It can be a challenge to be an independent up and coming musician, and perhaps even more so in a rural state like Wyoming. But several organizers are trying to improve access to resources, touring and to make Wyoming’s music scene more vibrant and sustainable.
The Wyoming Independent Music Initiative at the Wyoming Arts Council is designed to nurture Wyoming musicians and their talent, according to Taylor Craig, a creative arts specialist at the WAC. Several years ago, the arts council found independent music in Wyoming was an avenue not well supported at the state level and has been working ever since to change that. A variety of programs are being developed under the initiative to strengthen the independent music scene in Wyoming, to encourage and support venues to host live music, and to drive community development, social cohesion and livability.
“Through some strategic planning, the arts council found that independent music was an avenue that wasn’t being served as well, primarily because a lot of independent musicians don’t go through a traditional track of training, and may not be connected to the resources that are out there,” Craig explained. “So the arts council put some effort and money behind serving that group.”
Since she came on board in 2019, independent touring musicians have faced a lot of challenges, Craig said. Covid-19 shutdowns disrupted many opportunities, and the arts council is helping people bounce back.
“My primary goal, and what we have really been focusing on is helping Wyoming musicians find performing and touring opportunities that will help grow their audience, get them known more regionally and get them booked at bigger venues,” Craig said.
One way to do that, she said, has been to form partnerships with existing efforts like the WYOmericana Caravan, which has been promoting local Wyoming musicians and helping them tour since 2013.
“That saying that Wyoming is one town with a long Main Street, it’s similar in the music scene,” WYOmericana Caravan cofounder Aaron Davis said.
Seadar Rose Davis, also a cofounder and both members of Screen Door Porch, said at the time of the first caravan in 2013, the Davises saw many wonderful independent musicians in Wyoming weren’t getting the audiences they deserved. The show became a way to collaborate across artists and genres, and to share and gather resources.
“We wanted to have headlining talent that people would recognize and also talent that maybe it was their first time being on the road. Being on the road is a whole different thing, figuring out how to present yourself and how to make it work,” Aaron Davis said.
Fast forward to today, and some of those earliest musicians on the tour are now veterans, he said.
“The idea is to bring up new talent. There really is a camaraderie aspect of being on the road … so this is a way to really get to know people, their music and take chances,” he said.
Being a professional, touring musician is not an easy career choice. Access to resources and funding can be a challenge, and yet music brings so much to a community. For the last couple years, Aaron Davis said the WYOmericana Caravan has partnered with the Wyoming Arts Council to spread the word about tours, calls for musicians and finding extra support.
“Our state is rural, and there are not as many opportunities for musicians to play their music. If you are from a small town, it is even more important to have the infrastructure for this,” Aaron Davis said.
Each year, the Caravan tour has been different.
“We present the show with the idea that nobody has ever seen it, and so we do the show and introduce each act, telling people there are moving parts and collaboration. One of the cool things about doing a show this way is that there is an opportunity to turn people on to a different way of consuming concerts,” Aaron Davis said.
It is getting harder and harder to put on the show because of the touring environment, so “without the state support, it would be really hard to do a show like this,” he said. “At this point, we are not sure what the next (tour) will be.”
The WYOmericana Caravan does have a couple summer shows planned for Laramie and Cheyenne, he said. The name WYOmericana started out as a celebration of a specific blend of country, rock, folk and blues, but its meaning has also shifted.
“Now it has expanded, and it kind of represents Wyoming artists playing their own music,” Aaron Davis said.
Seadar Rose Davis said amazing music comes out of Wyoming, and in some ways, it’s even more wonderful because Wyoming is such a unique state.
“If we really rally around musicians, and have supporters like the arts council and people like Wyoming Public Radio, there is no one else that has a single radio station across a whole state, and it is really great how wonderful they are toward Wyoming artists,” she said. “That is an opportunity that not a lot of artists get to experience, and so we want to curate things and show people what is possible by being from Wyoming.”
When the caravan started out, it was primarily a grassroots effort. Now, in addition to the tour, musicians are able to reach into Wyoming schools for clinics with young musicians.
“This latest collaboration with the arts council has allowed us, for instance, to go into high schools and work with younger musicians who are curious not only about writing their own songs but also about how to do it,” Aaron Davis said. “That has been huge, to connect with younger musicians and show them that there is an outlet for their art.”
Seadar Rose Davis said involving women has also been a passion of hers, and it has also been important that the Caravan tour in Wyoming.
“The past years we have been doing an application process, really trying to open it up so that everyone who needs to hear about it hears about it. From there, we pick one or two in the Wyoming scene, and we also find new people that way,” she said.
The Caravan’s future, Aaron Davis said, may come down to funding.
“As long as the touring environment allows, and we are able to do it financially, I think we will keep going. There is certainly no shortage of new talent coming up in the state,” he said. “I think a lot of our future comes down to funding from the state. I don’t think there is going to be a new lineup in 2022. We are going to do a couple shows, and there are a lot of ideas we have floated like a one- or two-day festival, or recording sessions that involve Wyoming artists.”
At the arts council level, there are other ways for musicians to get involved, Craig said.
“Other ways we have been promoting local Wyoming talent is by partnering through regional venues and festivals,” she said.
This spring, several Wyoming musicians played the Treefort Music Fest, a five-day, indie rock festival held at numerous venues throughout downtown Boise, Idaho.
“We hosted a showcase of six Wyoming bands at that festival,” Craig said. “The reason being is that it is a large regional music festival that focuses on emerging musicians. The idea is, can we get more Wyoming musicians in front of industry folks and bigger audiences to help grow their practices.”
Similar efforts pre-Covid-19 took place at the Levitt Pavilion Denver, and Craig is on the lookout for others.
“Most of our efforts are going into what touring and performing opportunities can we find for Wyoming musicians, and help spread that word and get more people on board for that,” Craig said.
The best way to get in touch with the Wyoming Independent Music Initiative is sign up for its musician-specific email list, which is available online. For most opportunities, the initiative does a public call for artists and often sends submissions to bookers for selection. Craig said musicians can also email her directly at [email protected]
“It is great to have folks on my radar, because I get emails asking about folks of a certain genre. If I am aware of where people are, I can send them the right direction,” she said.
“We believe and know that live music, and music in general, create livable communities and places people want to live in and enjoy being in. It also creates social cohesion, bringing people together,” she continued. “Those things make places better, and also promote economic development in our communities. It can affect things like food sales and hotels and camping … all of those reasons are part of why we want to help support musicians, because we also want to keep them in Wyoming.
“We want those folks to know there is a place, that they can have a successful career, while living in Wyoming,” Craig said.