Meet the Artist: BETH MCKEE

Photo: Jim Leatherman

Photo: Jim Leatherman

I met Beth McKee and it was like I’d known her my whole life. Have you ever met someone that you just feel is a kindred soul? She and I got to talking after she finished playing and it was magical. A coffee meet up and long long conversation later and she’s up on the blog this week sharing all her secrets. Well, not all of them. A few. Let’s get to know singer, songwriter, philanthropist, and Swamp Sista, Beth McKee.

Childhood memento? A sheet music book that belonged to my older sister, dog eared and coverless, with pop songs from the 1960s. As a kid, I loved the included photos of artists like The Beatles, The Monkees, The Mamas & the Papas, and Tom Jones. I regularly abandoned my music teacher’s assigned practice material (Classical music) to peck my way through the songs. I still love playing and singing songs from the ‘60s, a decade that brought much change to the sound of popular music.

Recent acquisition for your home? After a fire last January, our home had to be gutted and re-built from the inside out. During that process, which lasted for almost a year, my husband and I rented a house on W. Princeton Street and I refer to that as our “College Park Period.” That sounds and feels so much better than “after the fire.” We’re back home now, enjoying all new surfaces and systems, from roofing to flooring, HVAC, plumbing and electrical. 2018 was tough, but we’re very grateful to have a fresh start in our ‘new/old’ home.

Current obsession? I am currently obsessed with planning and promoting the 8th annual Swamp Sistas La La at Orlando Fringe on Saturday May 18th. “La La” is Louisiana Creole tradition, a party where musicians gather, friends dance, and everyone chips in what they can for a community cause. 

The Swamp Sistas La La at Orlando Fringe is a day long, female driven, music (and more) free to attend fest on the Outdoor Stage in Loch Haven Park, where we raise money to help Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida feed hungry kids over the summer months. One in four Central Florida kids face food insecurity at some point and it’s tough when no school means no school breakfast or lunch for many who rely on it. Not all of us have a lot of money to donate, so we’re also hosting a Volunteer Jam at the food bank on Wednesday May 1. We all share common ground, wherever we come from and whatever we believe. I feel strongly that working together as a community and nurturing our most vulnerable population helps us find that common ground and brings us closer to one another. Our La La Summer Hope campaign raised over $70,000 this year! Obsessed? Yes!

Favorite hobby? Can I say music? Music is my job, my religion and my hobby. It’s my ‘go to’ when I’m bored, upset, lonely. depressed, happy, broke, and everything in between. Maybe the Swamp Sistas can be considered a hooby too, but I think of it as more of a vocation, or calling. Both give me an incredible amount of joy and satisfaction.

Always on you - watch, memento, etc? A small piece of silky smooth driftwood from the Yadkin River in North Carolina where my husband and I spend the hot summer months with family. My sister fire etched a tiny fern design on the surface and I wear it on a leather cord around my neck. It’s my mojo. 

Favorite spot in your home? The dining area adjacent to our kitchen where two giant framed photographs of Cuban kitchens hang is my favorite spot. A post-fire housewarming gift from photographer friend Stephen Allen and his wife Denise, the photos offer beautiful demonstrations of human resiliency and adaptation, I could gaze at them all day.

Favorite neighborhood restaurant?  Woodlands Indian Cuisine on south Orange Blossom Trail. South Indian, vegetarian food at its finest and the Masala Dosa, OMG!!!

Favorite neighborhood shop? Park Ave CDs, and that’s no surprise. I love browsing their new and used CDs and LPs and particularly enjoy the local music bin. They have a terrific book selection and all kinds of other interesting stuff, too. They also host marvelous in-store events (National Record Store day is in April) and I’m grateful that they help present the Swamp Sistas La La every year.

Favorite way to focus on health or wellness? Eating locally grown fruits and vegetables. I love supporting my neighbors who farm, (it’s hard work!) and fresh harvested produce tastes so much better than food that’s been on a truck for who-knows-how-long. We’re lucky to live where the growing season is so long and I love taking advantage of that. I also love Lake Meadow Naturals eggs!

Favorite place visited in the last year? Without a doubt, the Mississippi Delta. I was there recently to perform for a special Thacker Mountain Radio broadcast from Delta State University and it was such a meaningful trip. The Delta is rich with history and stories, both beautiful and painful. Driving the back roads brings it all home for me. More depiction of human resilience can be seen, heard, tasted and read in the art, music, food and literature that comes from that area. It blows my mind. If you’ve never been, you should make the trek.

Best gift recently given? Not to harp on the Swamp Sistas stuff, but I do think it’s the best gift I can give and I’m doing it every day, sharing my time and efforts to support and encourage other female artists, while raising money to help out in the community.

Best gift recently received? The photographs of Cuban kitchens by Stephen Allen. Mesmerizing!

Most inspiring book you’ve read? Songwriters on Songwriting, edited by Paul Zollo. A collection of interviews about the craft, with songwriters like Bob Dylan, Carole King, Leonard Cohen and Townes Van Zandt. There are many and varied approaches to songwriting and I want to try all of them.

The thing you most love about your city? Diversity! On my block alone, live families from Mexico, Cuba, Dominican Republic, UK, Columbia, Puerto Rico and Haiti. I moved here from New Orleans in 1996 and fully expected a white bread and bland city. No way! The melting pot that Orlando has become is a beautifully rich blend of diverse cultures and I love that about it.

Best thing about what you do? Feeling the energy and love from a live audience, no wait- writing a song and having it be my ‘new friend’ for awhile as it reveals itself, no wait- seeing the pride on a younger songwriting Sista’s face as I help her refine and record one of her songs, no wait- recording my own songs with my band and friends. I get to do so much cool and fun stuff, I can’t decide what’s best.

At the top of your to-do list? Helping fellow Swamp Sista Amy Robbins finish recording her album so she can release it at the Swamp Sistas La La on May 18. We’ve been recording her vocals at my home studio and having a blast. I’m also helping Zoya Zafar with recording. Mentoring my younger Sistas and helping them achieve their goals is important to me.

Other work projects? I’ve been writing songs with Jim Myers (Milk Carton Superstars and director of the OCPLS Melrose Center) for our duo project “The Earnests.” My North Carolina friend Jeffrey Dean Foster (amazing singer/songwriter) helped tremendously with the recording of my last album, Dreamwood Acres. I want to return the favor and help with his while I’m in North Carolina this summer. Collaborating with other musicians is the bomb.

On your bedside table? A small turquoise lamp found at my favorite thrifting spot, Community Thrift. It’s sort of shaped like the Eiffel tower, I love that lamp.

A film that holds a special place in your heart? It will always be To Kill a Mockingbird. What an excellent moral compass it has provided and for such a long time. Sigh.

Photo: Tipso Photo

Photo: Tipso Photo

Photo: Angel Lalumondier

Photo: Angel Lalumondier