ST. JOSEPH -- Violinist and singer Gaelynn Lea has performed in 43 states and eight countries. She's opened for world famous groups like Wilco and the Decemberists and performed at Nashville's Music City Roots, the Kennedy Center in New York City, and House of Blues Chicago.

On Saturday night, the Duluth native will bring her mixture of original and traditional, fiddle-driven folk songs to the Local Blend Listening Room in St. Joseph.

Lea, who began playing the violin in grade school, was catapulted into the national spotlight by besting thousands of entries to win NPR Music's Tiny Desk Concert in 2016.

“It was the first national exposure I ever had," she said. "After that, I started getting calls to play farther away from home.”

Less than a year later, Lea and her husband sold their northern Minnesota home, bought a van and hit the road on a full-time tour.

“We were going to try it out for six months or so, just to see what we thought,” she said. “We both like traveling and meeting people, and being entrepreneurial in addition to being artistic.”

In addition to performing and recording, Lea speaks publicly on disability rights and arts accessibility. She was born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta, also known as brittle bone disease, and performs in her electric wheelchair.

She credits a "very creative music teacher" with helping her craft a playing style to suit her small stature.

"We experimented with different instruments until we realized I could play the violin up and down like a cello," Lea explained. "So, I’ve been playing it like that. I hold my bow like an upright bassist. It’s just kind of mashing together different strategies to create my own way to play.”

 

Lea only performs in handicap-accessible venues. Her goal, she says, is to use her music career as a platform to advocate for "disability as a form of diversity."

“The more I started speaking out, the more I realized there’s a big gap in the education people receive about disability awareness," she said.

"A lot of people still assume that having a disability is terrible and you have to overcome all these challenges. There’s some truth to the fact that our society isn’t equal in terms of accessibility, but having a disability is just another way of existing in the world."

Lea will take the stage at the Local Blend Listening Room Saturday at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are a suggested donation of $10.00 in advance, or $15.00 at the door.

 

To learn more about Lea and see/hear her work, visit her website.