Local musician Kelly McFarling wrote her song “Atlanta” as an ode to her hometown, but she didn’t write it – or any other song, as a matter of fact – until she settled into her current home in San Francisco. In this edition of Bay Area Beats, McFarling tells KALW’s Martina Castro why she credits San Francisco with helping her launch her musical career, and better understanding the idea of home.
KELLY MCFARLING: I have always had a really hard time leaving home because home is so wonderful and because I had such ... you know, a lot of people are like, “Oh, I left home when I was 18 because my parents were all messed up, and I had this terrible thing...”
But I’m so the opposite. I had this amazing experience growing up. I have this wonderful family that is really close to me, and there’s a lot of love and a lot of support. So there’s always this kind of hard, letting-go feeling of, “Why am I leaving home? Is it always going to feel like this whenever I leave home?” Every time I move forward or grow, it’s going to feel like leaving home a little bit more which is always a little bit sad. It’s like the whole lost childhood thing.
My friends and I used to joke about how the big tragedy in my life is that I’m never going to be able to be like a little kid again. But it is! I think it’s the tragedy in a lot of people’s lives. But for me, it just feels like a pretty obvious thing and the leaving home really represents that.
When I moved here I didn’t know anybody, really, and I think that was a big thing for me. I knew a few people kind of on the fringe, but I didn’t have a community, I didn’t have a network. So I started going to this Hotel Utah open mic … That was a big, key moment for me, because it was the first place I performed in front of people with a banjo by myself. It was the very first time ever that I did that. And I remember that I did it because I was trying to impress this dude who had invited me to the open mic. I had told him that I was a singer-songwriter, a musician, you know, and I totally wasn’t yet! I hadn’t done anything.
But he said, “Oh, you’re a musician? Cool. Let’s go to this open mic together.” He invited me to this open mic and we went to this open mic, and I was like, well, now I have to learn some songs, since I’ve lied to this dude.
So I did a cover song that first night and it was a really amazing night because people were really supportive and encouraging. They were like, “Wow, that was so good! Who are you? Where are you from? You’re awesome. Please come back!” So I really found this haven at the Hotel Utah. It gave me an excuse to have a new song every week.
The song “Perspective” is a very specific San Francisco song. Just the literal ability to have different perspectives, because it’s this very small, contained city, but I could see the whole city from different angles and it got me thinking about different ways to look at people, different ways to look at your path in a certain place.
The line about “some are putting down roots and some are just passing through” was about the people I was meeting in San Francisco. A lot of them are very transient. The perspective of this city is changing by the day.
I loved this place from the beginning and that’s why I continue to love it. There’s such a great community of musicians and it’s really supportive and inspiring. One of the other really big things about San Francisco and the Bay Area that I love is the playfulness of it. I love that this city has five different excuses in the month of October to have a big citywide party and dress up in costumes and act like children. I love seeing people reclaiming that sense of playfulness and joy.
So, yeah, I feel like I have put down a lot of substantial roots here in San Francisco. It definitely feels like home and like I’ve built a home here. The people here are the thing has solidified the home-ness of it. Yeah, it’s a great place.
Kelly McFarling is performing at the Great American Music Hall on September 26, 2012.