The country in the girl

Published 8:02 am Monday, October 14, 2013

Kalisa Ewing

Kalisa Ewing

Southern artist Kalisa Ewing heads north, will play Knowlton

Kalisa Ewing was destined to be a country singer.

The 25-year-old singer/songwriter could have been just another pretty girl from Nashville to have her name forgotten among thousands clawing their way into the business, but she’s working harder than ever to make sure that doesn’t happen. This year has been her busiest ever, highlighted by major strides. Among songwriting, touring and soon coming to Austin on Oct. 19 to perform with longtime great Wade Hayes, Ewing has been performing on the Grand Ole Opry and is working on her first album. Clearly, it’s time. Earlier this year star recording artists Kellie Pickler and Kelly Clarkson each picked up songs written by Ewing. Clarkson picked up the song “Go On,” about a girl having drinks at a bar, annoyed at a man’s attempts to impress her. Pickler recently cut Ewing’s “Where Did Your Love Go,” a song about losing a first love, co-written with Rivers Rutherford.

Ewing knows how competitive Nashville is. She has been around music most of her life, but realizes success “doesn’t come overnight.”

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As a youngster, Ewing sat in her room and wrote poems. Then she picked up a guitar. She admits she didn’t think about putting the two together right away. Like plenty of little girls, however, she wanted to a pop singer.

“All I ever wanted to do was be on the radio,” she said.

But with a southern voice, she was destined for country. Not only that, country music is in her blood. Ewing talks about her grandfather, who was well versed in the business.

“He’s the closest person in my blood, of my family — as far as my family knows — that ever attempted to do the same thing that I do,” Ewing said.

That man, Owen McCarty, was a blind musician who moved to Nashville to fulfill his dreams as an artist. While Ewing drew inspiration from him, she couldn’t get any of his advice.

“I never got to meet him,” Ewing said. “He died six months after I was born. There have been times when I was like, ‘I wish I could ask him a question or two about how he’d do this or that in the music business.’”

Ewing also draws inspiration from the all-time greats.

“Loretta Lynn was always a huge inspiration as far as my songwriting,” she said. “She tells it like it is.”

However, Ewing isn’t trying to emulate anyone else, so she also tells it like it is.

For good songs, she has to draw on her own experiences.

“You can only be yourself,” Ewing said. “You can only do what you do the best.”

That type of writing, as Ewing knows, often connects with the fans, which is important. Ewing may not be about six-packs and pickup trucks, as she says in a video. However, she has all the materials for a good country song: love, heartache, problems or “Redemption,” which is one of her popular tunes. She once wrote a song about all her break ups, just to get it out of her system. Other times she writes about childhood, or overcoming the rigors of life.

“Everybody is going through something to get to the next thing,” Ewing said. “We’ve all had our own issues we’ve had to deal with throughout life.”

Today, Ewing spends an inordinate amount of time in the studio — her favorite place. It’s gratifying for Ewing to have big names looking at her work. Still, she’s not resting on her recent success and says there is a lot more work ahead. Ewing has written songs for 15 years, and at least 10 years professionally. Throughout that span, that has resulted in likely more than a thousand songs, she said. But that’s what it takes to get to the good ones.

“It takes that many,” Ewing said. “You’ve got to write a lot of bad ones to have one good one.”

Ewing may keep a few more of those good ones for herself these days, as she will start major work on her album this fall with hopes of a spring 2014 release.

“I’m extremely excited,” Ewing said. “I feel like I’ve always been writing my first record since I began songwriting.”

Until then, fans can find her soothing, southern-country voice through videos and a free download on her website, — or in person when she’s on tour.

Promoter Jerry Petty’s company has for years worked closely with local law enforcement to put on this event: the Austin Police Officers Association Country Music Spectacular. The show helps raise money for scholarships and civic organizations. Petty saw Ewing’s talent and was excited to pair her with Hayes.

“I thought this girl had the potential to be somebody big,” he said.

Ewing hasn’t been to Minnesota, so she’s excited, not only to see her brother in Duluth, but to keep spreading her sound and putting her name out there.

For Hayes, it had been a tough road as of late. He was fighting cancer several years ago and fell off the country music scene, but he’s back with new music and has been getting standing ovations at every show, Petty said.

“I just felt compelled to bring him into the show,” Petty said.

Ewing will open for Hayes at Austin High School’s Knowlton Auditorium on Oct. 19. Doors open at 6 p.m., and the show starts at 7. Tickets are $25 at the door, $50 for families and will also be available at the Law Enforcement Center. Autographs will be available after the shows.

Wade Hayes

Wade Hayes

Wade Hayes and Kalisa Ewing

When: Doors open at 6 p.m., show starts at 7 p.m.

Where: Knowlton Auditorium, Austin High School.

Tickets: $25 at the door.