Mardi Gras 2015: Wendy Colonna to Home and Back, Pt.1
Austinite/SWLA-native proves you can go home again – and sing about it
By Kate X Messer,
10:30AM, Fri. Jan. 30, 2015
There's a certain quality, one of them-thar je ne sais quois in Wendy Colonna's voice that sends writers skittering around to come up with unique ways to describe it. Margaret Moser already stamped it "smoky" and "alluring." Words like "soul" and "grit" and "honey" and "stomp" and "swamp" have served noble attempts.
I mean, what else is there to say about a set of pipes that's like ta keep the beeehind of a firefly lit for days?
Just in time for Mardi Gras, the Austin heartthrob honey crooner put those satiny vocals to work and released the sweet ode, "My Southwest Louisiana Home," a song commissioned by the Lake Charles Southwest Louisiana Convention and Visitors Bureau for a new video being placed across the planet to promote the warmth and whimsy of the region.
"Angie Manning, the communications director at the SW Louisiana tourist bureau, she's a musician, and she's been a fan of mine for a long time," says Colonna. So when the tourism team began to conceive the visuals, Manning knew the perfect hometown gal to call to pair it with a perfect soundtrack.
The CVB pulled out all the stops. The recording features enough Broussards, Ledets, and Savoys to fill a backyard crawfish boil. "Sway to the music," indeed. What came together in the final product transcends its mission as a commercial. But much more on that later.
Colonna had a real busy year last year. Like so many truly independent musicians, he's been "road-doggin'" it for ages, she says, on the mission to share her sweet take on deep roots Southern Americana through the glory of her voice (that voice!) and put it out in front of as many people her little Kia minivan can chug to – all across Texas and into neighboring states like New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and especially her home state, Louisiana, and developing followings in the wild west of Colorado and Wyoming.
In 2014, a few opportunities, including the SWLA video, landed in her lap that gave a little more reach to all her hard work and all these miles on the road. So we had a little chat. The best time the road dogger could converse, was of course, while on the road. Seemed only fitting that I be on the road, too. Last Saturday, we both were headed (in separate vehicles) to gigs in Houston, coincidentally – me from Austin, she from Dallas. So we plugged in our blue teeth and commenced to chatting. (Part 1 is just a li'l lagniappe. Look for the more in-depth Part 2 Mon., Feb. 9):
POP QUIZ: ROAD TRIPPIN' WITH WENDY
The Austin Chronicle: [After much futzing with blue tooth] Hey, stranger! Where ya headed?
Wendy Colonna: To a gig at Anderson Fair in Houston. You?
AC: To a gig DJing a dance party in Montrose. [We joke that we might attend each other's shows, and as it turns out, we learn, way later and after the fact, that we were indeed about three blocks from each other.] So, this interview might fit nicely into my Mardi Gras series. Since you are a veteran road hound, let's share your advice. You up for a pop quiz?
Wendy Colonna: Of course.
The Austin Chronicle: OK! Here goes: 290 or 71/I-10?
Wendy Colonna: 71/I-10 all the way. I've always lived in South Austin, so it's easy to jump on. [At this point, she begins serenading with the beloved standard "Blue Skies."]
AC: Hruska's or Weikel's?
WC: What?! I feel like you're speaking another language.
[I am. It's Czech.]
AC: Kolaches. On Highway 71. Hruska's or Weikel's?
WC: Oh! (laughter) Hruska's! Actually, I like them both. I like the tchotchkes at Hruska's. It's full of weird stuff. It serves me well whenever I'm going to Louisiana and I have to get, like, a baby shower gift. So many options! I really like Weikel's for the food. [A short conversation ensues about sweet vs. savory, kolaches vs. sausage rolls, and the merits of the restrooms.]
AC: Pack snacks or stop and get and go?
WC: This time I'm traveling with a juicer and a bag of vegetables – and a box of healthy non-perishables, so I don't make impulsive decisions at late-night convenience stores. Sometimes, it works, but I'll be honest, sometimes you just have to get some beef jerky.
AC: When you have to make bad decisions, what are they? Are you saying it's jerky?
WC: It's protein, low in fat. Yeah, it's high in salt, but if you're going to cheat…
AC: GPS, AAA TripTiks, or maps?
WC: When I started touring I didn't have GPS, and I didn't get it for many years. Geography is awesome; I like having a map. I really love context. It's my liberal arts education; I'm not satisfied with "Go here" then "Go there." I need context.
AC: What's your preferred road travel mode?
WC: I have a minivan, and I'm in love with it. I have a Kia Sedona. I rented one in 2009 and fell in love with the rental. I got a 2007 and just retired it with 215,000 miles on it. There was nothing wrong with it. It was running like a champion. I just needed to be safe, so I got a new one, a 2012, the last year they made Sedonas.
AC: Does it have a name? (I think we can guess the answer.)
WC: Yes. Vanessa. That was the first one. This one is Van Gogh.
AC: What are your You-Can't-Leave-Home-Without-It things on the road?
WC: A hula hoop, a yoga mat. I resolved if I'm going to work out, I need my gym in my van.
Colonna knows the road well. After "18 years of blood, sweat, and tears – more heartbreak than triumphs," she says she doesn't regret a one. "The music business has changed so much" since she began, she adds, "You need a mini business degree" to survive.
So the conversation began to get a little deeper, and I had to pull off to the side of the road to take in all the details about the great musicians she worked with and more backstory on the SW Louisiana session, the other song/commercial score she was commissioned to write in 2014, and what it means to be doing-it-yourself in the music business world's new economy.
Stay tuned as our Mardi Gras 2015 series continues! Check out more in the series, and dig through posts from previous years at austinchronicle.com/daily.