Berry got her start in the music industry singing in clubs in East
Lansing in the late 1970s; she also worked at the Lansing Sound
Recording Studio, doing vocal work and voiceovers for advertisements.
One year, she was offered a New Years Eve gig in Charlevoix, and, as
she puts it, fell in love with the area.
In 1981, I decided to return Up North to play a summer gig at the
same restaurant, she explains. When summer ended, I realized quickly
that I lived in a resort town, and right off the bat the bottom
Id heard there were some very talented players in Traverse City,
she continues, so I visited Union Street Station and heard Equinox, a
jazz quartet that was lead by Chris Bickley who had some real heavies
sitting in - John Lindeneau, Steve Christenson, Steve Stargardt and
Bruce Dunlop. I am not sure just how I approached them, but I had had
some experience in Lansing working with a jazz duo, and offered myself
as a singer for their band. That was an exciting band to work with and
a great experience. It really made me reach and do my homework playing
very challenging charts, but whew, what a kick.
As time went on, Bickley lined up Berry to be the vocalist in his 45th
Parallel Big Band; she would work with them for three years.
Those were some fun gigs, she recollects. I was asked to be a chart
copier - hand-writing out all the parts for 17 pieces and transposing
their parts into their specific keys - and I learned a lot. Now,
Chris band is called Bay Area Big Band, and its hotter than a
pistol. I get to perform with them this New Years Eve.
Berry has actually performed at most of the restaurants and resorts in
Northern Michigan, as well as many of the festivals, both big and
small. But closest to her heart at the moment are her efforts
promoting Boyne Citys Sobo Arts District, and her work with perhaps
the most legendary Up North festival, Blissfest.
My husband and I, along with Glen and Cindy McCune, opened Freshwater
Studio in Boyne City, Berry says. The best part for us is that it
doubles as a venue for concerts in the fall and winter. Our first show
was Thornetta Davis, and was a sellout - we have more shows this
winter including Dave Boutette, Stephen Fearing, Brian Vander Ark (The
Verve Pipe), and a Valentines show that will feature Rachael Davis,
Cathy Larou, and myself singing in the round.
Freshwater Studio obviously spells fun for Berry - and Blissfest is
yet another story.
Becoming a board member for the Blissfest was also life changing,
she explains, and brought me some strong friendships and a great
appreciation for the wisdom behind building a great festival and all
the great other events that Blissfest sponsors.
Just as much a fan of local music as she is a part of the scene, Berry
cites the aforementioned Rachael Davis, Breathe Owl Breathe, Seth and
May (Earthwork Music has a wonderful collection of great musicians,
Berry enthuses), The Younce Duo, Petoskey band Orange Magic, Ruby
Williams, and Dave Runyan as several of the local talents that in turn
inspire her work.
Berry herself is currently performing at Phils on Front in Traverse
City, and at the new Cafe Sante in Boyne City, with more gigs on the
I do hope to be stretching out in the performance realm, she says,
it feels like the time is right for me to climb in the car and do
some road time, which is always rewarding.
And for those fortunate enough to catch one of those shows, you might
be treated to some new original Robin Lee Berry songs. Berry, who has
already released four albums, is currently working on another
recording with Patrick Niemesto and Joddy Croswhite.
Joddy is an extraordinary lap steel player and has great ears, an
incredible depth of ideas and resources, and is an enjoyable person to
work with, she says. The tunes are coming together fast for this
next recording - hopes are that it will be completed this winter.
There will be at least one selection featuring Seth Bernard, and
Peter Madcat Ruth, a nationally-treasured harmonica player.
Berry considers herself fortunate to have found and worked with the
Northern Michigan musicians that she has, and finds that, in spite of
what can sometimes be considered a remote locale, its her own self
that limits her more than the surrounding elements.
I find fear, lack of understanding, and laziness limiting. she
explains, If I had anything to do again, I would encourage myself to
have more courage and confidence, and not be so shy - to reach out
more for help when things get tough. I tended to isolate, but that can
Berrys move from Lansing may have begun as an unexpectedly major
challenge, but Berry has transcended the difficulties and has
solidified her unique place in Northern Michigans music scene. With
fans looking forward to a new CD, a husband and family to ground her,
and the respect of her musician peers, that move has proved to be the
right choice, and her many friends in her Boyne City community would
Originally the move North, though a bit naive, was driven by beauty,
the water, the hills and woods as well as the kind people I found
here, Berry says. But then it hit me that the area was truly
seasonal resort territory, and that I would need to be extremely
Like any challenge as I look back, I am amazed that we more than
survived, and that I was able to accomplish so much - to buy a house,
create CDs, and have two healthy children. It had its bumps -
sometimes earthshaking ones - but I guess it is a case of doing what
you can from where you are with what you have, and that can be true
anywhere you go. Life happens. It really is how you respond that
matters, and getting up after being knocked down speaks heavily about
what kind of character we are.
For more information on Robin Lee Berry and her music, visit
www.robinleeberry.com; information on the Freshwater Studio events may
be found at www.freshwaterstudio.org.