Singer-songwriter Katie Powderly never planned on making Frederick her home.
“Ending up in Maryland was an accident. It has been a short detour that’s took six years longer than I was expecting,” she said recently while sitting outside a Starbucks near Buckeystown Pike sipping a drink.
It was Dec. 12, 2012, when Powderly found herself performing at Cafe Nola in Frederick. At the time she was living in Knoxville, Tennessee, and she had joined a tour with Woody Pines as a sideman playing the upright bass. One of the 36 night stops was Frederick.
“As soon I got into Frederick, I felt immediately that there was something special about this place. ... I felt that I stepped into a Charles Dickens novel because it was December,” she recalled. “The downtown was so magical. It was all lit up with the Christmas lights. It was this cozy little cute winter town and everyone was super friendly and nice.”
On Saturday, Powderly’s band, The Unconditional Lovers, will perform at the Weinberg Center of the Arts as a special guest for The Steel Wheels.
The Unconditional Lovers
After her first visit to Frederick, Powderly decided to visit Maryland in the spring of 2013, as a solo artist. That’s when she met her future bandmates Kevin Etzler and Colin Shultzaberger after they performed a gig with another band.
She approached them to say she enjoyed their set and Shultzaberger asked if she was a musician because of the questions she asked. She was soon invited to jam with them, which lead to them learning her music and landed them a sold-out show at Flying Dog.
Then they were invited to play at Artomatic, which is when they decided it was time to form a band and name it.
“I had a secret band name in my heart and in my head for so long that I was waiting to bust it out for when the timing felt right,” Powderly said.
The Unconditional Lovers now includes Shultzaberger on keys, Etzler on drums, Evan Durr on bass, and Neil Durr on bass, with Powderly on guitar and vocals. The band was first billed as Katie Powderly and The Unconditional Lovers, mainly because in the beginning she had name recognition and contacts, she said.
“I’m not a lone wolf anymore, I’m part of a wolf pack,” she said. “I’m not a really religious person, but I’m a very spiritual person and these guys are the answers to about 10,000 prayers.”
The art of songwriting
Powderly was 19 when she penned her first song using her dad’s 1970s Yamaha guitar.
“It was a terrible song, but I had this weird feeling. I had always been a writer and an artistic person. I hadn’t intended on being a songwriter. And that’s how I got into this bluegrass band because I wrote two songs. They were these terrible bluegrass hybrid songs with cheesy cliché lyrics,” she said. “But I learned three little cords and I sang them at my first open mic.”
For a time, she gave up the guitar and played upright bass for the bluegrass band. When she decided it was time to return to the guitar, she became a prolific writer. She joined an Americana duo, opened for some nationally recognized acts and put out an album, but again, it wasn’t the music she wanted to perform.
“I had never felt like I had creative control or it never felt like a reflection of me. If you’re going to write something and play and you want to sound like reflective of your intension, I guess,” she said. “I decided that in order to make records that sounded how I wanted them to sound, I had to make them myself and do it my way, which is fine. And after I have proven that to myself, I am much more open to a collaborative process.”
Powderly decided that she needed to grow professionally outside of Wisconsin — the place she’s lived the longest — so she left there in 2011 and ended up in Knoxville. At that point, she was a solo artist and released her own self-titled album. And found her way back to Frederick.
When it comes to songwriting for The Unconditional Lovers, the group works as a team. Powderly said she writes the songs, but brings it to the guys to arrange them. Songwriting continues to be something personal for her and inspiration comes from everywhere.
“It used to be a lot of profound loss, grief and depression and love. Now it’s a lot more gratitude and kind of the wisdom as you get older and figure things out about life and observing not just your own music, and other people’s behavior,” she said. “I’m really fascinated by people. People make really interesting choices. I like to see how things kind of play out.”
The Unconditional Lovers took a three-year hiatus and the Weinberg concert marks their return. And last week, they celebrated six years of being in a band together.
“The band never broke up but there was a season in my life in which my music seemed to slow to a halt. I didn’t feel like myself. I wasn’t writing songs, and I felt trapped in a lot of ways. Looking back I think I was just in a discouraging environment,” she said.
Now regrouped, The Unconditional Lovers recorded an album that they’re tweaking and Powderly hopes to release next year.
“I’m more proud of it than anything I’ve made in my life so far,” she said.
Powderly has plans for the band’s future.
“There will be no more silences or going underground for three years at a time. We’re back and we’re back for good,” she said.
Performing with the Steel Wheels
Members of the Steel Wheels have been friends of Powderly’s for awhile. She just recently played with them as a solo artist in Wisconsin. What the Weinberg show allows her to do is play with her band backing her up.
“I’m excited too because I’ve known the Steel Wheels for years and they’ve always known me as a songwriter, but they’ve never seen me with my full band, I am just excited for these people I respect so deeply as musicians and songwriters and artists, for them to meet the guys who helped me bring my dreams to life, and make my dreams come true.”
Along with singing and songwriting, Powderly also works as a graphic designer at the Frederick News-Post.
Follow Crystal Schelle on Twitter: @crystalschelle.