Legendary Artist Barbara Higbie Returns to Dwell Performing for thirty fifth Anniversary of Windham Hill Winter Solstice – San Francisco Bay Occasions

This issue of the San Francisco Bay Times introduces two legends of women’s music: Melanie DeMore (see pages 10–11) and Barbara Higbie. Women’s music – which emerged during the second wave of the feminist movement and the workers’, civil rights and peace movements – is music by, for and about women. DeMore and Higbie shine in this and other genres and work skillfully with many artists. The San Francisco Chronicle even referred to Higbie as the “High Priestess of Collaboration” as she worked with Carlos Santana, Bonnie Raitt, jazz greats, classical stars and many others, to name them here. The Grammy-nominated, Bammy-award-winning productive pianist, composer, violinist, singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist has played on well over 100 CDs!

Born in Michigan and raised in Indiana, Higbie spent several years with her family in Ghana as a teenager. She worked one summer in Honduras as a medical volunteer with the non-profit organization Amigos de Las Americas, completed Phi Beta Kappa at Mills College here in the Bay Area, attended the Sorbonne in Paris and received a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship for collecting traditional music in West africa.

In Paris she met the jazz artist Darol Anger and began a fruitful musical collaboration. In 1984 she was co-director of a group live album recording at the Montreux Jazz Festival, which then became the successful group “Montreux” with Anger, Mike Marshall, Todd Phillips, Andy Narrell and Michael Manring.

She was the first female instrumentalist to sign with Windham Hill Records and also recorded solo and duo projects for Olivia / Second Wave Records and Slowbaby Records. As a folk, jazz, pop and fusion composer and singer-songwriter known for her highly melodic jazz / folk performances, she has toured nationally and internationally since the early 1980s. While the pandemic stopped such trips for her and other artists, she will soon celebrate her return to live performances with the 35th anniversary of Windham Hill’s Winter Solstice album series. The wonderful song collections are so timeless that, like Vince Guaraldi’s work for the Peanuts Christmas specials, they never seem to lose their impact and relevance.

Higbie spoke to the San Francisco Bay Times ahead of her national anniversary tour. There will be a stop at Freight & Salvage in Berkeley on Friday, December 17th. Todd Boston, Mia Pixley, and other artists will also appear on the shows.

San Francisco Bay Times: How was it for you to get out of the COVID-19 shutdowns and not only prepare for a national tour but also go to shows by other artists?

Barbara Higbie: It’s great to be back on stage and share our love for music with the audience. This will be a cross-generational, multicultural festival. These venues (on the new tour) all respect secure protocols. Everyone is pissed off and the HVAC filter systems keep fresh air circulating on a regular basis.

COVID has hit musicians hard. Our livelihoods went “Phew!” Making online shows was fine, if far from reality. It was relaxing being away from the street, but it was long enough. I am so ready to get out again! This tour begins in the Midwest, then goes to the Northwest, the Southwest, and then to California. I can barely wait for it!

The concerts at Windham Hill are perfect for getting back into the swimming pool. Since we are all locked in our homes it is a treat to see live shows. It’s emotional. Get ready – put on real pants! Standing in line, then being part of a spontaneous, non-choreographed and interactive event as an audience. It’s exciting and emotional.

San Francisco Bay Times: Who are you working with now on the new tour?

Barbara Higbie: I’m so looking forward to this tour! First of all, it will be the first live concerts in almost two years! Second, Mia Pixley (cello / vocals) and Todd Boston (guitar) together with our special guests Jasper Manning and VOENA (multicultural youth choir) are simply phenomenal young talents. I am totally overwhelmed with her talent.

Third, we’ve been rehearsing for months, first through Zoom and now in person. Mia, Todd and I each released brand new studio albums. With all of the new material and preparation, I can’t wait to get out the starting gate and hit the streets. It feels like spring is awakening after a harsh winter – there is a lot of new, exuberant energy in the air!

San Francisco Bay Times: Please let us know about the upcoming Windham Hill Winter Solstice Shows.

Barbara Higbie: The Winter Solstice show is inspired by the 8 million sold Windham Hill Winter Solstice album series that began in 1985. The concept of celebrating all seasonal holidays by recording acoustic music with high fidelity was groundbreaking. The albums have been the backdrop for millions of folk festivals for 35 years. We flew in entire families from Australia to see our shows. It is truly an intergenerational, multicultural, longstanding phenomenon that we are honored to be a part of.

Todd Boston plays acoustic guitar, inspired by Michael Hedges, Will Ackerman, Alex DeGrassi and all the great guitarists who recorded for the label (Windham Hill). In addition, he has a strong kirtan and Indian music background. Mia is a beautiful singer-songwriter-cellist, comparable to Zoe Keating, whose career is just exploding. I am a pianist, composer, singer-songwriter and championship violinist and the first female instrumentalist to sign with the Windham Hill label in 1981 at the age of 23. At the time, Windham Hill was a startup in a garage in Palo Alto, like some other companies that took off. Steve Jobs was a huge Windham Hill fan. The great success of George Winston made Windham Hill a household name.

San Francisco Bay Times: You are also known for your involvement in women’s music. Please give us some thoughts on this, both in relation to your past and current work.

Barbara Higbie: In 1983, at the height of the Windham Hill craze, I was fortunate enough to make music with Teresa Trull, Cris Williamson, Linda Tillery, Meg Christian and Holly Near. Teresa and I recorded for Olivia Records in 1983 and became a national sensation. We were, so to speak, the pre-“Indigo Girls”. We toured with the great Cris Williamson, who is giving two album release concerts at Freight in Berkeley on January 14th and 15th. She calls these shows “the big reunion” because they feature Vicki Randle, Skip the Needle, Julie Wolf and many more. Cris and Teresa are two of my very best friends. They are both geniuses. Teresa is now a horse trainer in New Zealand. She and her kiwi lover Michaela recently got married.

We will all be on the Olivia 50th Anniversary cruises in January 2023, and many of us will be at the Olivia 50th Anniversary event at the Academy in Castro on January 13th.

Women’s music saved my life, like so many women. In the early 1980s, I experienced stalking, bullying, and severe harassment in the very male-dominated music industry. Without the support of the women’s community, I would probably have resigned. It’s easy to take for granted what the pioneers of women’s music did. I can attest that you have moved mountains and deserve our deepest respect. So the Smithsonian is now documenting the whole movement. It’s a strong, loving community that is still thriving.

San Francisco Bay Times: The Freight and Salvage has always been important to you beyond your work as an artist. What do you have in common with the venue now?

Barbara Higbie: Speaking of community, the Freight is the center of a huge community of musicians. It’s a phenomenal place: a 53-year-old non-profit that owns its own building and raises funds to continue to showcase various music artists from around the world. If you’ve never been there do yourself a favor and go to Freight! I am currently the co-chair of the board, along with the conductor and community activist Elizabeth Seja Min.

I believe in the importance of cargo to my core. Thanks to loyal donors and government grants, it survived COVID. Visiting shows is the best way to ensure that places like the Freight stay in business. It is a real cultural treasure that has exceeded all expectations. I want people to know that they can be sure that all of these venues are compliant with COVID protocols. We’re getting back to live music in a safe way.

For tickets and more information on the 35th anniversary of the Winter Solstice in Windham Hill with Freight and Recovery on December 17th, please visit: https://tinyurl.com/4ax5uhu2

To learn more about Barbara Higbie and to purchase her recordings, visit https://barbarahigbie.com/

Published on December 2, 2021

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