Lydia Brownfield is an Anomaly - by Pete Vogel

You can catch Lydia and her band this Saturday, October 3rd, at King Avenue 5.  They will debut her new tune and video: “All Of Us Here.”  The event starts at 9pm and costs $5.  Ghost Town Railroad will be sharing the bill. Click here for details and her website.

Lydia Brownfield is an Anomaly.

With piercing brown eyes, high cheekbones and a quiet self-confidence that’s often obscured by self-deprecating whimsy, Lydia Brownfield might strike you as a woman who’d be more comfortable on a runway in Paris, London or New York than onstage with a Les Paul slung across her neck.  

Until you hear her.

You’d think she’d be more comfortable in a glamorous photo shoot with world-famous photographers, traveling the world to exotic places like Barbados and Bermuda, rather than schlepping her guitar around town from one Open Mic to the next in search of her next fix.

Until you hear her.

Following in the footsteps of her artsy, avant garde father, Lydia traversed the country looking for the right place and/or opportunity to hone her craft.  This journey took her to the backwoods of Virginia, deeper south (Atlanta), East Coast (New York) and back to the Midwest (Columbus).  Back home she’s taken on a triple role: mother, corporate employee and rock star.  At times, you’d think she’d be better off if she simply ditched her music career and focused on work and family.  

Until you hear her.

Iconic Columbus musician/producer Billy Zenn says of Lydia: “She’s got the best voice in town.”  Personally, I’d have to agree with him.  I’d go one step further: She’s one of the best songwriters in town as well.  Her voice and songwriting skills are top notch; one could easily tell she’s suffered long and hard to perfect her craft.  Her songwriting is complicated and complex; she paints pictures with words and harmonies in the same way her father paints pictures with colors and brushes.  Lydia comes across as insecure and unsure of her talent until she straps on a guitar and steps in front of a microphone.  Then you see a transformation take place: She goes from a shy, almost frightened person to a rock diva that feels totally at home onstage.  Her talent is frighteningly good.  

A dropout of CCAD after 3 years, Lydia followed her muse by following her artist father, a man who eked out a meager living creating paintings and sculptures.  She followed him to Virginia - where she worked as a waitress in tiny Winchester, VA - and then moved to Atlanta when pop decided to relocate there.  She came back to Columbus for a spell (her father’s Atlanta move kept getting delayed) and she actually lived at the YMCA in downtown Columbus for 6 months.  She finally moved back to Atlanta when things got settled with her father and remained there for 10 years.  

It was in Midtown Atlanta where she devoted more time and effort to her craft of songwriting.  She started a band called Long Flat Red, who was courted by several record labels including Ardent Records, based out of Memphis.  The band played esteemed venues like The Roxy, The Cotton Club, Smiths Old Bar and The Point, and at the same time Lydia played solo shows at The Variety Playhouse and Eddie’s Attic, opening up for acts like Shawn Mullins, Peter Case, Indigo Girls and Loudon Wainwright III.  The band broke up after six years so Lydia decided to take her talents to New York City since she had some musician contacts who’d already settled there.

She took a flat in Queens for a while, but kept moving from place to place while trying to find temp work to assist with expenses.  “Everybody took pity on me: It’s how I got jobs, gigs, boyfriends, places to live, food to eat—everything!” she sighs.  But there was one event that changed things dramatically for her—and the rest of the world.  She was on a subway the morning of September 11th, 2001, heading towards her office a few blocks from the World Trade Center.

“I was on the subway going to work that morning.  I was running late, so it was a little after 9am.  An announcement came over the intercom that the train was stopping—it was going no further.  We didn’t know why—” she muses.  When Lydia ascended to street level, she saw thousands of people running and screaming and she followed the crowd, not sure what was going on.  

“Everybody was running in a certain direction and I followed them.  It was surreal.  I had no idea what was going on.  I just kept running uptown.  I finally looked back from around midtown and saw the World Trade Center falling down.  I thought to myself: That’s not right.”  

Of course, this had a profound affect on her soul, which affected her songwriting in a deep way.  Had she been on time for work that morning, Lord knows what would’ve happened?  She could’ve easily been one of the 3000 souls that perished that morning.  She wrote her seminal piece “Fiery Crash,” a song inspired by the events of 9/11.  To some, this is her best work to date.  

She left NYC immediately after the attacks and moved back to Columbus.  On Monday, September 16th – less than a week after the attacks – she was at home, enrolled in school at Columbus State.  

“It was weird.  One week I’m in NYC watching buildings crash to the ground—the next week I’m a college student again.”  

Lydia took a break from music while she devoted time to school and love.  She married the following September, had a child the summer after that, and tried to live a “normal life” and put music on the backburner.

“I sold my guitars and quit music altogether,” she says.  “I left because it was taking up all my time.  The music was getting me nowhere.  There was nothing but heartbreak.”

Unfortunately, the pipe dream of being the consummate wife, mother and corporate employee came to its own fiery crash when she divorced her husband in 2006.  That disillusionment brought the muse back into her world, and she began writing again.  “This is what I wanted to do; this is what I am here to do,” she says, reflecting upon this troubled time.  

Lydia recorded “Fiery Crash” and started penning other songs, including “Prentiss Song,” “Wanting’s for Sinners” and “Trouble.”  These songs eventually became featured tracks off her debut EP “Wanting’s for Sinners.”  The years of disillusionment – first in the music industry and second with “normal” life – brought a new frontier to her songwriting.  “Buddhism is a philosophy of not wanting…not desiring…and it occurred to me that desire and want is for the sinful life.  So wanting is for sinners…I strive to not want, but to be content with what I already have.”  

She laughs at the irony of her good fortune.  All her journeys have taken her back to a place of yearning for calm simplicity.  “I’m still learning how to deal with myself.  I need to follow my universe.”  

Lydia released “Wanting’s for Sinners” in 2011 and has been playing with her current band, The Jagged Hearts, for the past couple of years.  The band features Lydia on guitar/vocals, Jeff Dalrymple on guitar/backing vocals, Joy Hall on vocals, Billy Zenn on bass/vocals and Frank Lapinski on drums/vocals.  That’s right: a band with five vocalists.  Almost hard to imagine.  

Until you hear them.  

“All of Us Here,” the full album is slated to be released before the year’s end.  In the meantime she’s gigging, writing, recording, working the day job, raising her son and trying to find that perfect balance that we’re all desperately in search of.  

                                                                  Pete Vogel
                                                    September 24, 2015

You can catch Lydia and her band this Saturday night, October 3rd, at King Avenue 5.  They will debut her new tune and video: “All Of Us Here.”  The event starts at 9pm and costs $5.  Ghost Town Railroad will be sharing the bill.  We hope you stop out!