I just love discovering new artists, it’s my favorite thing to do and this week’s performer is a prime example. She’s pianist Holly Bowling who is releasing a virtual feast of sound and vision with her Wilderness Tour that she recorded in 10 different locations from coast to coast, the performances are free but she does have a virtual tip jar for those who would like to contribute. The San Francisco-based performer is making the 10 solo shows available on her official Facebook page as well as on YouTube, and having caught the second session (live streamed from the impressive Bruneau Canyon in Idaho), I was ready to chat with her from her home in San Francisco on Oct. 22, which just happened to be the day that her kick off to the second leg of the tour in, of all places, Casco Bay in Portland, Maine, would be broadcasted!

Q: To prepare for our conversation today, I watched the Bruneau Canyon episode on YouTube. Now, I must admit that I have a thing about heights and the drone shots of your precarious perch on the edge of that drop-off, well, let’s just say that it wasn’t just your keyboard skills that took my breath away! How could you stand sitting so close to the edge like that?
Bowling: (Laughter)

Q: Now the primary reason for doing this interview was the fact that the second leg of this virtual tour takes place in my State of Maine, Casco Bay in Portland, to be exact.
Bowling: Yeah, and that show airs tonight. It was a really special one for me because my family lives there.

Q: Oh, that was going to be my next question. Why did you choose that location for a performance?
Bowling: Yeah, well a lot of these places we went were places that I’d never been before or were very unfamiliar. It was like we were venturing out into the unknown and we had no idea where we were going and what it would be like; but Maine was one where, well, I’d spent a lot of time in Maine my whole life. It was really special to be able to do this there.

Q: Okay, a little history, how long have you been doing this?
Bowling: Do you mean as far as the Wilderness sessions or as far as…?

Q: Playing like you do.
Bowling: (Chuckle) I mean, I’ve played piano my whole life. This iteration of performance where I’m taking music originally by the Grateful Dead and Phish and putting it in a solo-piano context, I put out my first album of that in 2015, so that’s been going for a while. But this tour and Wilderness sessions thing is a brand new thing for me that was just born out of the inability to tour the way we usually would during the pandemic.

Q: Well, since mid-March I’ve certainly gotten a crash course in technological advances, for example: live-streaming concerts where you can watch someone perform while on the edge of a cliff…
Bowling: (Laughter again)

Q: Sorry, I keep coming back to that, but it is so amazing to somebody who can remember black-and-white TV and 8-track tapes, for crying out loud.
Bowling: (Chuckle) Yeah, it’s funny, I think even for those of us that were familiar with using the live-streaming platform, it’s certainly taken on a whole different importance over the last year; and I think a lot of us have just become much more familiar and comfortable with it since it’s become our only avenue, you know?

Q: Yeah, I do. And now, when things get back to normal, here’s hoping, at least you have another tool in your tool box to use when needed.
Bowling: Yeah, absolutely. It’s funny, I love this chance that I’ve gotten to play outside and play music in these places that I feel I’m privileged to even spend time in or visit.

Q: Just out of curiosity, do you do your own compositions?
Bowling: Umm, I do a little bit but all the records I put out in solo context have all been rearrangements of pre-existing stuff: I feel most comfortable with my own musical voice in the framework of improvising, and I think that these sessions in particular have really given me the space and the platform to really do that, to dive right in. There are very little expectations because people aren’t buying tickets to this, they haven’t taken the night off to go drive and catch a show that’s been billed a special way expecting certain things. It’s kind of me showing up and playing whatever I’m feeling. And if I want to play for 45 minutes, I do that, and if I want to play for two hours, I do that. There’s no one to tell me how it has to go (chuckle) and so for someone like me that feels most connected to my own musical voice of improvising, it’s been awesome to have the kind of freedom and that kind of wide-open platform to play with.

Q: Now, when you did the Casco Bay gig were you on land or on a boat in the water, what was happening there?
Bowling: (Laughter) I was on land, we were kind of perched right on the edge of the water…

Q: Oh no, not on an edge again!
Bowling: (Laughter) We had a lot of ideas of how to do the one in Maine. Funny that you mention water because one of the ideas that we ended up throwing out was we wanted to go out to one of the uninhabited islands in Casco Bay and bring all the gear out on a boat and get it on to the island and do the set that way and film it from the water looking at the island with the drones. But in the end we decided to keep it safe, make sure all the equipment is not actually at the bottom of the water by the time it is over.

Q: The Portland gig begins the second leg. Will there be a third one?
Bowling: No, just two legs. We decided to split it up so the first leg is us heading from home in California—I live in San Francisco—out to Maine, and then leg two starts in Maine and then is us working our way back home, westward. We took the northern route on the way out there and then, on the way back, we kind of dipped down into the Southwest—the scenery and locations on the two legs have a different feel.

Q: And all of this is available on YouTube, correct?
Bowling: Yeah, it is on Youtube and this is the first session out of five for the second leg so the other ones will be available eventually, but all of the first leg and this one are available now.

Q: Well, my final question is this: Is there anything, Holly, that you’d like me to get pass on to the readers of this article?
Bowling: I think the only other thing I’d like to mention is that I have an album coming out also in November. It’s been a strange year and I’m really excited about the record, it’s my second one that’s Grateful Dead music for solo piano, that’s on Nov. 2o and it’s called “Seeking All That’s Still Unsung.”

Q: Well, thank you for your time, I really appreciate it, and take care of yourself. Oh, and Holly, don’t get too near the edge, okay?
Bowling: (Laughter) Yeah, you got it!

Lucky Clark has spent over 50 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

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