Kelly Bosworth To Play Winterfolk XXVIII Festival

by Meg Currell

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday February 10, 2016

Kelly Bosworth approached the table with her guitar slung over her shoulder, looking more like a hiker ready for a day in the Columbia Gorge than an up-and-coming Portland singer/songwriter.

"I thought maybe I'd play for you here," she joked, looking around the full coffeehouse.

And it would be a perfect place for a sampling of her music, but we weren't there for a performance. Bosworth had agreed to sit down to talk songwriting, folk music, and her abiding love for Patty Griffin.

Bosworth will be featured in the upcoming Winterfolk performance, February 20 at Portland's Aladdin Theatre. As their emerging younger artist, Bosworth is steeped in the tradition of music passed person to person, and shares her own songs in the same open spirit.

As a child, Bosworth begged her parents for piano lessons for five years. Once they caved, she studied classical piano twice a week, for seven years. Her father eventually decided to expand her musical horizons -- and his -- and taught himself to play the bass while sharing with her his favorite folk music in family singalongs every weekend. Those singalongs became neighborhood gathering places, and a touchstone along her musical path.

Being a professional musician wasn't Bosworth's original plan. She studied political science at Grinnell College in Iowa, with a focus on income inequality, worked in social services in New York. She came back to Portland and worked for a non-profit community development organization. Because she had gotten so much from her parents and her experience, she was compelled to work helping other people improve their lives.

Music continued to play a part in her life, and a job singing choral music looked like it might turn into a new career. But when a nasty cold lingered, a doctor suggested that her voice would be compromised, and she recalibrated, turning from choral music to folk, a more forgiving medium for a stressed voice.

"I knew," Bosworth says, "that I couldn't treat my voice as infinite, that I had to be intentional about what I do with it."

It was the loss of her father that turned her to songwriting. The process, she said, of "going to my pain and finding healing in it," brought her musical training and experiences into alignment. With echoes of Hank Williams, who wrote, according to Bosworth, "sad songs that mean something," she is not afraid to explore the darker side of the human psyche.


With influences from Gillian Welch to Patty Griffin, Bosworth gathers American voices in the folk Appalachian/Bluegrass/Americana/Singer-songwriter tradition. An obsessive Beatles fan as a kid, she also lists Dixie Chicks among her treasured icons, a group that, for her, veered from the country music path to a more independent strain of thought. Griffin's "unapologetically dark" songs appealed to Bosworth.

Songwriting was Bosworth's path through her own darkness, as after the loss of her father, she wrote to understand what she was feeling, and would play those songs for her mother and sister, which in turn helped them with what they were going through. A community of songwriters in Portland has guided her on her path of songwriting as truth telling.

"We write," Bosworth said, "to tell our experiences. It's not about writing a hit song, it's about saying something."

That same humility helps her break through her hesitancy about performing.

"Growing up playing music, I never understood the motivation of getting up on stage. It seems so selfish, so conceited. But as I expanded the circle of people (I was playing my songs for), I had to redefine what performing meant. Getting up on stage doesn't have to be a selfish act; I want to give something of myself," said Bosworth.

The musical gatherings in her childhood home helped shape the musician she would become. The intimate evenings gave her a community in which she grew her chops, learned the music passed from one singer to another, soaked in the traditions of Appalachian music and bluegrass, and learned how to share something of herself with an audience. The loss of her father, so important to her as a person, and central to her musical heart, led her to finding her own voice as a writer; the gatherings became her first audience, her first attempts at performance, humble and raw in her own living room.

Bosworth's connection to community -- both as a recipient and provider of support -- infuses her choices. With fellow songwriter Richey Bellinger and bassist Bernardo Gomez, she has a trio called Kelly and The Bells, and an album due out later this year. She tours when she can, playing in cities where her friends live so she can see them and get her music out at the same time.

She also teaches at a couple of music schools locally, "in the new economy of musicians," cobbling together a life singing and writing and performing enough to make it all worthwhile. She loves to teach, to share the love for music that was shared with her, but there's that moment on stage when, she said, "I'm nervous until everyone laughs together, then we're all having the same emotional experience." That moment of connection is her bellwether; this will be a good night.

Bosworth has a warmth and kindness that resonates in her clear and compelling voice. The whole process, she says, is about trying to integrate different pieces into an understanding of yourself. In her songs, in this voice that she discovered, she's sharing that growing understanding, from darkness to light, wherever the path leads.

Winterfolk will be held from 8-11 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 20 at The Aladdin Theater, 3017 SE Milwaukie Ave. in Portland. Tickets are $30. For information or tickets, visit

Meg Currell is a freelance author based in Portland, where she moved for the coffee and mountain views. With a background in literature and music, she explores dance, concerts and DIY with equal enthusiasm. She is currently at work on a collection of short stories.