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An Outlaw Returns: Image
An Outlaw Returns
The Tree Breeze (Evansville, IN)
Issue 33, June 2021
How singer-songwriter Sid Grimes survived the pandemic (and debuted an album)
By Anthony Head
An Outlaw Returns: News
A singer and her guitar, a microphone and an amp, in a corner of a room. The room was a bar, a small space called Chances R, in San Marcos, Texas. On a warm Saturday night in early May 2021, when the singer launched into her first set, she sounded like she was singing for all the world to hear. Despite being a professional working musician for the past six years, the singer, Sid Grimes, hadn’t been sure when or if this day would ever come.
Flip the calendar back to last summer when Sid’s long-planned career move to Texas could not have come at a worse time in modern history. That’s not to say she and her husband, Corey Kuropas, of Homer Glen, Illinois, hadn’t put together a finely tuned plan for their relocation. By February of 2020, they both were anticipating a near seamless transition: Corey was bound to land a job and continue working as a special needs physical education teacher in Austin while Sid spent a couple months playing solo gigs—just long enough to find some mates to form a new band.
The way things were going for the two of them, the only difficult part of their early June escape should have been the 17-hour drive to a new home, deep in the heart of Texas, with a cat.
But nobody expects a global pandemic.
“We were devastated at the thought of putting our dreams on hold,” Sid says today, a bright morning in early May 2021, while sitting in the north Austin apartment she shares with Corey and their cat, Voorhees, who survived the drive. “Everything was on track to move in June of 2020. I was gigging regularly, performing with the Rowdy Outlaws and other bands, and trying to make an album. I also worked as an early childhood music and movement teacher, which made me very happy. So we had the wind in our sails.”
The pandemic intensified. The country stayed home. Along with so many other businesses, the bars and other venues that are the bread and butter for performers like Sid, were shuttered to the last.
“There were no more gigs,” she remembers of her last months in Homer Glen. “We had some big-paying gigs on the calendar—all wiped out. There was no way to make live music and make money.”
This wasn’t just a financial concern—although that was naturally a major factor for a working musician. It was something deeper for Sid. “I like to tell people that I didn’t have a choice,” she says. “I don’t feel like any other thing has had as much influence on me as music.”
Born in Indiana (“I’m a Hoosier,” she says proudly) in 1991, Sid was raised in Chicago until she turned three and then in Los Angeles for about eight years.
It was Judy Grimes, Sid’s grandmother, who had perhaps the earliest impact on her future livelihood. “My grandmother was a big influence, in a lot of things, but especially music,” Sid says. “In the early 1990s, she was a professor of music education and the department head at Elmhurst College [now Elmhurst University; located in a Chicago suburb]. She saw some kind of talent in me at very early age. When I was nine months old she would bring me to her classes and have me ‘match pitch’ in front of a lecture hall full of students. I guess that had something to do with it.”
Sid says Los Angeles had something to do with it as well. “In LA, my music education was CDs—the stuff my parents were constantly playing, which deeply affected me. A lot of classic rock—Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, the Beach Boys, the Mamas and the Papas, Led Zeppelin. Golden Earring sticks out as well. The Guess Who. That’s the music imprinted over my golden memories of California.”
In pop culture, the 90s was the time of ‘N Sync and Britney Spears, but also grunge bands like Pearl Jam and Nirvana. Music videos were a staple of cable television; and musicians—like most everyone else—were slowly finding their way to the World Wide Web, although—like most everyone else—they didn’t know what to do there yet. But growing up in the very heart of this entertainment world (Sid lived on Hollywood Boulevard) provided many opportunities to experience live music, and led almost inevitably to her learning to play electric guitar before she was ten.
In 2003, eleven-year-old Sid moved with her mother and step-father to a Nashville suburb, where her music passion began coalescing with music education. Inclined to participate in just about every high school theater, musical, and choir production, she even played flute with the marching band on a popular Brad Paisley song, “Online,” from 2007.
Sid attended Elmhurst University, where her grandmother still headed the music department. Before moving to Illinois, though, when she was still 19, an event took place that changed her views on country music, a genre that she hadn’t paid much attention to, despite her proximity to Nashville.
“I really found country music in the spring of 2010, when a thousand-year flood hit Nashville and I was home alone and had to take care of the house,” she recalls. “My step-dad works for a guitar distributor and is a musician and he got tickets to the Nashville Rising concert, which was all about raising money for people affected by the flood.
“Miranda Lambert did ‘The House that Built Me,’ which moved me because it’s a beautiful song and because my house was under water. Miley Cyrus did ‘The Climb,’ and I never thought I’d ever like that song, but after you’ve been through something very traumatic and hear something like ‘The Climb’ it’s very meaningful. Lynyrd Skynyrd was there. Martina McBride. ZZ Top. I walked out thinking that I hadn’t given country music its fair shake.”
The healing power of music. The thrill of live performance. Exploring the many persuasions of country music: such concepts took hold of Sid’s imagination and never relented during her college years.
“I had a lot of musical friends,” Sid says. “I lived in a house with five other musicians for a while. They were focusing on jazz. I was a little out of place being country in a jazz community. They were gigging all the time, through the university, but also they knew the right people. Somewhere along the way I said to myself, ‘Oh, I can do that too. And I think I want to.’”
