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Five questions with singer/songwriter Caroline Aiken
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Musician Caroline Aiken will perform Saturday night at the Sautee Nacoochee Community Association in Sautee. - photo by For The Times

Caroline Aiken
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Sautee Nacoochee Community Association, 287 Ga. 255 N., Sautee
How much: $15 SNCA members; $20 nonmembers: $8 children 6 to 17
More info: 706-878-3300

She’s played solo concerts and large-scale festivals around the world, lending her voice to causes big and small.

This weekend, Caroline Aiken will perform a benefit concert at the Sautee Nacoochee Community Association, adding this small community to her varied list of places she’s been.

Raised on St. Simons Island, Aiken grew up singing in the church choir and later learning another side of soulful singing from Emma Lee Ramsey of the Sea Island Singers. As a child she played classical piano and then discovered the guitar at age 10.

That brought her into a world of rock ’n’ roll that she’s been exploring ever since, creating soulful lyrics and driving guitar riffs for decades.

We spoke with the Athens-based artist about why it’s important for musicians to lend their voices to benefits, and how she’s helping teach up-and-coming musicians the ins and outs of the music industry.

Question: You’ve played with tons of really great artists all over the world, and you’re based in Athens. What keeps you coming back to the North Georgia community?

Answer: I’ve been playing Athens, performing here, since 1979. ... I found a house I really liked here. You can do the music business from pretty much any remote area at this point.

I travel nationally and internationally — I’ve got a two-month tour in Europe this fall and I’m playing a major festival in Texas at the end of the month with the Indigo Girls. And I’ll be releasing a live CD (at the end of the month) that I just recorded live at Eddie’s Attic in Atlanta with 2010 Grammy winner Yonrico Scott, the drummer for the Derek Trucks Band. (The album also features Charlie Wooten on bass and Tommy Martin on guitar.)

Q: Are there any places you’ve played where you think you’d like to go back and spend some more time?

A: There’s so many places. I started in California in 1970, and California was such a liberating place, I felt. The West Coast is just monstrous — huge. I came from St. Simons and the hurricanes can be monstrous, the full moons can be monstrous, but I’ve never seen anything like the West Coast. The open-mindedness of the people out there, the diversity out there.

Q: It seems you’ve managed to play all around the country for years. Do you spend time at home writing? Or, do you write on the road? Or is your time split between the two?

A: I always keep something with me because you never know when something’s going to hit you. I scramble for paper and pen so often.

I hear people — just the vernacular. This one woman at this festival (last weekend, where Aiken played) whose property it was at, everything she said was a song. I wanted to follow her around with a tape recorder. You can find inspiration from cooking in the kitchen.

I have a song about food from Mama Louise, who went on tour with the Rolling Stones. She still has a restaurant in Macon, H&H.

Q: Do you also teach a class about the music business? What is that like?

A: I’ve taught it nationally and internationally — I’ve taught it in Germany (when I) performed there. This is something I teach wherever I go. It’s called "Zen and the Art of Performance." There’s so much to know about how to create your own little space in this world, how to be an entrepreneur, how to be freelance.

I’ve got a 17-year-old right now, her mom’s bringing her to me and we’re creating a song showcase and (learning) mic technique. It’s teaching (the students) phrasing in their singing, how to take that stage with so much confidence and security that you have a really good time.

Q: What do you hope the class teaches up-and-coming musicians?

A: My hope for anybody who wants to get on stage is, once you get there, because there’s a lot of planning involved, there’s so much planning that goes around that to make it a positive experience. That’s what I wish for people — that their dream comes true; they get to be on stage, it’s promoted well, they understand the sound implications, just on and on. There’s so many aspects of doing this live and so many people have agents, managers, road managers, publicity people, and when you’re trying to do it by yourself, it’s (about) time management. I approach it like a cottage industry and I try to tell people, don’t eat the elephant all at once; you’re going to burst.

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