Liz Carlisle
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Liz Carlisle

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"Globe Calendar Pick of the Day"

It may not actually be one of the signs of the apocalypse, but times sure are a-changin' when a folk singer gives a commencement address at Harvard Universtity. It's less surprising when you hear that the university's undergraduate speaker at today's graduation is honors student Liz Carlisle, who has made herself a vibrant and popular presence on the local music scene. A Montana native, her music is equal parts big sky country and smart urban folk - a little bit Faith Hill and a little bit Dar Williams. Her shiny soprano is at once emoitionally vivid and starkly pretty. She's a perfect fit for the increasingly trad-sounding Boston scene, that rare songwriter who lets you tap your feet and brood at the same time. With fellow Harvard-grad-cum-folkie Wolff, she celebrates graduation and a fine new CD, "Five Star Day." - Scott Alarik, Boston Globe

"Missoula Native Liz Carlisle Chosen to Speak at Harvard Commencement"

Liz Carlisle remembers the awe she felt during the first Harvard University graduation she attended, a commencement imbued with more than three centuries of pomp and ritual.

"It's an amazing ceremony," the Missoula native said.

On Thursday, Carlisle will join her Harvard undergraduate classmates by participating in the school's 355th graduation day. But as the ethnomusicology major - a study of music as culture - joins 1,600 classmates, she'll also move on stage to stand before them.

Carlisle has been chosen as one of three students to give a speech before 32,000 people on behalf of her classmates. She earned the speaking honor through an audition. The 21-year-old will represent the undergraduates. As for the other two students, one will deliver a speech in Latin and one will address graduate students.

The 2002 Hellgate High School graduate said she never heard word back from the judges. So she called the school for an update. She was told speakers had already been selected, and the names posted.

That's when she learned her name was on the list.

"This is one of those things I threw my hat in the ring for, but I honestly didn't think it was going to happen," she said.

But the judges were impressed with her speech, "Expedition Harvard," a seven-minute discourse in which she successfully compared her exploration of Harvard to the 1804-06 westward expedition of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.

"It was just shy of 200 years ago that Meriwether Lewis stopped along Rattlesnake Creek in what is now Missoula, Mont., my hometown," she wrote. "Their stories told of new skills, many gained from Native Americans, which were proving essential to survive the journey."

A singer and songwriter, Carlisle isn't feeling any trepidation about the speech she'll deliver in two days. She sees the whole day as an organic embodiment, a collective spirit of people from around the world.

"I'm not responsible for holding it all up," she said. "It's like 32,000 people involved in it."

Carlisle, who wrote and recorded the popular hit "Montana," equates giving a speech to singing a song.

"The words live between the performer and the audience," she said. "It's not whether I sing the right note, but it's about how that note connects me to another person.

"If you are tuned into that connection, the note can't be wrong."

Her parents, Lynn and Ray Carlisle of Missoula, will board a plane from Missoula on Tuesday to see their daughter graduate in Cambridge, Mass. The couple admires her calm.

"She's not nervous," Lynn said. "I don't understand that. I'd be terrified."

Her father said, "She'll just try anything."

It seems most of what Carlisle tries eventually rings with success - sports, band, academics, singing, writing. Her father said she's self-motivated. But besides a persevering spirit, both parents and daughter attribute multiple life achievements to a sense of belonging, to being grounded and raised among a caring community.

"Missoula has really been our family," Lynn said. "They've done a great job."

But Ray also credits his wife.

"Lynn had this incredible gift, this knowledge, about how important it is to give positive reinforcement to your kids," he said. "She was always praising her for things that seemed small. As a small kid, 3, 4, 5 years old, she gained so much self-confidence from hearing that message over and over."

"That's such a big challenge for parents because when your kids are little you want to correct them for all kinds of terrible things they do," he said.

As for their self-assured daughter, she plans to stay in Cambridge where she has found a supportive community of musicians. She looks forward to exploring life after college. She said she was inspired to try out for the graduation speech competition after asking herself what she valued during the past four years of her life.

"What would I want to share?" she said. "People have a lot of anxiety leading up to this transition."

Her thoughts soon turned to Lewis and Clark. The two men would have died if they had been too rigid in their exploration, she said. It will be part of her message to fellow classmates.