It didn’t happen immediately, but she practiced her music, scraped by with the usual side jobs, wrote songs, and practiced a lot more. Her first show took place on September 2, 2015, at Flight 112, a local wine bar, for which she received $50. “It was me for two hours with a guitar, a microphone, and an amp in a corner of a room. And I was so nervous. I believe that I had a few original songs in there, but most of the set covered pop country artists like Ashton Shepherd, Miranda Lambert, Kasey Musgraves. People that I admired at the time, and who I still admire.”
In 2016, after gigging solo for over a year, Sid met Paul Hala, who sang and played guitar and the foot drum. Almost overnight, they became Sid & Hala, which took Sid to more shows in different venues, and increased her need to learn many more songs. It also meant regional exposure, as they played breweries, golf clubs, casinos, and bars in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, and Wisconsin. It was a true on-the-road education, with the gear in the back seat and tutorials in the front.
“Paul taught me everything I know about how to gig—the questions to ask, the equipment to bring—everything about being a working a musician,” she says. “We got great feedback. I think that’s what led to me wanting to be in a band.”
Which is what happened next. The duo joined Clyde Purk on electric guitar and Jeremiah Murphy on bass to form My Fellow Americans, which performed mostly in Iowa. Now Sid juggled dates as a duo and a quartet, making rehearsal schedules, running through sound checks, working with new venue management, and growing simpatico with the natural rhythms and patterns of the other musicians on stage.
“We basically covered the same songs as Sid & Hala, but the level of sound was different,” Sid says. “And I was wanting more of that big sound for my own music, because I had written some songs and put together my own band to record them.”
As Sid said, the wind was in her sails—until it wasn’t anymore. There was no more wind. By June 2020, with the country stalling into a medical-political-social meltdown, there were deepening levels of certainty of how COVID-19 spread, and how lethal it could be. When the medical community settled on air-born transmission as the main way the virus circulates through the population, it was as if the words “live music” were suddenly stripped from the nation’s lexicon.
“They made us singers seem dangerous because of the projecting we do when we sing, and what our spit is doing when we project,” says Sid. “They made us out to be killers.”
Times were bleak, but Sid and Corey forged ahead with plans to leave Homer Glen. Corey, also a martial artist with a specialty in jiujitsu, had been hired to manage an Austin gym called Fighting Fit. It was sort of a dream job and it practically fell into his lap while they were still in Illinois.
Still, after their long drive south and their move into a new apartment, Sid found no one in Austin, the self-proclaimed “Live Music Capital of the World,” hiring performers. With no work, but with stable finances, she cloistered inside her apartment to finish her debut EP (extended play) album. “I devoted my first five months in Austin to working with my engineer and producer, virtually, to edit and finesse and complete the album. Which was absolutely a challenging process,” she says.
“The Rowdy Outlaws are hired guns, so they come and go,” Sid explains. “These specific Outlaws, I went to college with. We played a couple live shows. The drummer, engineer, and producer is Matt Kellen, who was in my first class at Elmhurst. My guitar player, Bill Kidera, I’ve known for a long time too. I trusted these people to try something new. They were great musicians, used to playing all over the place, and I was trying to break them into a new genre.”
The completed EP, House of Cards by Sid Grimes and the Rowdy Outlaws, is a six-song showcase of Sid’s range as a singer and songwriter, including honky-tonk tunes and more edgy takes on Americana music. It’s a solid fit with modern Texas country music, except in this case it was recorded mostly by classically educated jazz musicians.
House of Cards was released in early 2021, when the bars in Texas slowly—ever so slowly—began re-opening with limited capacity and, in some cases, live music. Armed with an EP of original music, the songs she’d written since living in Texas, and a year-long craving to perform, Sid landed her first live gig at Chances R, a small bar in San Marcos, about 45 minutes from Austin.
A singer and her guitar, a microphone and an amp, in a corner of a room. When she launched into her first single from the album, “Fadin’ Fast,” Sid’s voice resonated power, energy, and passion. Before the show, she had said, “When I first started gigging, I had a very limited knowledge of what the country label really meant and what I really wanted out of it. I have other influences. I was very much into rock. I was into the emotion of rock, and I like to present that when I perform.”
When asked later about her Texas solo debut, Sid pauses. Her voice becomes a bit darker. “It’s been a very hard year. It brings tears to my eyes,” she says, as Voorhees the cat saunters past to make sure all is well. “When I talk about not being able to gig it makes me very unhappy. Had I known my last gig was going to be my last gig for a whole year…. who knows….” She trails off and leaves the thought unfinished. Instead, she returns to the Chances R show.
“I was ready for it but worried that my lack of performance-momentum was going to affect my ability to hold the room by myself, which I hadn’t done since the days of Flight 112.” After a few songs, she was having fun, and she wasn’t alone. “I read the room and people were just so delighted to have live music again, which makes me feel like what I do is important and necessary.”
Sid Grimes is currently performing in Texas, writing songs for her follow-up to House of Cards, and looking for a few Rowdy Outlaws. Those interested may inquire at www.sidgrimes.com.
An Outlaw Returns: Text
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