Southern born, bred country artist: Elizabeth Cook brings peaceful fun and healing to the stage

Courtesy photo Elizabeth Cook, a Nashville-based singer and songwriter, will perform at 7 p.m. July 21 at the Mishler Theatre as part of the First Frontier Festival. She is opening for Steep Canyon Rangers.

Nashville-based singer/songwriter and Grand Ole Opry performer Elizabeth Cook brings her one-woman show to the Altoona First Frontier Festival July 27 at the Mishler Theatre.

“I think I’m a southern born and bred woman,” she said. “There’s something about writing a good country song and keeping it country and filled with truth.”

Altoona First Savings Bank is the festival’s title sponsor of the event, which is presented by Altitude Entertainment and the Altoona Mirror. In its second year, the musical festival expanded to two days and features eight acts in a mix of paid, evening shows at the Mishler Theatre and free outdoor shows Saturday afternoon at Heritage Plaza.

Her website quotes a New York Times review of her show as “a sharp and surprising country singer.” She is also a SiriusXM Outlaw Country Radio DJ, hosting her own show, Apron Strings, nationwide for the last 10 years, a regular performer on the Grand Ole Opry, and a frequent guest star on Adult Swim’s long-running hit cartoon series “Squidbillies” on Cartoon Network. In 2014 she was named Outlaw Female during the inaugural Ameripolitan Music Awards Ceremony, an award show to honor original music with “prominent roots influence, encompassing honky-tonk, western swing, rockabilly and outlaw.

Cook, who turns 47 on July 18, said she doesn’t write in a certain style or tempo.

“My songs are gutteral, confessional with not a wasted syllable. It’s urgent times and music is super important. It’s a vessel to bring peaceful fun and healing … a good song takes listeners outside of their own little world and makes them entertain a different perspective and gain compassion. Good songs do that. A good artist provides a little trip for your mind. I’m in a place where I don’t want to waste people’s time. I’m super earnest and I’m not into PC (politically correct) rhymes and notes.”

For instance, she doesn’t follow common marketing practices when it comes to debuting new material. So First Frontier attendees will most likely hear new material along with songs from her popular album, “Welder” from 2010, such as “El Camino” and “Heroin Addict Sister.”

“Marketing folks don’t like it that I play songs live for audiences before a record drops,” she explained. “But for me I like to learn new stuff before an audience,” she said. “It’s a hilarious show and a good time from the time I come on stage in my pajamas with fringe. It’s a good time between me and the audience. I’m super comfortable in my fringe pajamas on stage.”

But it didn’t used to be that way. She once struggled with stage fright and tried to conform to the music industry’s rules to become a commercial success.

“I don’t struggle (with nerves anymore) it’s been beaten out of me,” Cook said. “It’s a scary, vulnerable thing to do” as she shares common human experiences through her original compositions. “There’s often humor and tears within the same song.”

Early in her career, Cook said she tried to do “what was expected” and to become “another Reba and be super radio friendly, but I found it limiting. It didn’t sit well with me and I stopped trying to do it.”

Instead, she said she felt a “charge to a much higher calling of rock and roll and to be brutally honest.”

Her late parents significantly influenced her musical inclinations and journey to self-acceptance.

Her mother and father performed together in honky tonks during her childhood and allowed her to perform for the first time at 4 years old. Her mother was also a songwriter in the tradition of Bobbie Gentry, Buck Owens and Don Williams.

“Singing was a passion for her and it provided her with a great relief and release. She and my dad were a good combo that in that she was more poignant and he liked to talk and make sure there was no dead air.”

A pivotal moment in Cook’s career came during a phone conversation with her mother in which she expressed her angst with conformity. Cook recalls her mother saying, “‘We don’t care if you are a commercial success or not. You’ve played the Opry and we’ve seen you come so far and we want you to enjoy what you do.’ It was a 30-second exchange but was so meaningful because everyone wants the approval of their parents and I knew I had theirs then.”

Fortunately, before her parents died, they attended more than 200 appearances of hers at the Opry.

“It was their favorite thing to do, to see me on the Grand Old Opry and under those lights. Usually each performer does one or two songs and the shows go on for hours and hours. It takes a lot of people to make it happen and they made friends with the people behind the scenes and it became a big social hangout for them. It was a beautiful gift I was able to give them.”

Cook estimates she’s taken the Opry Stage nearly 500 times. In 2008, she performed her hit “It Takes Balls to Be a Woman,” a song about how male artists can say things that a female artist is still not permitted to. One example she cited was an appearance by a female singer from California who performed in a crop top breaking an unwritten rule for women and their attire.

She’s tried, she said, to walk the fine line between being earnest honesty and respectful.

“How can I be respectful without being irreverant … it is an honor to be included there. But I won’t bow down all the time but I can perform there and not compromise myself or them. I’ve made peace with it. It truly is like a family there. When something bad happens and we all convene it’s a healing place of relief and deep relationships. It’s family. You always show up for Thanksgiving dinner even if you don’t always agree. It’s a beautiful relationship and I’m very grateful for it.”

Mirror Staff Writer Patt Keith is at 949-7030.

If you go

What: The First Frontier Festival: Outlaw Country singer/songwriter Elizabeth Cook opens for Steep Canyon Rangers

When: 7 p.m. July 27

Where: Mishler Theatre, 1208 12th Ave.

Cost: $25 reserved; $60 Festival VIP available on line at www.mishlertheatre.org or by phone at 944-9434. VIP tickets sold by phone or in person only at the box office. Box office hours are: 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

VIP Seating is available for anyone to purchase first come, first serve. VIP ticket includes a seat in the first 3-4 rows, festival T-shirt, and access to VIP tent/lounge for the Saturday afternoon event at Heritage Plaza.