Travels through music: Chelsea Berry’s ‘exploration’ leads her to Cape Ann

by Gail McCarthy
March 24, 2010
©2010 Gloucester Times

When Chelsea Berry was a young child, she would get reprimanded for singing “Five Little Monkeys” at the dinner table and not paying attention to eating her meal.

She also has a random memory of singing the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” in the bathtub as a youngster in Chugiak, Alaska, a town about the size of Rockport.

These are just a couple of the early musical impulses that would drive the budding singer-songwriter to diverse places throughout the United States. She sang in folk music in coffee shops and she sang opera on stage.

Berry, now 26, would travel more than 4,600 miles to the East Coast, where she would discover new inspiration on Cape Ann. On her road of experience, she has performed in hundreds of clubs across the United States

“I love Alaska and I love the idea of ending up there eventually,” said Berry, “but I wanted to explore.” Those explorations have led her to settle in Gloucester.

At age 18, she began studying at Montana State University in Bozeman where she was accepted into the music department. She studied classical voice for 21âÑ2 years. She performed in a couple of operas professionally after that, in “Aida” and “The Elixir of Love,” both sung in Italian.

“The metaphor I use is that learning to sing classical and read classical music is like learning to drive a stick-shift first, and then you are ready for anything,” she said.

In addition to her studies, Berry performed wherever she could.

When she 21, she moved east when she was accepted into Berklee College of Music to study song-writing.

“This was a phenomenal experience and a different approach to music than I studied in Bozeman,” she said. “Boston was a big city for me, coming from rural crunchy-granola places on the West Coast. I met a lot of many amazing writers and performers.”

She discovered the North Shore — and Cape Ann in particular — when she was bored in the city one day and jumped on the commuter train heading north to find some fun. She disembarked at the last stop in Rockport.

“The area blew my mind and within a few hours I had a place to stay on weekends in exchange for housekeeping, and a place to play, at the Blacksmith Shop in Rockport,” said Berry, who later began playing at The Greenery.

Berry’s traveling nature prompted her to go with a friend to Chicago for a few months. She later lived in Nashville for about a year, sampling the musical nature of the town.

“I played every single restaurant I could get my hands on, and worked on Music Row,” she said.

But she returned to Cape Ann and Gloucester to further develop her music, which she’ll perform Monday nights in April at The Rhumb Line on Railroad Avenue.

“The stuff that I do isn’t mainstream,” she said of her music. “It’s folk-rock in the vein of Sheryl Crow and a little Joni Mitchell. I’m really excited because I found recently that my writing phase is emanating from the way out of something tough. When I pull out of that and the rush is that everything is going to be OK — that’s where the writing comes from.”

Berry is grateful for the encouragement from her parents, who support her efforts in a challenging field, even from a young age. As a young girl, Berry would teach her family different parts of a song and the family would then sing four-part harmonies.

“My little brother had the high-pitched voice then and now he’s 6-foot-5 and a Marine; I’m the smallest one at 5-foot 101âÑ2 — and I wear heels at all my shows,” said Berry, whose parents were raised on the East Coast. Her mother, a teacher, is from the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland and her father, a civil engineer, is from New Jersey.

An avid outdoors enthusiast, Berry was a former kayaking guide in Alaska. She enjoys a variety of outdoor activities from rock-climbing to biking. Her Subaru Outback is not hard to spot because it is brimming with her gear, a kayak, her bicycle, sound equipment and her guitar.

She has produced three albums of original and cover songs, and is at work on a new record.

“Part of what I do with my music is that if I have a microphone in front of my mouth, I want do it for something good — I want to promote environmental awareness,” she said.

Berry is committed to minimizing her impact on the environment by using recycled content for her fliers and promotional materials, and intends to incorporate green living into her musical career by maintaining a small carbon footprint.

When not out enjoying Mother Earth or making music, Berry loves to read. Her favorite book is “My Little Prince,” an international favorite. She is now reading “Hot, Flat and Crowded,” and “Three Cups of Tea.”

The varied influences in Berry’s young life shape her music, and being on Cape Ann adds to her palette of experiences.

“There’s something about this place that is really magical,” she said. “I’ve been in a ton of different places and this place draws me in a way I can’t quite describe. It’s such a vibrant community with a lot of balance, and there is such a humongous appreciation for art in many forms.”

Gail McCarthy can be reached at gmccarthy@gloucestertimes.com.

Chelsea live
What: Singer-songwriter Chelsea Berry performs
Where: The Rhumb Line, Railroad Ave., Gloucester
When: Monday nights in April, with Rory Walsh on drums and Chris Noyes on bass

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