Catching Up with Cathy Grier

Judging from how deeply Cathy Grier has woven herself into the local music scene, you might assume the blues musician has lived in Door County for decades. In reality, she moved here in 2016, leaving New York City and subway-busking behind after falling in love with the peninsula when she was invited to play at the former Steel Bridge Songfest in Sturgeon Bay. 

Like most Door County musicians, Grier plays fewer shows during winter, using the hunkering-down time to write and compose. She’ll come out of that creative quiet for a show at Anchored Roots, Feb. 17. Before then, we talked to her about how she anchored her own roots in Door County, and how she’s been spending her off-season. The conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity. 

SW: What was it like integrating into Door County’s music scene when you moved?

CG: Considering that there’s so much going on in the peninsula, that was really easy. Finding a niche, for me, was finding what kind of places would want to support an original artist like myself, because I’m not a jukebox artist.

SW: How has your music changed since moving here?

CG: I flipped into more of the blues genre because I was unknown and blues seems to be a popular genre here in the state. Also, I was meeting blues musicians and I didn’t see many other female musicians filling in that role. I’ve always considered myself thematically a blues artist, but collectively caught up in many different musical styles because I just love music.

I think falling into the blues genre here was a really good fit for me. Not to mention that it afforded me the opportunity to compete in the International Blues Challenge that is held every January in Memphis. I went representing Wisconsin as a solo artist in 2017, and I competed in the band category with The Troublemakers in 2022. That wouldn’t have happened if I was Cathy the eclectic artist; you have to be pretty focused in your genre. 

SW: What direction has your music been taking most recently? 

CG: I’ve been hanging out with musicians John Lewis and Dennis Keith Johnson because we were part of a Home for the Holidays event at Northern Sky Theater. That opened up my world into singing songs that were a little out of my comfort zone, classic songs like “My Favorite Things” with a jazz influence; “River” by Joni Mitchell. These are songs that I absolutely adore, but they’re not necessarily something that my fans would hear me throw into a show.

I love performing. I love how an audience reacts to my performances, especially if I make them think. I have advocacy in my songwriting and I think that’s really important. The title track of my [2020] album is called “I’m All Burn” and it’s really about being a woman in the industry and the world in general, how we get passed over. I have a song called “Rise Up” which is about ending violence, and one called “Dark Day in Milwaukee,” which I haven’t recorded yet, but that’s about gun violence.

SW: Why is it important for you to address issues like these in your music? 

CG: I think having a position on a stage is a very honorable place. A good song can bring somebody to an understanding that they might not have reached, in the same way that good theater does.

I also grew up in the Civil Rights generation; my idols that I looked up to as a young artist were Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez. I feel, personally, that I have a role to play, and I like playing that role. 

SW: What are you working on now? 

CG: Winter is a good time to reflect; in Door County, everything slows down a bit. I’m working on writing and composing. I believe I’m going to be doing a show at Northern Sky and composing for the Women’s Fund [of Door County] story slam. They had a new idea about bringing in live music to support these amazing stories from women throughout the county. 

I’ve got a big show in Manitowoc at the Capitol Civic Center with my band at the end of February. So I’ve been working through that show, and then working on opening my calendar up to whoever wants to book me for the year. 

Grier’s Feb. 17 show will run 1-4 pm at Anchored Roots Winery, 4873 Willow Road in Egg Harbor.