Our Minstrel

The minstrel of Orange County figured she'd be a star by now.

"Well, I wouldn't say star," Kerry Getz gently emphasizes. Her face morphs into something like wise amusement, as if she comprehends why everybody else keeps focusing on that word—"star"—and underscores why she doesn't. "Making music isn't really a choice for me," she explains, chuckling helplessly. "I always thought I'd be farther along than I am right now, but I keep doing it because it still feels like this is where I'm supposed to be."

Getz will be making music at the House of Blues in Anaheim on Friday night, preceding the Fenians. She'll also open for Michelle Shocked on June 27 at the Galaxy Concert Theatre in Santa Ana—the site of her new CD, Live at The Galaxy. Over the years, Getz has performed on some of the Southland's most important stages, from the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles to the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano. She's undertaken a couple of national tours, too, parlaying contacts with radio stations into on-air performances that promoted her shows—and her remarkable 1997 studio CD, Apollo—in places ranging from little college towns like Greeley, Colorado, and Seymour, Indiana, to such big music cities as Memphis, Austin and New Orleans.

But the mainstay of Getz's music career remains Orange County's coffeehouse circuit, which includes not only java joints but also hotels, bars, nightclubs and shopping centers. This is where she makes her living—on small stipends from the venue, whatever's in the tip jar and the occasional CD sale. This is what makes her our minstrel.

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Other people don't have to understand—and lots of them don't, but some are coming around. "My parents pressured me for years to set up some kind of, like, time limit for pursuing my music," Getz says, her smile widening. "Or, as my mother used to put it, 'How long are you going to keep up this foolishness?' But I think it's become evident that that's not really gonna happen any time soon, so they don't hassle me nearly as often about when I'm going to quit—or when I'm going to start thinking about the future."

It's hard to feel foolish when a bright and breezy spring day in the middle of the week is completely your own. On a whim, Getz has slipped on a summer dress, phoned a friend and driven up from Newport Beach for a late lunch at an outdoor caf in Costa Mesa. The place is nearly deserted because all the sensible people are at work, counting down the last couple of hours at their latest nine-to-five. And when Getz finishes her eggplant sandwich, she plans to go shopping for CDs.

With the trill of her cell phone, however, those plans change. The woman on the other end is asking Getz and her guitar to be at Triangle Square in 90 minutes. Some other singer has fallen through the cracks of the shopping center's entertainment schedule. Suddenly, Getz's open-ended day is destined to dead-end into a three-hour set of music to buy stuff by. This wouldn't happen if she were a star. But Getz doesn't sound resentful. It comes with the territory when you're a minstrel.

"Actually, it's kind of a nice way to spend a spring evening," she says, shrugging. "I can play pretty much whatever I want, and there are worse things than watching the looks of little children as they dance around to my songs. Plus, this way, I can afford those CDs."

But Getz's music is not really for children. It enchants adults. Her lush, diverse and poignant collection of songs is delivered in a voice brimming with the same attributes. She composes sophisticated pieces that illustrate in stories and with characters how the same life forces that bring people together often drive them apart. Getz might remind you a bit of Jewel—if Jewel wrote better songs, sang them with better phrasing, played better guitar and wore fewer sheer, clingy tops. Only the capricious nature of the pop-music gods has kept Getz from fame. And maybe some of her own naivet.

"I was always thinking, 'Well, this will happen on its own,'" Getz recounts. "I was thinking, 'Someday, I'll get picked up by a label or some big artist will notice me and want to record one of my songs.' In other words, I was always waiting for other people to take care of things for me."

Meanwhile, Getz kept her day job, whatever that happened to be at the time—decorating balloons, framing pictures, selling books, taking hotel reservations, assisting a veterinarian, selling guitars and sheet music, singing telegrams, selling insurance, and working the complaint desk at a daily newspaper.

"But eventually, back in the mid-1990s, I realized that my music career wasn't really going to happen on its own—not from me gigging part-time," Getz says. "So I just decided to take it on. I just told myself, 'I can do this. Other people do it. Why can't I?'"

Getz attended the annual Gavin magazine trade conference in Boulder, Colorado, where she absorbed a crash course in the inner workings of the recording industry, from radio stations to record companies to distribution to promotion. "But the best part of it was hanging around these folks, making contacts and, in some cases, making friends," she says.

By 1997, Getz had released Apollo, which received rave reviews—including a spot on Los Angeles Times critic Mike Boehm's Top 10 list. Backed by a full band and meticulous production, the album gave Getz's songs the star treatment without ruining their simple beauty.

Then Getz toured in support of the record. "I was putting together a cross-country tour based on the people I'd met at the Gavin conference—including meeting the guy who was my road manager," she says. "We got a van; I read the map, and he drove. We just hightailed it from city to city. It was great fun."

Back in Southern California, Getz has taken on full-time management of her career. That means forging relationships with bookers, whether through phone calls or promotional packets. It means forging relationships with fans through mailing lists and a website (www.kerry-getz.com). It means sending out feelers to other artists who may want to record her songs or to movie and television executives who may want to use her music on soundtracks. It means finding time to write new material and finding the means to produce a new CD. It means securing new places to showcase herself, through contests, festivals, conferences and workshops. It means showing up regularly at the old places.

"Sometimes, you develop a good, strong relationship with a venue, and then the personnel changes. You call, and the people you've dealt with for so long aren't there," Getz says. "You ask about performing, and they say, 'Send us a package.' It's like starting over at a new place again. Just keeping up with the names of people like that can be a big job."

But when you are a true minstrel, there is always the best part of the job.

"I still love playing," says Getz. "Maybe driving to the gig, you know, I'm frustrated by something. Or I get there, and the place where I'm supposed to set up is full of people and tables. Or nobody knows anything, and the power won't work at the plug I'm supposed to use. It can really try my patience.

"But once I get everything going—I turn on the amp, and there's volume—even in the worst situations, I really love to play."

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