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    Legendary Artist Barbara Higbie Returns to Live Performing for 35th Anniversary of Windham Hill Winter Solstice

    This issue of the San Francisco Bay Times features two legends of Women’s Music: Melanie DeMore (see pages 10–11) and Barbara Higbie. Women’s Music—which emerged during the second-wave feminist movement as well as the labor, civil rights, and peace movements—is music by, for, and about women. DeMore and Higbie shine in this genre and others, skillfully collaborating with many artists. The San Francisco Chronicle even once referred to Higbie as “a high priestess of collaboration,” given her work with Carlos Santana, Bonnie Raitt, jazz greats, classical stars, and too many others to name here. The Grammy nominated Bammy award-winning prolific pianist, composer, violinist, singer-songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist has played on well over 100 CDs!

    Born in Michigan and raised in Indiana, Higbie spent several years as a teenager in Ghana with her family. She worked a summer in Honduras as a medical volunteer with the nonprofit Amigos de Las Americas, graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Mills College here in the Bay Area, attended the Sorbonne in Paris, and was awarded a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship to collect traditional music in West Africa.

    It was in Paris that she met jazz artist Darol Anger and began a fruitful musical collaboration. In 1984, she co-led a group live album recording at the Montreux Jazz Festival, which then became the successful group “Montreux” with Anger, Mike Marshall, Todd Phillips, Andy Narrell, and Michael Manring.

    The first female instrumentalist signed to Windham Hill records, she also recorded solo or duo projects for Olivia/Second Wave records and Slowbaby Records. As a folk, jazz, pop, and fusion composer and singer-songwriter noted for her highly melodic, jazz/folk performances, she has toured nationally and internationally since the early 1980s. While the pandemic halted such travels for her and other artists, she will soon mark her return to live performing with the 35th Anniversary of Windham Hill’s Winter Solstice series of albums. The beautiful collections of songs are so timeless that, like Vince Guaraldi’s work for the Peanuts’ holidays specials, they seem to never lose impact and relevance.

    Higbie spoke with the San Francisco Bay Times ahead of her national tour for the anniversary. It will include a stop at the Freight & Salvage in Berkeley on Friday, December 17. The shows will also feature Todd Boston, Mia Pixley, and other artists.

    San Francisco Bay Times: How has it been for you coming out of the COVID-19 shutdowns and into not only preparations for a national tour, but also going to shows presented by other artists?

    Barbara Higbie: It’s great to be back on stage and to share our love of music with the audience. This will be an inter-generational, multi-cultural celebration. These venues (on the new tour) all observe safe protocols. Everyone is fully vaxxed, and the HVAC filtration systems keep fresh air circulating regularly.

    COVID hit musicians hard. Our livelihood went “Poof!” Doing online shows was OK-ish, though nowhere near the real thing. It was relaxing to be off the road, but it’s been long enough. I am so ready to get back out there! This tour starts in the Midwest, then goes to the Northwest, the Southwest, then California. I can’t wait!

    The Windham Hill concerts are perfect for getting back in the swim. Since we’ve all been locked up in our houses, going to see live shows is such a treat. It’s emotional. Getting ready—putting on real pants! waiting in line, then being part of a spontaneous, non-choreographed and interactive event as part of an audience. It’s thrilling and emotional.

    San Francisco Bay Times: Who are you collaborating with now for the new tour?

    Barbara Higbie: I’m so excited about this tour! First of all, it will be the first live concerts we’ve done in almost two years! Second, Mia Pixley (cello/vocal) and Todd Boston (guitar), along with our special guests Jasper Manning and VOENA (multi-cultural youth choir) are simply phenomenal young talents. I’m completely blown away by their talent.

    Third, we have been rehearsing for months, first via Zoom and now in person. Mia, Todd, and I each have brand new studio albums out. With all this new material and preparation, I can’t wait to get out of the starting gate and get on the road. It feels like spring bursting forth after a harsh winter—lots of new, exuberant energy in the air!