"We don't have to have everything figured out," she said. "Everything is inherently new." - Jodi Rave, Associated Press

"Country Star Senior Set to Rock"

The Arts First Performance Fair, to be held this year on May 6, is a fairly egalitarian undertaking. No event is lauded above the others, nor is it difficult to set up a performance. But despite this even-handed mentality, it is still highly likely that the performance by acclaimed country singer-songwriter Liz W. Carlisle '06 will be one of the top attractions.

Carlisle and her five-piece band will take Harvard Yard Stage at 3:30 p.m. on May 6-and again on May 7-to perform a 20-minute set consisting both of acoustic numbers and all-out rockers.

"My absolute favorite [performance] has been Arts First," says an enthusiastic Carlisle, whose self-released solo album "Five Star Day" came out last August and has since been nominated by the Independent Music Awards for Country Album of the Year.

"I love the chaos of having too many wonderful things around you, and not having a hierarchy of values," she adds. Carlisle isn't just talking about the performance fair, but about Harvard in general.

While technically a Quincy House resident, Carlisle's nonstop touring keeps her from staying at Harvard for long. Most of the time she travels up and down the East Coast, but she also occasionally flies out to Texas or Montana.

"[Touring] is an incredible education in business, probably better than going to business school," she says with a full laugh. "Also, there's learning how to adjust a microphone stand, or booking a complicated itinerary between Kansas and Texas," she adds.

Carlisle grew up in a musical Montanan household-"James Taylor was always playing," she says. Her first major inspiration was her father, who taught her how to sing and play guitar while she was in her late teens. Her second influence, once she had learned to drive, came from the country stations whose signal filtered through her car.

After arriving at Harvard, Carlisle found another inspiration at Harvard Square's Club Passim-her producer/co-writer/keyboardist Russell Wolff, a student at the Extension School who will also graduate this year. Wolff's band will perform directly after Carlisle's, on the same stage.

Ingrid Schorr, the Office for the Arts representative in charge of organizing the Performance Fair, says that the OFA provides "very little artistic oversight," and that it attempts to extend Harvard's resources to motivated students.

Carlisle cites the OFA's importance in her own musical development: "I've had a really dynamic relationship with OFA...what they do is really unique in comparison to other universities and other kinds of communities," she says. She applied for music lessons through the OFA's subsidy program, and during one year helped to produce the Arts First Guide.

Carlisle is graduating with a degree from a joint special concentration in ethnomusicology in partnership with the Folklore and Mythology department; her thesis was appropriately written on a folk festival. She will also be the Undergraduate Speaker at the June 8 Commencement.

After graduation, Carlisle will stay connected to Harvard as a Masters' Assistant in Quincy House. In addition, she hopes to work with the OFA in some sort of mentor program. Until then, this Saturday will bear the fruits of Carlisle's latest-and perhaps most significant-partnership with the Harvard arts community. - J. Samuel Abbott, Harvard Crimson

"Country Sounds"

Funny guy Don White needs little introduction. The Lynn-based comedian-turned-funny-folkie tends to sell out shows nationwide. But Liz Carlisle, who will share the bill with White Saturday at the Steeple Coffeehouse in Southborough, is a rising talent who deserves some buzz herself.

Carlisle, 21, traded her Montana home for a Cambridge address four years ago, but to hear her pure, honest vocals, you'd think her lungs are still powered by big-sky country air. Hers is a kind, unaffected, come-right-on-in type of voice -- one that manages to be pretty without being too cute, and earnest without taking on weight. It is a voice that simply puts you at ease, which is no accident.

''I have friends, songwriters, who deliberately with their music aim to afflict the comfortable," she said. ''I think music has to do both. It has to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted, and my niche has been to comfort the afflicted, which is all of us."

Carlisle soothes with a cache of original songs that cull the twang and heart of country music, the soul-searching of folk, and the lift of pop. Many are what she calls ''unapologetically useful" tales of coming of age or atmospheric odes to a place. ''I'm very moved by the places where I am. They stay with me and change me, so I write about them."

The Steeple show is part of the release tour for Carlisle's CD ''Five Star Day," recorded at Fox Run Studios in Sudbury. The tour has taken Carlisle to England, Texas, and back home to Montana, as well as along the East Coast.

