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Getting to know Highway 309 LIVE headliner Jaimee Harris

 A woman with blond hair and rose colored, heart-shaped glasses looks coolly at the camera. Her tattooed forearm is casually slouched on the back of the bench she sits on.
Brandon Aguilar
Courtesy Jaimee Harris
Jaimee Harris makes her Twin Cities debut as the headliner of Highway 309 LIVE Monday at the Normal Theater

Nashville singer-songwriter Jaimee Harris headlines the inaugural Highway 309 LIVE event Monday at the Normal Theater. Harris sat down with WGLT to talk about her latest album, “Boomerang Town,” which is, in part, a soul-searching journey she wrote whilst turning 30 during the pandemic.

Harris grew up near Waco, Texas, in a musical family, playing in a father-daughter duo starting at age 14. But compared to a lot of recording artists, Harris is a late bloomer.

“I moved to Austin when I was 19,” Harris said. “I was performing quite a bit, but I didn’t come out with my first record until I was 28 years old.”

There were practical reasons for the delay—money, mostly. But Harris’ roots also made it trickier to find her fit in Austin’s music scene.

“I had to find my crowd,” said Harris. “I love all kinds of music, but I found myself presenting my songs in more of a hipster environment. I was like, where are the people that listen to Patty Griffin? Where are the people that like James McMurtry?”

Side note: They’re in Bloomington! McMurtry plays the Castle Theatre on Friday night.

“I had to find out physically where those people were hanging out in Austin and then find a way to perform songs in front of them,” said Harris. “I had to develop a fan base first in order to fundraise.”

Harris’ debut album, “Red Rescue” took a full two years to develop with music producer Craig Ross, who has worked with Patty Griffin. With what some may call an old-school approach, Harris built the record as a set of 10 songs that create an intentional musical journey. It’s a sensibility she brings to “Boomerang Town,” released in February. But that’s where many of the two albums’ similarities end.

“The first record—it’s like unrequited love,” she said. “I was still in the early stages of recovery, I’d recently been to jail. I had a lot of intense emotion. With this next record, I found myself really reflecting on my hometown.”

Harris began working on “Boomerang Town” in 2016, but the bulk of the album was created during the pandemic—during which she turned 30. It’s neither an overly wistful nor unkind gaze at growing up near Waco, Texas. And while not directly autobiographical, Harris’ upbringing and family, plus her struggle with addiction, are all part of “Boomerang Town’s” ethos.

“My parents are high school sweethearts and they had me when they were barely 20 years old,” Harris said. “In a lot of ways, ‘Boomerang Town’ is an imagination of how that could have gone a completely different direction for them and how it does for a lot of folks in my home town.”

Harris’ mother had a stable upbringing and deep connection to the Baptist Church—her grandmother was one of its first female Deacons. Her paternal grandmother died of brain cancer and her paternal grandfather died by suicide.

“It’s a suicide death, but I think it’s also a death that could be counted as a death of alcoholism,” she said. “My parents never hid it from me.”

Harris was therefore wide-eyed from a young age about a genetic predisposition to addiction. She nevertheless struggled with alcoholism and, as a result, had several run-ins with the law.

“Boomerang Town” carries multiple truths about Harris’ identity inside the music. Addiction, recovery and confronting her past are only part of her transformation into one of Nashville’s fast-rising stars—and partners with an Americana music icon, Mary Gauthier—who co-wrote “How Could You Be Gone” for the record.

“What I thought being gay meant and represented, I didn’t align with in a lot of ways,” said Harris. “My joke used to be, where are the lesbians that listen to Guy Clark? Fast forward like eight years later I end up with the lesbian who opened for Guy Clark.”

Hear Jaimee Harris live with opening act emily the band Monday at the Normal Theater for the inaugural Highway 309 LIVE presented by CEFCU. Doors open at 6 p.m. with free admission on a first-come first-served basis. $25 VIP tickets are available. Proceeds benefit Friends of WGLT and Prairie Pride Coalition.

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Lauren Warnecke is a reporter at WGLT. You can reach Lauren at lewarne@ilstu.edu.
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