    San Francisco Bay Times: Please share more about the upcoming Windham Hill Winter Solstice shows.

    Barbara Higbie: The Winter Solstice show is inspired by the 8 million selling Windham Hill Winter Solstice series of albums that started in 1985. The concept of celebrating all the seasonal holidays by recording high fidelity acoustic music was groundbreaking. The albums have been the background to millions of folks’ holiday celebrations for 35 years. We’ve had whole families fly in from Australia to see our shows. It really is an inter-generational, multi-cultural, long-standing phenomenon that we are honored to be a part of.

    Todd Boston plays acoustic guitar inspired by Michael Hedges, Will Ackerman, Alex DeGrassi, and all the great guitarists who recorded for the label (Windham Hill). In addition, he has a strong kirtan and Indian music background. Mia is a beautiful singer-songwriter cellist comparable to Zoe Keating, whose career is exploding right now. I am a pianist, composer, singer-songwriter and championship fiddle player and the first female instrumentalist signed to the Windham Hill label, back in 1981, when I was 23. In those days, Windham Hill was a startup in a garage in Palo Alto, like a few other companies that took off. Steve Jobs was a huge Windham Hill fan. George Winston’s huge success helped Windham Hill become a household name.

    San Francisco Bay Times: You are also known for your involvement in Women’s Music. Please share some thoughts about that, both in terms of your past and present work.

    Barbara Higbie: In 1983, at the height of the Windham Hill craze, I was lucky enough to start playing music with Teresa Trull, Cris Williamson, Linda Tillery, Meg Christian, and Holly Near. Teresa and I recorded for Olivia Records in 1983 and became a national sensation. We were kind of the pre-“Indigo Girls.” We toured with the amazing Cris Williamson, who is doing two album release concerts at the Freight in Berkeley on January 14 and 15. I will be there. She’s calling these shows “the Grand Reunion” because they feature Vicki Randle, Skip the Needle, Julie Wolf, and many more. Cris and Teresa are two of my very best friends. They are both geniuses. Teresa is a now a horse trainer in New Zealand. She and her Kiwi love, Michaela, were married recently.

    We will all be on the Olivia 50th Anniversary Cruises in January 2023, and many of us will be at the Olivia 50th Anniversary event at The Academy in the Castro on January 13.

    Women’s Music saved my life, as it did for so many women. In the early 1980s, I was experiencing stalking, bullying, and severe hazing in the very male dominated music industry. Without the support of the women’s community, I most likely would have quit. It’s easy to take for granted what the pioneers of Women’s Music did. I can attest to the fact that they moved mountains and deserve our deepest respect. That’s why the Smithsonian is documenting the whole movement now. It’s a strong, loving community that is still thriving.

    San Francisco Bay Times: The Freight and Salvage has always been important to you, beyond your work there as a performer. What is your involvement with the venue now?

    Barbara Higbie: Speaking of community, the Freight is the hub of a huge community of musicians. It is a phenomenal place: a 53-year-old nonprofit that owns its own building and fundraises in order to keep presenting diverse musical artists from all over the world. If you’ve never been there, do yourself a favor and get to the Freight! I’m serving as the Co-Chair of the Board right now, along with conductor and community activist Elizabeth Seja Min.

    I believe in the importance of the Freight to my core. It has weathered COVID thanks to loyal donors and government grants. Attending shows is the best way to ensure that places like the Freight stay in business. It is a true cultural treasure that has beat the odds. I’d like to let people know that they can rest assured that all these venues follow COVID protocols. We are returning to live music in a safe way.  

    For tickets and more information about the 35th Anniversary of Windham Hill’s Winter Solstice at the Freight and Salvage on December 17, go to: https://tinyurl.com/4ax5uhu2

    To learn more about Barbara Higbie and to purchase her recordings, visit https://barbarahigbie.com/

    Published on December 2, 2021