FARGO - March has been a busy month for Gaelynn Lea.
The singer/songwriter revealed that she played fiddle on the new album from indie darlings The Decemberists, one of her favorite groups. On St. Patrick's Day she made her debut with her hometown Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra, a pops concert in featuring her music. Between all of that she's been putting the finishing touches on her new album, which should be out in September.
If all of that weren't enough, she left Duluth again for another tour, this time bringing her to the Red Raven Espresso Parlor in downtown Fargo tonight.
Not bad for someone whose name was relatively unknown outside of certain music circles in her own hometown two years ago.
If Lea's name doesn't ring a bell, her song, "Someday We'll Linger in the Sun" just may if you're a fan of NPR's Tiny Desk Concerts. In 2016 she won the contest to play the intimate, yet wildly influential gig. The clip has been has been viewed more than 1.6 million times on YouTube.
"Basically, we quit our jobs, sold our house, bought a van and started touring full time to be our main income," she says. "It was a drastic shift from never touring."
An even bigger shift when you consider that the 34-year-old uses an electric wheelchair. She was born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta, also known as brittle bones disease. She broke her bones around 40 times in utero, so her arms and legs were bent before she was born. She's broken bones 16 times since she was born, but they didn't grow normally and she remains diminutive in stature.
As seen in the Tiny Desk Concert, Lea plays violin held upright like a cello. She uses looping pedals to record and playback melodies that she continues to build upon with just the violin, creating an ethereal, sometimes haunting world of sound.
She started playing in fifth grade and worked with her teacher to develop a method of playing that was comfortable for her.
"We tried and tried and tried and tried until we found something to work," she says. "It's necessary. If you have a disability, you're always adapting things to work for you. I did adapted ballet and adaptive gymnastics as a child."
While the NPR exposure led to interest in her and national tours were hastily booked to tap into the buzz, she ran into familiar obstacles-many venues she was scheduled to play didn't have ramps to get her to the stage.
Fargo's show was originally booked for The Aquarium, on the second floor above Dempsey's, where there is no elevator, let alone a ramp to the stage.
"Her management reached out to The Aquarium and we booked her without really putting two and two together that wheelchair accessibility was a must. Gaelynn reached out to me and kindly ask we moved venues," says Diane Miller, who booked the show for The Aquarium.
The event was moved to the main level Red Raven, making the show accessible and also all-ages.
Lea says Miller was great to work with and appreciates being able to move the spot, but Lea wants to take over her own booking to help avoid these problems.
Earlier this month she Tweeted out her thoughts on unaccessible venues, though she didn't single The Aquarium or any others out.
"Hey music lovers, I understand wanting to hold shows at cool #venues, but if those spaces aren't #accessible, then they're NOT COOL. In fact, they're guilty of breaking the law for 27+ years by discriminating against disabled people who want to attend their shows. #BeTheChange"
"It doesn't matter if it's a room, a cave or a bar; the truth of the matter is that when you put on a show in a place that is non-accessible, that's prioritizing the space over the people going to it," Lea says. "The main priority should be the connection between the music and the people and you can make that work."
She points to Miller's willingness to move the show.
"That's what I want people to know with accessibility; it doesn't have to be one size fits all," Lea says. "You can find another venue. There are creative ways to get involved."
While she speaks as an advocate for those with disabilities - we spoke as she was returning from a conference in San Diego - she doesn't talk about disabilities during concerts.
"My identity that I focus on is as a musician," she says.
She says barriers facing those with disabilities aren't always physical, but sometimes verbal. In the two years since she won Tiny Desk, she's done dozens of interviews and talked with hundreds of new people. In those conversations, she tries to steer the speaker away from using words like "suffers" and "inspiring" when they are talking about her. One person even told her he would kill himself if he were in her situation.
"Those come from a place of pity. I don't think they realize that," she says. "They assume your life would suck with a disability. I've always lived with a disability and I had a really happy childhood, I'm traveling the world with my husband and life is cool."
If You Go
What: Gaelynn Lea
When: 8, tonight
Where: Red Raven Espresso Parlor, 916 Main Ave., Fargo
Info: Tickets are $8 in advance, $10 at the door, for this all-ages show, https://www.ticketweb.com/