How Columbia Country Singer Meredith Shaw Seizes Her Second Chance

Meredith Shaw knows how his story might sound.

Local singer-songwriter takes advantage of new chance for country music: booking gigs in the area, enjoying studio sessions in Nashville, anticipating October events Roots N Blues Festivalwhere she and her band will open the entire three-day musical weekend.

But when Shaw declares she’s having the best time of her life, she doesn’t cast a shadow over life until now. The years when music was just a dream dream have given her so much: the children she loves, a deeper and broader outlook on life, something to say when it comes time to grab the mic. Every moment has led Shaw here – and prepared her to enjoy her share of the limelight.

“Even if I blast this, it’s better than I ever thought,” she said. “I didn’t expect all of this to happen.”

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Raised on the radio

Shaw grew up in a small town in Scotland County, near the northeast corner of Missouri. The youngest of eight, she enjoyed the records her older siblings brought home – everything from Linda Ronstadt and Olivia Newton-John to the Eagles and REM

More drawn to songs than genres, her tastes expanded during her college years at the University of Missouri to include Pearl Jam and Blind Melon. Shaw is working on a cover of “What’s Up?” of the 4 Non Blondes of the early 1990s. in his live set as well as, more recently, “I Remember You” by Skid Row.

Any song that tells a great story, that pulls the listener into a time and place, grabs Shaw’s attention, she said.

A teenage job at her local radio station picked up – and carried Shaw through – when she left MU for a while; she would eventually return to school, progressing to a doctorate.

She worked for several country radio stations around central Missouri at a time when she harbored her own musical ambitions but was too “chicken” to pursue them, she said.

“It was like being really close to something you wanted to do,” she said.

Shaw feared being rejected like anyone else – “What if I went in and they told me I was no good?” she remembered asking – but couldn’t get rid of her passion. Meeting musicians at her radio job, she asked the dozens of questions swirling in her mind about the nature of art and the music industry.

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Radney Foster is one of the artists who took the time to respond. Shuttled between the stalwart Texas songwriter and a radio interview, Shaw went through his laundry list. Foster asked to see her at the end of the day and hatched a plan so Shaw could get to Nashville.

While he had yet to hear her music, the very way Shaw spoke told her she was holding on to something special, she remembers saying. Foster encouraged her to head east without hesitation, before life and the children intervened.

Shaw remembers scoffing at the suggestion, but years later saw how Foster told her about the future. Family and career have made new plans for Shaw, but she doesn’t see them as lesser plans. Sometimes, speaking through the arc of his life, Shaw’s children wince a little at the story.

She is quick to remind them that dreams change over time, expanding to accommodate everything and everyone that matters.

“My dreams just changed,” Shaw said, summing up the message she’s giving to her kids. “I had different dreams, but I had dreams for you. Everything in my heart has changed.”

“Nothing But Pleasure”

Meredith Shaw to Perform at October's Roots N Blues Festival

Time passes and rhythms change. Returning to music and assigning it a different priority, Shaw sometimes struggles to recognize this life as his own.

“I find it hard to believe,” she said.

Sing in venues such as the iconic Nashville Blue bird cafecollaborating with Music City producers and becoming part of a supportive community of mid-Missouri artists is more than Shaw ever thought he was asking for.

And she acknowledges how different her songs sound, how they sound a bit longer than they would have if she had broken through in her twenties.

Shaw’s songs stretch like a bridge, spanning all the spaces left between his 70s icons, a 90s country aesthetic and up-to-the-minute production. They seem inhabited, finding what’s both heartbreaking and funny with divorce, cheaters, hard-earned lessons and “whiskey situations.”

Participating in songwriting circles, particularly in Nashville, Shaw occasionally encountered remarkably talented young artists. But she notices that they often dress alike and talk about very similar concerns. She knows she has something else to offer the public, and they respond in kind.

“I really know I have different things to say,” she said.

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After so much free time, she is surprised at how quickly certain milestones have arrived. At Roots N Blues last year, she recalled watching local acts like the Burney Sisters and Violet and the Undercurrents and thinking, “I’m four years away from this.”

Playing this year’s festival and, in his mind, setting the tone and tempo for all that’s to come is just another dream come true. Shaw and his band will open the weekend late Friday afternoon, before handing over their stage to Jaime Wyatt and Tanya Tucker.

This song season could take Shaw any number of spots. But if it ends tomorrow, she said she has amassed the memories and connections needed to continue living her way.

“It’s nothing but fun for me. While I’m trying to get through it, it’s not necessarily my whole life,” she said.

Shaw is set to appear at Thursday Voices of Columbia concert at the Blue Noteto benefit Heart of Missouri CASA, and will appear around mid-Missouri before Roots N Blues in October.

Aarik Danielsen is the Features and Culture Editor for Tribune. Contact him at [email protected] or by calling 573-815-1731. Find him on Twitter @aarikdanielsen.

Toya J. Bell