As for what's next, Carlisle is balancing her senior year at Harvard in ethnomusicology with performing. ''After that, I see myself being involved in music for certain for the rest of my life." Let's hope so. - Denise Taylor, Boston Globe

"CD Review"

At an age - barely old enough to vote - Liz Carlisle has managed not only to navigate the culture shock of leaving her native Big Sky Country home in Montana for college life at Harvard and the vibrant Boston folk music scene, she's managed to synthesize it all into a body of original work that displays a remarkable lyrical intelligence.
Whether writing about the "silver blue sky" of her native land ("Montana"), potentially life-changing decisions that appear out of the blue ("Don't Think Too Hard") or growing up in "Flyover Country" ("9/8 Central"), Carlisle's writing is crisp and insightful beyond her years and totally absent the narcissism and introspection that so often afflicts the modern singer-songwriter crowd. Though able to convey her own feelings, she's also adept at putting herself into the shoes of others ("Feels Like Home") whose experiences she may only be able to guess at, but she's convincing nonetheless.
On top of this, Carlisle's vocal style is strong and clear, reminiscent of the likes of Karla Bonoff, an unaffected style with touches of the country music of her Montana youth that suggest she's just being herself, and not a stylized "singer-songwriter." Here's hoping she keeps it up. - John Lupton, Country Standard Time

"Live in NYC"

This warbling songster from Missoula has a bit of Ani Difranco in her, but a lot more country (of the not-quite-alt variety), especially when she misses Michael Jordan (in her cleverly titled "9/8 Central") and Montana too. - The Village Volce

"Five Star Day Review"

Liz Carlisle fuses her multiple sensibilities into her first "official" CD release. This Harvard educated young woman from Montana combines her Western upbringing with her considerable intellect. She sounds far more mature than her early-20s age. Producer Russell Wolff gives Five Star Day the full treatment. Most of the CD is heavily produced, but the songs retain a folk essence. Strip away the production and the songs stand on their own. Wolff contributes guitar, piano, and bass as well as harmony vocals. Dave Mattacks plays drums and percussion among the several studio musicians. Carlisle wrote, or co-wrote with Wolff, most of the 11 songs on the CD. She also includes on written by Wolff, and the traditional "Little Sadie," which she arranged with Dave Crossland. "Little Sadie" receives a lively acoustic treatment, with Crossland on guitar, befitting the song. Carlisle's pleasing voice always sounds like it knows where it's going and feels the meaning of the words she's singing. "9/8 Central" is a terrific song about the disenfranchisement of rural America adn small town life in a sparsely populated state. The title is based on the common TV tag for show times, and the song has her father saying "Hon, that's 7:00 here," as if they don't matter. The other outstanding song, one she wrote solo, is "Feels Like Home" which again deals with alienation and acceptance. It tells of a 13-year-old who wants to escape from a broken home, a lesbian ostracized from her community and a 21-year-old homeless woman. The song contains the great line as said by the teenage boy on his birthday: "Mom brought the cake and dad brought extra iciness." If someone blindfolded you and played this CD, you'd assume it was from a experienced Nashville talent on the way to stardom. - Sing Out

"Five Star Day Review"

Are residents of the northeast region of the U.S. really qualified to recognize and express rational thought about what the rest of the nation refers to as "country music?" Liz Carlisle's ID tags label her country, but her sound requires us to take another look at what that means. Is it supposed to evoke images of dirty, sawdust-floored roadhouses, or is it something more wide-open, more natural?

Carlisle peers out from the front cover like a Revlon model in mid-hair-swish. She sure doesn't look like a country singer. She looks like a normal girl, maybe a little smarter than most. Once the disc starts spinning, she drops her umbrella, whirls her hair around a little more, and becomes an honest-to-goodness voice. Carlisle's dynamic vocals rise and soar through each of the eleven tracks on Five Star Day. Most vocalists have a comfortable range, and this gets tiresome in most cases, whether they are straying out of range or staying locked within. Carlisle's admirable vocal range lets her really explore each song in a way a lesser-skilled musician might not be able to do. Carlisle also shows hints of alt-female vocalists years gone by, and even a hint from a fab foursome of many years' past in the chorus of the strong "Forced to Bend."

