Melissa Bauer comes home for Fisher House benefit concerts
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 13, 2012 - It's been an interesting - and eclectic - musical journey for St. Louis native Melissa Bauer. She began performing at the Muny Opera at age 4. After high school, she enrolled at the prestigious Berklee School of Music in Boston - an institution primarily known for producing generations of highly talented jazz musicians.
But Bauer took a different path - moving to Nashville, Tenn., after graduation and working her way up from a singer at the Coyote Ugly saloon to leading her own band. Now she's touring, recording and gaining recognition as an up-and-coming singer/songwriter in the highly competitive Nashville music scene.
Bauer returns to the St. Louis area this weekend for two concerts billed as "Home is Where the Healing Begins," which benefit The Fisher House Foundation, which operates a house where families can stay when close relatives are getting treatment or undergoing rehabilitation at Jefferson Barracks.
I caught up with Bauer earlier this week after she drove up from Nashville to rehearse for Friday's concert at the American Legion Hall in Collinsville and Saturday's performance at the Old Rock House in downtown St. Louis.
We started with a quick recap of her St. Louis background - and her genre-bending development as a singer and entertainer.
"I was born and grew up in the Manchester-Ballwin area," recalls Bauer. "It seems like I've been involved in music forever. I was a child actor at the Muny starting at age 4, and it just kept going from there."
Bauer was involved as a performer at the Muny for several years, and also performed at the Fox Theater. After high school, she decided that music was really her vocation.
"I attended Berklee in Boston to study music," explains Bauer, "and really loved it. During my junior year there, the school sponsored a trip to Nashville for spring break so we could learn more about the music business there. I'd been listening to country music since high school, and it really did appeal to me. So when I graduated, I made the move to Nashville."
Bauer knew that the Nashville music scene was highly competitive, but was determined to give it all she had. A short while after she moved there, she auditioned to become a singer at the Coyote Ugly Saloon, the latest addition to a chain that started in New York City and gained national recognition through the film, "Coyote Ugly," released in 2000.
"The Coyote Ugly Saloon in Nashville was opening right after I arrived," says Bauer, "and they were looking for singers to put together a group that would play there as well as other Coyote Ugly locations around the country. I got the job, and spent three years as one of the Traveling Coyotes. We toured around the country and were even on television."
But Bauer wanted to sing and play her own music, and decided it was time to form her own group. She put a band together, then looked for someone to help her produce and record her own music. She found the right person in Kent Wells, one of Nashville's most respected producers.
"I was blessed to meet with Kent Wells," says Bauer. "Kent has produced recordings for Dolly Parton and other country music performers like Kenny Chesney and Gretchen Wilson. We worked to find songs of mine that captured what the band and I were doing in concert. And this past August, I released 'Back here Under the Stars'."
While the CD was being recorded, Bauer was also touring, opening for such musicians as Brad Paisley, Josh Thompson, Terri Clark and LeAnn Rimes. A summer 2011 tour opening for Thompson gave her the opportunity to get back to St. Louis, and she decided to try to find a venue to play a concert while she was here.
"I came back to St. Louis at the end of July, and was able to schedule a CD release concert at the Old Rock House," explains Bauer. "I really couldn't bring my Nashville band up with me for the performance, so I put together a backing band of St. Louis area musicians. They were really great to work with, and the audience response was wonderful. We had a really great time, and I decided that the next time I came back to play here, I'd use the same band."
That "next time" is this weekend, when Bauer and her St. Louis band - drummer Jeff Shanks, banjo player Bob Stuckey, guitarists Layla Souers and Steve Twiehaus, pedal steel and fiddle player Scott Swartz and bassist Mickey Hollis - will play benefit concerts Friday and Saturday for the Fisher House Foundation.
The Foundation builds and maintains homes throughout the U.S. for those who need a place to live while their family member in the military is receiving medical treatment away from home. The St. Louis Fisher House is at Jefferson Barracks VA Medical Center. Since it opened just more than a year ago, the facility has provided accommodations - free of charge - for nearly 500 families.
"I got involved with Fisher House because I come from a strong military family," Bauer says. "Several generations of my family have served in the military, and I wanted to find an organization I could benefit by doing these concerts in the St. Louis area. So I talked to some of the staff at Scott Air Force Base, and they recommended Fisher house. We went to meet them and knew right away this was the organization we wanted to help."