Gaelynn Lea's Grand Ideas from a Small Violin

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Gaelynn Lea plays two Bay Area gigs in February (Photo: courtesy of the artist)

Gaelynn Lea is a fiddle player from Duluth, Minnesota with an ear for haunting melodies -- both in her original songs and traditional Celtic tunes. She started playing violin because she had a crush on a fellow student in the fifth grade, but at first it wasn't clear she could physically play the instrument. Lea has what’s called brittle bone disease, a genetic condition, and her bent limbs are prone to fractures. Nonetheless, she and a teacher figured out how she could hold and bow the violin like a cello; she even uses a toe to help brace the instrument.

Lea uses a loop pedal to add layers upon layers of sound as she sings from her wheelchair in a high, clear voice. In 2016, she won NPR's second annual Tiny Desk Contest, shining, as my co-host Rachael Myrow noted, "like a comet out of six thousand contestants." Gaelynn Lea plays Feb. 10 at Patreon HQ in San Francisco and Feb. 11 at the Hopmonk Tavern in Sonoma — these are shows to plan ahead for, because she's playing in small rooms that could easily sell out. Details here.