Carlisle has many strong spots on Five Star Day, and she stays true to her roots. She gives a shout-out to her homies in Montana, while displaying some East Coast spunk. Country might not be the word for Carlisle's sound; perhaps a more fitting term might be cross-country, as Carlisle brings her sound across the continent and back again. - Northeast Performer

"Liz's Story Keeps Growing"

The Harvard University senior has recently been nominated as best emerging artist by the International Folk Alliance. Her co-nominees are heavy-hitters already - the Duhks, Nathan, the Wailin' Jennies and Uncle Earl, who some critics have dubbed the new Be Good Tanyas.

"This is a stellar group and I am honored to be among them," Carlisle said on her Web site,

She's already made the finals at the Kerrville festival in Texas, studied guitar with Livingston Taylor, put out several CDs and is closing in on her degree in ethnomusicology at Harvard. Not bad for a young lady just barely old enough to vote.

As Liz says: "It's just dreams coming true that I could have never imagined. Things have happened to me beyond what I could have ever imagined."

Carlisle, a Hellgate High School grad, is home on break from college, and she'll be performing with her producer, Russell Wolff, who'll lend a hand on a handful of instruments. Carlisle is a solid live performer, personable and funny, with a voice that sounds as good live as it does recorded.

She's had plenty of practice, touring in support of her most recent CD, "Five Star Day." The record is a winning mix of folk and country-tinged tunes that strike a fine and pleasant middle ground. Carlisle is thankfully free of the self-referential angst that sometimes afflicts younger performers, but she's not blissfully naïve, either. In fact, her songs show a remarkable maturity for a young artist.

Although much of the music on her latest disc has a country flavor, Carlisle steers clear of the hackneyed clichés that define so much of radio country music. In other words, there's a much appreciated lack of pickup trucks and booze.

Carlisle's show is the night before New Year's Eve, and she's quite likely the best show in town that night. Check her out now and you'll be able to say you saw Liz Carlisle before she really hit the big time. - The Missoulian


Hailing from the big sky country of Missoula, Montana, singer-songwriter-guitarist Liz Carlisle has found a satisfying success in the New England area fashioned by her beautiful voice, fine guitar work and poignant songwriting. At 21 years old, Carlisle already has three albums to her credit. Her latest offering, Five Star Day, is a testament to her early country radio influences as she cleverly spins a modern day edge to her rootsy, image-filled songs. I caught up with her by phone one October day and we talked about her influences, her family, and her music. You're welcome to eaves drop in on our conversation...

