me and encouraged me over the last couple of years. As with any community, a good attitude and respect for the other people in the scene goes a long way. I’d really like to expand into the greater southwestern Montana area and play some new venues soon.
What’s your favorite part about Bozeman? Missoula?
Bozeman’s proximity to all things adventure related is outstanding. In addition to performing, I mountain bike, fly fish, hike, and ski, so this valley has just about all I need. Over in Missoula, I’ve done some boating in the Alberton Gorge and on the Lochsa River and that whole area is just gorgeous. I really like that the Clark Fork runs right through downtown!
What’s the future look like for Kelly Nicholson in regards to music?
I’d love to do some co-writing in the near future to keep growing as a songwriter, and there’s a lap steel collecting dust in the corner that would really appreciate some attention, so those kinds of things are on my radar right now.
Have you, or do you have plans to record any music?
Recording and releasing an EP of original music with the full band is definitely a goal for 2020.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Thanks for having me! These are going to be really fun shows and I hope to see lots of y’all there!