One of us10/1/2014
BeJae Fleming wasn’t born in Iowa. She doesn’t currently live here. But Fleming stands shoulder to shoulder with names like Joe Price, Bo Ramsey and Greg Brown as part of a group that was indispensable in creating the Iowa Sound: the Trailer Records artists.
“I am not from Iowa,” Fleming said in a phone interview, “but I am OF Iowa.”
Fleming, born in North Carolina and educated in music by way of dusty Texas roads, moved to Iowa in 1993. But her signature sound — conversational ballads in the vein of storytelling troubadours like Utah Philips and Arlo Guthrie — was born and bred right here.
“I was incredibly lucky, moving to Iowa,” she said. “I made a record that came out in ‘95 — I got Iowa Arts Council money so I could do that — and that changed everything for me. That Trailer Records sound profoundly impacted me. I’m a different musician now than I was when I got here.”
Trailer Records started in the early 1990s by Iowa City’s Dave Zollo. Zollo’s talent has always been prodigious and, as I’ve always been fond of saying, talent attracts talent. And Zollo attracted some of the best. Brown, Price, Ramsey and Fleming, along with acts like Brother Trucker and The Pines established Iowa’s own, immediately identifiable take on roots and Americana.
For many, Fleming has always stood out. It’s her style that draws them in; her habit of intermingling songs with meandering anecdotes and connecting with audiences in an intimate, friendly way.
“I come out of a tradition of listening clubs,” she explained. “That’s a situation in which you can really connect with your audience. You can take your time and tell stories.”
“It doesn’t come naturally to me,” she continued. “I’m too shy, really, for show business. But I’ve learned to do that, because it’s what I love other people to do. I want to know who they are, by the end of the show.”
And there’s nobody she feels like she connects with quite as much, as the people of Iowa. She loves its land and its people, and the state loves her back. She’s not from here, but she’s definitely one of us.
“I don’t have the same kind of recognition and friendships elsewhere,” she admitted. “So every time I come back here, it’s almost shocking, because it feels so nice.” CV