Kelly grew up in a small, dusty, southern Oklahoma town, the daughter of a couple of Albuquerque, New Mexico transplants who were considered hippies to the country folk they settled around. Her family loved music and Kelly spent many a night listening to folk records like Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Paul Simon, and Bob Dylan, as well as dancing to her parents’ rock and roll records. “They were always playing music and playing it loud”. Kelly recalls, “When I was thirteen, my dad’s friend lent him an extra acoustic guitar he wasn’t using and my dad brought it home and put it under the Christmas tree for me. He kept telling me I should learn to play the guitar but I wasn’t that excited about it at the time. I really just wanted to sing. The guitar sat there for weeks. One day I picked it up and started messing around with it. I taught myself the four chords to the Jewel song “Who Will Save Your Soul”. I must’ve played that song a thousand times! From then on, I was hooked. I never put the guitar down after that. I started writing songs and playing with other people and did that through the rest of high school and college.”
Although Kelly loved music and creative writing, she studied biology in college and went on to get her master’s degree as a physician assistant. “I worked as a PA for ten years and enjoyed it immensely. That said, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the creative side of me was suffocating. I was playing music but I wasn’t creating music and creating is what I felt like I needed to do. I was neglecting the artistic side of me so much that I started feeling unsettled and empty. I had my daughter in 2016 and decided to quit working as a PA and stay home with her. I needed to get out of the rat race and knew this could be my chance to really pursue songwriting. I set a goal in early 2017 to write a song a week for a year. During that time I wrote a few songs I liked and lots and lots of terrible ones. But I was creating! I started feeling freer and more like myself than I had in a very, very long time.”
On what inspires her writing, Kelly says, “I usually see or hear something that bothers me, an injustice of some kind, that I can’t stop thinking about. When that happens, I carry a heaviness around with me. I want to do something, but the problem is these injustices are wrongs that I cannot make right. Writing allows me to process the injustice I see in the world by telling the story.”
Kelly was recently chosen as a 2018 Kerrville New Folk Finalist as well as a 2018 Al Johnson Performing Songwriter Contest Finalist for her original material. Now the singer-songwriter is preparing to release her debut full-length, Light in the Lowlands, which was recorded in Oklahoma with Grammy-nominated producer Wes Sharon (John Fullbright, the Turnpike Troubadours). Of going back to her home state to record the record, she says, “I haven’t lived there in years, but the music that has been inspiring me most over the last few years is all coming out of there. It was an honor and a dream come true to make this record there and be able to work with Wes Sharon and musicians like the legendary Byron Berline on fiddle and mandolin and Gabriel Pearson (of the Turnpike Troubadours) on drums and percussion”. If you ask Kelly about all that she’s done in the last couple of years she’ll smile and say, “it still doesn’t seem real”. More importantly though, she’ll tell you that she feels free, and more like herself than she has in a very long time.