Susan Werner is a singer/songwriter with a contemporary folk bend to her music. This industrious pioneer is originally from Iowa before she found her home in Chicago. Her music has crossed barriers from jazz to religious with an Agnostic’s point of view. Her latest album Kicking the Beehive brings the lesbian performer to play at the Auditorium Theatre and Nunn on the Run talked to her before the show.
Jerry Nunn: Hello, Susan. How are you on this beautiful day?
Susan Werner: It is a beautiful day. I think I will ride my bike down to the lake on the Northerly Island. There is a path that for about a quarter mile you have the city to yourself.
JN: What area of the city do you live in?
SW: We live right downtown in Streeterville.
JN: How long have you lived in Chicago?
SW: Eleven years. Before that I lived in Philadelphia for about 15 years. I grew up in Iowa. I always wanted to get back within driving distance of my family and Iowa. This really feels like home to me. I think it is the same for many people from the Midwest.
JN: You tour a lot from what I read.
SW: I am gone a lot. I thank God for Southwest Airlines because I can get everywhere that I need to get to. The bad news it is a small plane and everyone is packed in now.
JN: This show at the Auditorium Theatre should be intimate.
SW: I have played this particular kind of show two or three times now. When I tell people in town that I am playing the Auditorium they nearly fall over. They think I have three thousand fans in one place! (laughs) For this show we put the table and chairs on the stage so it is cabaret seating. Our little stage is at the lip of the big stage. So you are sitting onstage looking back toward the seats. To sit there and experience the glamorous view that famous like Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix had this tremendous view and now you can get it too.
JN: It is 1940’s style.
SW: Yes, it is tables with table clothes and two bars. By the time we start you can be well lubricated.
JN: What other venues have you played in town?
SW: I have played Old Town School of Folk Music and Schubas is where I really started playing in Chicago. I have played Space in Evanston a couple of times. That is a really nice new venue up there. There is not a bad seat in the house. It’s a nightclub for grownups.
JN: I have heard great things about it.
SW: One the things that make the Auditorium show great is that I will have my band with me. Trina Hamlin is probably one of the world’s best harmonica players. She brings the house down plus she plays the drum kit at the same time. She is a one-woman hurricane. I will also have Natalia Zuckerman who plays bass. It is a virtual wall of women. We try to execute every element well with a lot of energy. What may surprise people how physical and rocking the show is. With the cabaret seating I will do songs that are elegant but also some from the country blues project I did last year.
JN: How is the new album different from the others?
SW: I try to make every project different from the one that came before. There is great energy in doing something new. For me that is the carrot, to find a new style and master it. I did a Cole Porter project in 2007. I did a gospel project for Agnostics. In 2009 I did chamber music. This last one came from a trip I took down the blues highway. It was from Memphis to Mississippi. I was hanging out there and soaking in the music. It made the blues real to me. I would recommend that to any fan of music. I think you need to see the landscape. Have you done it?
JN: Well, I am from Tennessee.
SW: Dude! This record was made in Nashville. It was produced by Rodney Crowell. Vince Gill came in and sat in. He is the honorary mayor of Nashville.
JN: I just heard that from LeAnn Rimes how supportive Vince is.
SW: He is all about the music. He just wants people to make good music. Keb Mo came in and sat in also. If you make it into this inner circle in Nashville everyone gathers around you and wants to make something wonderful. Good music is the religion that everyone agrees on in Nashville. It has the largest bible producing area and home of the largest adult bookstore.
JN: (both laugh) Don’t you love that?
SW: It is fantastic.
JN: I grew up in that in the closet.
SW: You were lost like a rocket, friend. It is opening up like much of Tennessee. I have a friend who is head of the LGBT network in Memphis. The south is changing. Those of us that grew up in a conservative space came out with momentum. Hopefully we aim that toward a lot of other people. My favorite places to play are blues towns and red states.
JN: You can make a difference in places like that.
SW: You feel very useful. Some of things I say can be confirming when someone is a minority. Eureka Springs, Arkansas has a Christian theme park up on the hill. A giant Jesus statues looks down over the valley. But the valley is an arts community and has the largest gay pride parade in Arkansas. It is fabulous!
JN: How do you feel about other out musicians such as Melissa Etheridge or Indigo Girls?
SW: They are the pioneers, anyone that went through the windshield. They were a hero and changed the road for everybody else. Someone that is very important to me is Joan Armatrading. I did two tours with her. She played the hell out of a guitar before any woman had done that. She is so deeply musical.
JN: Looking forward to seeing how deeply musical you are at your show.
SW: Thanks for getting the word out. We are doing well with tickets but we can always use a little extra push!