Shannon LaBrie returns from Music City as Stanley Hotel’s first artist in residence
By Steve Graham
Shannon LaBrie grew up listening to James Taylor and Lauryn Hill. These seemingly disparate artists, along with some intense childhood struggles, influenced her ‘deep Americana soul.’
Shannon brings her personal and beautiful soul songs to the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park this month as the first artist in residence at the hotel. LaBrie and Australian singer-songwriter Joe Robinson will write and record songs with The Nashville Music Masters from June 17 to 21, and perform an intimate ticketed concert on Thursday, June 20.
The show is a sort of homecoming for LaBrie. She moved from Estes Park to Nashville 10 years ago to pursue her musical dreams.
“I had played everywhere I had ever lived, and I was always a big fish in a small pond,” she said. “I thought ‘I should move to Music City and see if I’m any good.’”
Grammy Award-winning producer and songwriter Brent Maher certainly thinks she’s good. He called LaBrie a “triple threat” of singing, guitar chops, and songwriting.
“She writes a little bit out of the mainstream,” he said. “She’s not just trying to emulate what’s going on right now.”
Maher is a founder of the Nashville Music Masters, a songwriting, audio engineering and record production academy that helped plan the Stanley show and residency (full disclosure: New Scene editor Cynthia Wilson is also a co-founder).
He said the goal of NMM is to gather some of the best producers, engineers, session musicians and songwriters in Nashville to provide workshops and classes outside Music City.
Maher has been talking to the Stanley staff about a music program for a couple of years. The new Artist in Residence program was the perfect opportunity to start working together, he said. The week will include a private production workshop, and LaBrie and Robinson’s songwriting collaboration.
Maher added a serious endorsement for her songwriting partner, especially coming from a man with nearly 50 years in the music business.
“Joe Robinson has the best one-man show I have ever seen,” he said.
LaBrie has released two well-received albums of soulful folk-pop songs with her powerful voice front and center.
LaBrie learned songcraft and guitar playing from her dad before cancer took his life when she was 13. She also grew up playing piano with her mother in a musical family in small-town Nebraska.
She didn’t realize the power of her voice as an instrument until she had moved to Estes Park and was asked to sing Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” at a local bar.
The crowd went, well, crazy, and she realized strangers were noticing her talent for the first time.
“When I moved away from Nebraska, it kind of became more apparent,” she said. “These are people who aren’t my family and they like my voice.”
LaBrie moved to Estes Park after bouncing from Montana to Virginia and Texas in her teens.
“I was just kind of running from pain and running from grief,” she said. “I spiritually felt very lost.”
She was trying to cope with her father’s death and her Addison’s Disease diagnosis two years prior.
The serious hormonal disorder had caused extreme fatigue and weight loss. At one point she weighed just 59 pounds and stood 5-foot-5, and she would become exhausted just walking from a parking lot into a grocery store.
LaBrie’s journey of recovery and self-discovery took her to Ravencrest Chalet, a Bible school and retreat center outside Estes.
“Colorado was always kind of calling me there,” she said. “I found myself in Colorado. It’s probably one of the best decisions of my life.”
LaBrie said it was hard to leave Colorado for Nashville, but when she left a friend’s house and pulled onto the road, there was a double rainbow over U.S. Highway 36. She took it as a good omen for her departure.
“The mountains are always magical like that,” she said.
Her voice is also magical and doesn’t fit into Nashville’s standard pop-country format.
“Stylistically I think it’s a little unique,” she said. “I’m a very honest writer and an honest person in general. Some people to their credit are willing to be squeezed into a mold, but I know I can’t fake it. I can’t sing lyrics that aren’t true to what I am.”
LaBrie has also used her lyrics to help cope with those childhood struggles, such as her father’s death.
“Being sick, I had never really processed that,” she said. “My dad and I were close because of our musical relationship. He really got me in a way my other family really didn’t.”
She wrote about her father’s death on “Heaven Crashed Down” from her excellent 2016 album “War & Peace.”
LaBrie said her success and her Nashville life suit her well.
“I am probably the healthiest I have ever been,” she said.
LaBrie is recording a new album she expects to release in early 2020. She said she is working to refine and define that deep Americana soul sound.