Away from the Bright Lights: Dana Falconberry is Leaving the City Behind

by Rob Preliasco

Dana Falconberry

Photo by Shelby Marie Lloyd

In a rapidly-changing Austin that is pricing out musicians, standout songwriter Dana Falconberry is redefining what success for a musician means. Her music, including last spring’s From the Forest Came the Fire LP, garners positive notice from the likes of NPR and PopMatters, yet she was recently forced to move out of Austin in favor of a more affordable Lockhart. She holds down a full-time job and will still make art, but is rethinking the traditional path to “making it”-– and sees it as a near-impossibility. Instead, she is taking her own approach

This summer, for instance, instead of booking the same old clubs, she and her band will perform in some of the grandest places in the United States: the national parks. From mid-June to early August, Falconberry will travel to West Texas’ Guadalupe Mountains, up the west coast, back east across the plains to South Dakota, and finally to the Great Lakes of her native Michigan. Some dates will be with her long-time backing band, Medicine Bow, (which has a name for the first time) and some solo.

“We’ve gone on so many traditional tours, playing in bars, and it’s such an awful, depleting feeling to go to some city you’ve never been to before— or that you’ve played before, even worse— and no one comes,” Falconberry said. “But for this tour, if this all sucks and nobody comes to any of this-– who cares? It’s places I want to be anyway.”


Photo by Alicia Vega

Falconberry and her bandmates, Christopher Cox, Gina Dvorak, Karla Manzur, Matthew Shepherd, and Lindsey Verrill, have been dreaming about this tour for years. They always try to spend their downtime on tour in state and national parks, and like to squeeze in nature hikes on their days off between gigs. They played a few national parks last year as a sort of pilot program for this summer’s tour and are building on that success. With a new album out, From the Forest Came the Fire, and the centennial of the national parks, Falconberry feels it is time for a bigger run.

“I think of these shows are an extension of what we’re trying to do musically,” she said. “In our songs, when I’m writing them I’m trying to think about going into a different realm, a different world, and using natural landscapes to convey that…”

She added, “These shows are the physical manifestation of that. Come to this park and we will hopefully put on a magical show there.”

These outdoor shows in rustic locations make for unique concerts but also raise unique challenges. The venue spaces vary widely, from purpose-built performance spaces to campgrounds without electricity. A scheduled show last year at Carlsbad Caverns had to be cancelled when it rained. Park rangers wouldn’t allow the concert to occur inside of the caverns because of a noise-sensitive bat population.

“I’ve never before thought about a bat population while I was booking a tour,” Falconberry said.

Special considerations like this abound at these national parks turned concert venues, and sometimes Falconberry had to do some convincing.

“It’s nothing like booking a normal tour when you send a press kit through your booker,” she said. “This is months of conversations with these specific people. I’ve been making friends. Ranger friends.”

Falconberry’s record label, Modern Outsider, was skeptical at first, not relishing the prospect of convincing music fans to journey to out-of-the-way locations for a show.

“Our publicist took some convincing because it makes his job a lot harder,” Falconberry said. “Modern Outsider has been super supportive, but also a label like that, they’re not like a big Sony Records thing that expects me to tour these major markets and everything … they don’t have an in-house booking agent to offer me-– the expectations are a little bit different when you’re on this level.”

Another challenge of this tour is one that is common to many local musicians: how to get time off from work. Falconberry’s life is ordered around her music, and has been since she moved to Austin in 2008 at age 25. She used to quit whatever job she had at the moment so she could tour for a few weeks or months, but now has the rarest of employment opportunities: a steady full-time job with great flexibility. She started working at Fort Lonesome, a custom clothier, two years ago as the first employee.

“I needed an income because I didn’t have an income through music,” Falconberry said. “[My boss] has recognized that I need to do these tours. It’s luckily a very flexible position.”

Falconberry reflected on her time in Austin, and how the city has changed for musicians: “Austin was really great for me for the past decade,” she said. “Creatively, it was amazing …but I can’t afford it. There’s no way to make money here as a musician, there’s just so many bands, it’s insane. And I’m getting older, too, and I don’t really care about that [nightlife] stuff anymore, and I want to have a sustainable, enjoyable life, and I don’t find that to be possible here, for me.”

She continued, “I’m still in the process of redefining how to be a musician or if I could be a musician. I think I’ve been, for the past decade, struggling toward that end goal of being a sustainable musician and struggling to the point that I’m doing myself harm and I have to stop that now. I kind of don’t think it’s possible for someone like me to, quote unquote, ‘make it,’ and I’m now in the process of redefining my goals and redefining myself. But I still feel the need to write.”

Living an affordable and pleasant life away from the bright lights, making music, touring wherever she pleases-– this may be the way to be a musician in 2016.

Rob is a writer, drummer and aspiring guitarist clinging tenaciously to residency in East Austin.