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Celia Woodsmith

Singer-Songwriter Q&A



How old were you when you started playing guitar?


I started playing the guitar when I was 14. I took a couple lessons, learned a few songs, then I quit until age 17 when I picked it back up again before heading to college at the University of Vermont.



What was your first guitar? Did you buy it yourself?


A Big Baby Taylor. No, my stepfather and mother bought it for me.



Do you still have it?


Yes, its covered in paint from a misguided experience at a festival, and sitting in its case in my basement.


Did your parents or grandparents play any instruments? If so, what did they play?


No. My family has often wondered where my musical nature came from, and can only point to a great-grandfather who played coronet in the Navy Band. I am told my grandmother had a nice singing voice, though I never met her. My cousin can also sing, and has a surprisingly similar tone to myself.



Celia and her mom.


Did you ever get a chance to play with them?


Unfortunately no.


What are the guitars that you play?


I play a Bourgeois Aged Tone OM, and my backup is a Martin OM-V 18.


Celia playing her Bourgeois guitar. Photo credit: Hear and There Photography


Celia with her Martin guitar.


Do you have a favorite? If so, why is it your favorite?


The Bourgeois is the clear winner here, not only because its very opened up, but because of how far I've traveled with it. It has a certain sound...and I'm not sure how to describe it. It feels like it just fits my voice. Because I've written so many songs on it, it feels like a comfortable shoe.


Celia with the founder of Bourgeois Guitars, Dana Bourgeois.



What strings do you use (brands and gauges)?




How often do you change your strings?


About once every two or three tours, depending on how grueling the tour was and the environment. It also depends on if we've done any shows with kids and if they've been handling the guitar - you'd be surprised at how fast grubby kid fingers can kill strings!


Do you use a pick? If so, what brand and thickness?




Do you use any effect pedals?


No.


Do you work on your own guitars or do you bring them to a guitar tech? Are there any guitar techs that you would like to recommend?


I leave any work on my guitar to the maker, Dana Bourgeois (Bourgeois Guitars) or Robert Stubblebine (Stubblebine Lutherie) in Somerville, MA.


Dana Bourgeois of Bourgeois Guitars.


Robert Stubblebine of Stubblebine Lutherie.


Do you have a favorite guitar shop?


Carter's Vintage Guitars in Nashville, TN is an epic shop, but The Music Emporium in Lexington, MA is up there with the best.


Carter Vintage Guitars, Nashville, TN


The Music Emporium, Lexington, MA


What makes it a good shop?


The incredible variety and quality of instruments, plus a very knowledgeable staff.


At what age did you start writing songs?


18.


What is your songwriting process?


I do a lot of thinking and observing in my day to day life. I think all of that really informs how I write songs. When I sit down to write songs they normally come out very quickly, almost like they've been baking in my head for a period of time and the actual songwriting process is just the final step.


Photo credit: Warren Millerent



Is it the music or the lyrics that usually come to you first?


They come at the same time.



Do you write old school on paper, or electronically?


Electronically.


Who are the top three musicians or bands that have had a major influence on you?


Bonnie Raitt, John Prine and Gillian Welch.


Celia and Chris Hersch performing Randy Newman's "Guilty" inspired by Bonnie Raitt.


Celia and Jason Anick performing John Prine's, "Angel from Montgomery".


Celia, Charles Clements, and Jason Anick cover "My Dear Someone" by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings.


If you could jam with one person, living or dead, who would it be?


Tom Waits.


Celia and Say Darling performing Tom Waits' "Chocolate Jesus."


What are your top three “desert island” albums?


Time (The Revelator) - Gillian Welch, Graceland - Paul Simon, Mule Variations - Tom Waits.



What was the first concert you attended?


Fiona Apple in Hartford, CT.


What was the last concert you attended?


Les Filles de Illighadad. A group of Tuareg women from Niger who I saw in Portland, Maine.




The Beatles or the Stones?


I can't and won't choose!




Where and when was your first paid gig? How much did you make?


It was at the Women's Center at The University of Vermont. $50.


What has been the highlight of your musical career so far?


Performing with Steve Martin and Martin Short in Vegas and headlining tours with the US Department of State in countries such as Pakistan, Jordan, Brazil, Guyana, Turkmenistan.


Celia with Steve Martin, Martin Short and her Della Mae bandmate, Kimber Ludiker.


Celia's TEDx Talk about her State Department "American Music Abroad" tours.



What has been your worst gig so far and why? (You don’t have to name names).


I once played a show with full blown strep throat. I was too young and insecure to cancel the show, so I played through the fever and pain. The next day I went to the ER and had to be put on an IV. Moral of the story, don't play through the pain. Cancel the show.


Photo credit: Peter Jordan


What are some of the venues you enjoy performing at the most?


I love performing at festivals, there are so many other performances you can see, and the hang is super fun.


Celia with Della Mae at the Rhythm and Roots Festival 2019. Photo credit: Seth Jacobson



What things make the venue enjoyable for the performer (location, equipment, setup, organizers)?


A complete rider, a hot meal, a changing room, a mirror without stickers all over it and a sound person that doesn't have something to prove.



How do you work out your setlist?


I start with a number that grabs people's attention - either it's very peppy, or it has an acapella intro. Then I take the audience through an emotional ride - I really do think deeply about what songs set up other songs. How do you take people from a raucous song right to a quiet introspective one? However all of it depends on where you're playing - is it a night time festival set? An intimate theatre? A standing club? There are so many vibes to consider when making a set list...I often write them a week beforehand and then change everything once I see the venue. I also make last minute changes onstage based on the vibe.






Is there any advice you wish someone had given you when you were first starting out in the music business?


The bar is always moving. It's hard to see how far you've come when you're always comparing yourself to the people “ahead” of you. Try to take a moment to really appreciate how far you've come wherever you may be. Maybe you just did your first open mic, and that's huge! Don't compare yourself to someone playing Carnegie Hall, you are on your own journey.


Photo credit: Michael Weintrob


Do you have any suggestions for a guitarist or songwriter who might be stuck in a musical rut?


Be gentle on yourself. We are meant to have periods of inspiration and periods where we are fallow. A time where you might not be cranking out new songs or learning as much as you want to is a natural thing. Just follow whatever piques your ear - maybe it's a different style of music or a different instrument, follow your creativity to where it's leading you not where you're trying to force it.




If you weren’t a singer-songwriter, what would you be doing for work?


I would probably be working for a women's rights NGO, or working in the Foreign Service.



Please list some of your upcoming shows, plug your music and provide links to your merchandise.


You can find everything at www.celiawoodsmith.com.













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