Jessie Veeder builds successful music and writing career inspired by ranch life in western North Dakota
Check out a 20-minute video interview with Veeder, during which she performs two original songs.
GRAND FORKS — Jessie Veeder, a musician and writer from western North Dakota, has been singing and playing guitar for audiences since she was 11. She released her first album at age 16, and she’s been writing since she was a kid, too, drawing inspiration from rural ranch life.
Recently, Veeder has been celebrating the release of a new book, “Prairie Princess,” and a new album, “Playing Favorites,” with a regional tour to connect with fans and spread the joy of creativity and her love of place to new audiences.
“I grew up on a ranch I love so much,” Veeder said in a recent interview with the Herald.
After high school, she left for college and followed other pursuits before returning to establish her own family’s roots. She and her husband own and operate a 3,000-acre ranch with 150 head of cattle about 30 miles from Watford City, on the edge of the Badlands, where they are fourth-generation residents and stewards.
Living on a remote cattle ranch, and raising two little girls, presents many challenges as well as benefits, Veeder said. “It is hard sometimes” to live this kind of life and “more complicated” than people like to imagine it to be.
The multi-talented musician, songwriter, columnist, blogger and book author is a busy ranch wife and mother who also runs an arts foundation she established to promote and support arts activities — a cause near and dear to the heart.
She makes it a point to travel to small rural towns and perform for students and others, “and I love it,” she said. “I’m really an advocate for having and fostering talent in rural communities.”
And all of these things, mixed together, make up the tapestry of her life. They provide inspiration for her music, writing and story-telling.
Veeder has built a successful music and creative-writing career. In her popular weekly column for Forum Communications Co., “Coming Home,” she provides an honest, personal and often humorous picture of family and community life — that many can relate to — with “the ranch as a backdrop.”
Her 2015 album, “Northern Lights,” brought her to Nashville to record with Bill Warner, a producer who has worked with artists such as Garth Brooks, Dolly Parton and many others.
Veeder traces her affinity for music practically to the very beginning. Her father, Gene Veeder, was a musician with a band performing regularly around Grand Forks in the ‘80s “when my mom was very pregnant with me,” she said. “We joke that I came out singing.”
As the daughter of a musician, Veeder’s childhood was steeped in music that her father favored, by artists such as Harry Chapin, Emmylou Harris and John Prine.
“We know that kids pick up on things, even when they’re little,” she said. One song in particular stirred her love of song-writing; “The Waltzing Fool,” by Lyle Lovett, instilled a deep desire “to write stories like that.”
Her love of rural life stems from a childhood filled with memories of playing in the creek, catching frogs and other adventures, she said. “I remember dad taking us to the top of a hill on the first warm day of spring. He’d point to the wonderful sunset and say 'we are so lucky to be here.'”
‘Open and honest’
When Veeder started writing her blog, “I decided early on that it would be easier to be open and honest, because I didn’t think anyone would read it,” she said.
She may not have realized how her words and events she portrayed would resonate, until she noticed “people were chiming in,” she said. It was evident that they either had a personal connection to the rural experience or some degree of exposure to it, and “they miss it because they had to move away. A lot of them are really nostalgic for it.”
Some stories in her column seem to trigger readers’ memories, especially those from childhood, linked to sensory experiences — like, in wintertime, being pulled on a toboggan behind a horse. A man in his 90s emailed to tell her that was one of his cherished memories, she said.
Her readers “have nostalgia for what they thought were simpler times,” she said, but without the many advances — such as the internet and others — that people take for granted now, she understands how hard her grandparents worked on the ranch that was established 114 years ago. She feels a great sense of “gratitude for the things they gave up on (our) behalf,” she said. “It certainly makes you pause.”
Living on a ranch is “honestly more complicated — there are the animals, the landscape, how to pay the bills, and how to get the kids to town,” she said.
“This is probably a harder place to live. It’s not easy, but it’s definitely worth it.”
Veeder suspects some are drawn to her columns because they are curious about the rural lifestyle. She’s noticed a “shift” in society, especially with the pandemic, among people who “want to be part of agriculture in some way.”
Her tales of rural life represent “something they want to have and don’t know about,” she said.
The focus of her writing is based on “very real images,” she said, and “the human experience — family, finances, parents getting older, and definitely parenthood and raising kids — and the struggle to raise them right.”
Even those incidents with children that befuddle or exasperate — such as a 5-year-old with a rock-solid opinion — “you can step back and laugh about it,” she said.
While much of her column-writing includes snapshots of familiar, humorous and relatable events, Veeder has not avoided the tougher challenges that have marked her life. She chose to share with readers her experiences with infertility and cancer.
It is important to write about the “hard stuff” too, she said, in hopes that readers facing similar challenges and living “in the middle of nowhere” would feel less alone in their struggle — “things I would want to read about.”
“The cancer experience really set me on my butt. Hard. I had to take the biggest breath and ask for help,” she said.
The diagnosis came at “a crazy time for our family,” she recalled. Her husband had just been laid off from his job and was starting a new business; she was in the process of recording an album — “which takes money” — and wasn’t feeling well; and the pandemic hit, she said. Their children were 2 and 4 at the time.
Veeder did not receive the diagnosis she needed “until almost too late,” she said.
Referred to a pulmonary specialist in Bismarck in February of 2020, she was fortunate that the appointment was moved up from June to May, and that the physician sent her to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, for immediate removal of a tumor in her airway.
An obviously strong, vibrant and resilient woman, as a cancer patient, she had “a hard time letting people take care of (her).”
During the ordeal, “I learned a lot more patience than anything — being a sick parent sucks,” she said. “We just put one foot ahead of the other — we took the little steps that get you to this next thing.”
She credits extraordinary support from her family and community for making it through the trying times, she said. “I had the best possible outcome.”
New album and book
Veeder’s newest album, “Playing Favorites,” is a compilation of the songs she grew up hearing and loving. They are “old songs that are nostalgic for me, songs I was raised on that influenced me,” she said. “It’s the only album I’ve done that doesn’t have songs I’ve written.”
“I wanted my dad’s voice on it,” she said. Her neighbor’s yodeling and the voice of her daughter, Edie, then 4, are also on it.
During the process of recording the album, she didn’t feel well, she recalled, and because of that “it became more precious to me.”
Veeder wrote her recently-released book, “Prairie Princess,” six years before the birth of her first child, she said. The book, illustrated by North Dakota artist Daphne Johnson Clark, is written from the perspective of a little girl who acts as “the expert tour guide and caretaker of the land that she knows so well,” Veeder said.
“(It) reminds us what it’s like to be captivated and responsible for a place.”
Live blog event
Jessie Veeder, musician, author and Forum Communications Company columnist, will participate in a live blog event at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 26, on the Grand Forks Herald website, www.grandforksherald.com.
Also on the Herald's website, starting Wednesday, is a 20-minute video broadcast of an interview with Veeder, during which she performs two original songs.
During the 2 p.m. Wednesday live blog, available only to Forum Communications and Herald members and subscribers, Veeder will be available to interact with readers, who may write questions or comments for the artist. Questions may be sent to Sydney Mook, managing editor, at email@example.com anytime before or during the event.
Among readers, Veeder is widely known for her weekly column, “Coming Home,” but perhaps not as well known is her career as a singer-guitarist. She performs throughout the region and other venues, including the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada.
Veeder’s new book, “Prairie Princess,” is available at select bookstores throughout the state and online at www.veederranch.com .