METRONOME: Where are you from? Are you from a musical family?
I'm from Missoula, Montana. Born and raised. I lived there eighteen years of my life. One of my earliest memories is of my Dad, Ray singing and playing guitar to me... he would sing me to sleep. He taught me those songs when I was little. Kind of a funny combination of 60s and 70s folk, James Taylor and old ballads.
METRONOME: Was he a professional musician?
He did it for fun. He was in Salt Lake actually... he had been a guitar teacher at South East Music. Utah Phillips was there at that time. They were both teachers at South East Music back when Utah Phillips was Bruce Phillips. That was his brush with professional music.
METRONOME: What brought you out to these parts?
Music and school both. I first came for the summer for a Berklee Summer program when I was still in high school. I was actually a jazz drum set player at that point. But I entered a songwriting contest for that program and started to learn some things about making a CD and just the whole idea about being a singer/songwriter. Then I came back out here for school. I'm a senior at Harvard now.
METRONOME: What prompted you to be a jazz drummer?
I guess that's in the family too. My Mom's father, Jim Gordon, was a band director all his life in Iowa and also played trombone in jazz bands and dance bands. Band was a really big thing in my hometown.
METRONOME: Like marching bands?
All kinds. You knew when you were growing up that you were going to play a band instrument. It was just a matter of choosing. I thought, girl drummers rock!
METRONOME: Did you do that in Junior High and High School? Were you in the school band?
METRONOME: And you played jazz drums?
METRONOME: So you studied folks like Louie Bellson, Gene Krupa and all those people...
Oh yeah.
METRONOME: Did you play in a jazz band outside of school?
Yeah. In fact we had State and All Northwest Honor bands. We went to the Holiday Bowl when I was a senior and they had a jazz band competition.
METRONOME: Did you attend Berklee College other than the summer course you spoke about?
No. But of course I've run in to all kinds of people who are connected to it.
METRONOME: What are you studying at Harvard?
Ethnomusicology. Actually my technical major is Folklore and Mythology and my field within that is Ethnomusicology. They have a graduate program in that so I take a lot of graduate courses.
METRONOME: What are some of the things that you study?
My own field and my own research is on the contemporary folk scene. I'm writing my thesis on the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival.
METRONOME: Have you ever attended that festival?
I went for my second one this past summer.
METRONOME: Did you perform there?
Just at the late night stuff.
METRONOME: What made you shift gears from being a jazz drummer to the folk scene?
I was really driven to write. I got into the songwriting thing before I started playing the guitar. Then my Mom suggested, "Your Dad plays guitar, why don't you learn, since you're going to have to accompany yourself?"
METRONOME: When you talk about songwriting, how did that all come about for you?
In high school and middle school I always sang. I sing when I drive, I sing when I walk around the house. Like everybody else, I sing in the shower. I would just start singing things that came to me. Melodies and thoughts - and anytime I felt like I had something I needed to express and I didn't immediately have a song that I already knew come in to my head, I would come up with new things. At that time, I tried to figure it out on the keyboard but guitar really helped it along.
METRONOME: What made you choose guitar and not piano or another instrument?
I was saying, "I need an instrument to write on, maybe I should give piano lessons another shot." I had a bad experience as a little girl because I couldn't sit still. My Mom said, "Why don't you learn guitar from your Dad? He's right here." I said, that's a good idea.
METRONOME: Did you study with your Dad throughout your high school years?
I started pretty late actually. We started midway through my junior year in high school. At that time, I was trying to get into Harvard and I was very active. I was student class president so guitar was a backburner priority for me when I was in high school. But we would get together for a couple of ho - Metronome Magazine


Big Dreams (2007)
Five Star Day (2005)



Born and raised in Missoula, Montana, Liz Carlisle paid her way through Harvard University in just about every way imaginable. "I took a snow shoveling job my freshman year and spent my first college Thanksgiving cleaning dorm room toilets,” she remembers.

Missoula knows Liz as a talented high school athlete and a dedicated volunteer. They remember when she appeared on The Today Show to share the inspiring story of her blind physics teacher. So, her hometown wasn't surprised when Liz graduated Summa cum Laude from Harvard. Nor were they surprised when she returned home with a finished album in hand.

From her earliest years, Liz remembers singing along with her father, who played acoustic guitar. She led the drum section in her high school marching band and sang soprano in choir. At age 17, Liz began taking guitar lessons from her father and brought her first used guitar with her to college. "That was probably the one thing that saved me from being homesick," she said. "I could take that guitar out and play 'Just To See You Smile' or 'Fire and Rain,' and feel like I was home somehow."

When Liz started writing her own songs, her father's folk music blended with the country music she'd always loved on the radio in Montana. She began working with producer Russell Wolff in Boston, adding additional influences and a strong musical underpinning to her impassioned stories.

When Liz began performing live in Boston as a sophomore in college, she simply won people's hearts with her genuineness, energy, and passion for human stories. Within a year, she was a familiar face on the local music scene, fast gaining national attention as well. Her first CD, Five Star Day, garnered considerable radio play and press attention from major media like the Boston Globe, Associated Press, Washington Post, and BBC. During her last year at Harvard, Liz attended classes, completed a senior thesis, and played over 100 shows. "It wasn't easy," Liz admits, "but I really believed in what I was doing."

After graduation, Liz left her books behind to pursue music full time. While continuing to perform acoustic shows, she got her first opportunity to open for the country artists who had inspired her since childhood. First it was a concert with Sugarland, then a show with The Wreckers - soon Liz was opening for LeAnn Rimes, Travis Tritt, Lonestar, Diamond Rio, Steve Holy, Miranda Lambert, and Hal Ketchum - in venues all over the country.

What you've got here is Liz's first Nashville record. She is releasing it less than a year after she turned in her last college paper. And what else could she call it, really?

Big Dreams