HARVARD — The musical journey for Ashley Jordan began when she was a toddler. She listened to her grandfather play country, folk and bluegrass tunes on guitar when he would entertain the family with his performances. He also recorded himself on various equipment, hoping to save those encores for future generations.
When Ashley was 6, though, he died.
“I didn’t have a direct connection to him being so young, but I grew up loving that kind of music,” she said.
“My dad grew up listening to Jewel, James Taylor, Alison Krauss and many others, so I had those songs in my head and enjoyed listening to them,” she said. “But then I took off and started playing guitar and writing lyrics, and it transformed into a country direction. So, yes, my family had a big influence and they’ve always been so supportive of me and my music.”
It was some time, though, before young Ashley’s family realized it had a new hobby to support.
“My parents didn’t even know that I was a singer until I signed up to do a talent show in high school. And they asked me, ‘What are you going to do for the talent show, Ashley?’
“At that time I was too shy to sing in public and I kept that secret to myself – until the talent show,” she said. “My parents were shocked to find out that I really could sing well.”
Once Ashley learned guitar and gained confidence in her playing, she started to perform on the streets of Boston and Harvard Square in Cambridge, with her parents not far from the impromptu sidewalk concerts.
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“That really taught me how to improve my technique and confidence, because you are playing for people standing right in front of you. And I’d play for hours and hours, but that really helped with my songwriting … which led to my first gigs.
While playing at one of her favorite spots, “The owner of the store walked up to me and said, ‘You know, you can play inside some time if you want to.’
“And that was how I got my first shows. And that started to happen more and more.
“I noticed that one of my favorite artists, Tracy Chapman, also got her start on the streets of Boston and Cambridge. Her name is still on the subway walls. And I got to thinking that’s I what I want to do, too.”
The street-side and underground apprenticeships helped her develop her technique, style and vocal capabilities. “There’s nothing like getting that type of performance experience and in meeting people from all walks of life.”
One of the first “official” venues that offered her an invitation was Club Passim, a Cambridge landmark.
Ashley knows she is in good musical company for an intimate club that has about 100 seats and a lot of history
When the initial venue opened at the same address in 1958 it was known as Club 47, a jazz and roots-music venue. It would eventually change its name to Club Passim in the late 1960s.
Soon, Joan Baez, a 17-year-old folk singer was a weekly performer … and she introduced a young man named Bob Dylan who would play between acts, according to the Passim website.
And a few years later in 1968, Bonnie Raitt, who was then a freshman at Radcliffe College in Cambridge, would sit in at Passim and several other Greater Boston clubs.
Everyone gets their start somewhere.
Dreams Morph Into Reality
“I was just so happy to be doing this and I was also getting paid!” Ashley said. “And this was happening when I was 13 and 14.”
Closer to home, Ashley, now 24, became more immersed in the Central Massachusetts and Worcester music scenes. Always honing her craft, she entered several contests sponsored by Pulse Magazine and began making the rounds on the local club circuit.
“There are so many talented musicians who will come to Worcester and Boston from other areas. And the people are so nice and responsive,” she said.
While her style definitely leans in with a country feel, Ashley says the genre today is not as easily recognized. “I’ve had many people come up to me and say, ‘You know, I hate country music but I like you.’ I’d just go along and thank them.
“I’ve never put myself solely in the country genre because country means so many things,” she added. “It can feature rock, pop, folk, the traditional singer-songwriter … just about anything.”
Some of her haunts in Worcester include Loft 241 on Park Avenue, where she used to hold a residency for several months on Wednesdays, several clubs on Water Street, and many other area restaurants as a solo act, duo or trio.
And now that the Harvard General Store, 1 Still River Road, has opened up the second floor to be a music venue and pub on Friday nights, Ashley doesn’t have to go far to be at one of her favorite places in her hometown.
“In fact this is where I did a soft release for my album with a full band setup,” she said.
With 2,400 square feet on the second floor, the general store can accommodate over 150 patrons and diners.
She said most of the time she likes to keep it acoustic accompanied by a box drum, fiddle or mandolin.
She also opened for Crystal Bowersox, an “American Idol” finalist, and Rusted Root at the Fall River Narrows for the Arts on Anawan Street near Battleship Cove, and performed at many other venues in New England.
Detour to Tennessee
Ashley’s most significant musical achievement occurred in October when her original song, “Blue Eyed Boy,” was selected as one of the top 10 new songs in country music. The syndicated radio station The Big 98 on iHeart Radio held a national songwriting competition and Ashley was invited to perform the song in Nashville before scores of the most influential music managers, promoters and producers.
She arrived in Nashville via Worcester because she entered the contest through Worcester’s own version of the Big 98: WORC-FM 98.9.
“I just kept making it into all of the next rounds. And I thought, ‘Well, this is super legit. I could actually be a part of this.’
“Then they asked me to do a cover song … and it kept getting narrowed down. And they called me and said that I was one of the top 25 in the country … and I was completely shocked.”
According to divine intervention or stunning serendipity, Ashley was previously booked to play in Nashville in a few weeks. And now she’s got one of the top 25 new songs in the country.
“I was sitting in Nashville (between shows) and I got a call that the song now had made it to the Top 10. So I was floored. I’m just a girl from Harvard and I was so shocked that they wanted me to be a part of this.”
The great news also meant that she had to return home and then go back to Nashville in two weeks for the competition. “So just getting there was amazing and to see Daniel Bradbury from ‘The Voice,’ Scott Borchetta of Big Machine Records, who also went on to discover Taylor Swift, and a member from Rascal Flatts – and all the other media people who were sitting right in front of me when I was performing.
“It certainly seemed a long way from the little town of Harvard,” she said. “But I think there will be many more opportunities for me down the line.”
Her vocal range and what she can do with her tonality is a defining quality of her talent. “That’s always something that I had and I’m very comfortable doing it. So I’ll incorporate that into songs.”
That’s where the classical training kicks it up a notch, leaving the listener shaking his or her head in disbelief at how she could sustain, and then go higher and lower seemingly simultaneously.
Next year, “I feel like that will be my taking-off point. … I’ll also want to know who I may be working with, and I’ll be promoting my album (He’s Crazy), working on some new singles, and hopefully getting some national attention.
“I want to explore and see New York City and perform in other larger cities so I can branch out and get to the next step,” she said confidently.
“I’m ready for it.”
Check out her latest schedule, her new album He’s Crazy, and other news at www.ashleyjordanmusic.com.