Dar Williams

BOSTON DOESN’T HAVE a thriving recording industry, so when singer/songwriter Dar Williams decided to pursue a career as a musician, she hit the open mic nights at local clubs. Williams popped in at three or four clubs a week and eventually became a member of Boston’s singer/songwriter community.

She had only been performing for a year at open mic nights and tip-jar-gigs when she was asked to open for Steve Forbert. By that time, the cafe and venue owners had started looking out for the local songwriters and were quite supportive. “They realized that this was an investment,” Williams said.

Her career developed slowly and organically through that scene but in 1992, after doing a $100 bar gig for five people who she thought weren’t listening, Williams decided to quit. “This is too embarrassing and painful,” she thought.

However, at the end of that night, each one of the people in the audience came up to Williams and offered her cigarettes and beer. She realized the evening was a metaphor for her career. She figured, “I should continue because more people are listening than I think are listening.”

Williams stuck it out and in the summer of ’93, she recorded The Honesty Room. “From the minute I had my first CD out, everything grew from there,” she said.

In April of ’94, she signed with Fleming, Tamulevich & Associates, signaling her full-fledged entry into the folk touring community, which is a different animal than the mainstream touring business, Williams said. “I think folk music springs pretty indigenously out of communities. There’s one person who tries to get it on the radio and there’s one person who tries to get it going in a venue.”

Williams said during those early days, individuals would host “house concerts.” “They’ll feed you and an hour later, you perform in the corner of the living room,” she said. The house concerts turned into basement gigs at churches. The next step up was to perform “upstairs in the church.” Then an act would move on to the town theatre. “It just goes with word of mouth demand for it. And in that sense, it is very different from the rock world.”

At one point, members of the folk community started encouraging each other to report boxoffice results to POLLSTAR. But apparently, there was a typo in the boxoffice reporting phone number being circulated and when the number was called, one would reach a “terrible porn line,” Williams said. “And so [there were] all these people who were really excited to be showing the industry what they had done with no industry help. [They wanted] to show to the commercial world what the non-commercial world had been able to pull off. They were so excited to make that small dent and then they were hit with this [porn chat line] glitch.”

The typo was corrected and eventually, the folk artists’ boxoffice reports started showing up in POLLSTAR and buyers began to notice that the acts could actually sell tickets. After that, doors were more easily opened, Williams said.

The doors to success specifically opened for Williams when she signed with Fleming, Tamulevich and Young/Hunter Management. The two companies wanted to work together to develop an artist and they chose Williams. “Actually, on my birthday, I signed up both with Young Hunter and Fleming. It was quite a day.”

Exactly one year after Williams signed with her agent and manager, she was asked to appear with Joan Baez at the Bottom Line in New York, where the veteran singer was recording a live album. “I thought … I was sort of a charity case,” Williams said. “I thought that they were doing me this big favor — [allowing] this totally unknown person to get up on stage with her idol.”

The night of the show, Williams joined Baez for a song that ultimately appeared on the live CD. After the CD came out, Williams’ manager Charile Hunter, “who always wanted to make sure I stayed modest,” off-handedly said that Baez and her business team were thinking of asking the young folk singer to tour in Europe. Williams said, “I’m sorry?! You have to repeat that. Are they really thinking of inviting me to Europe?” They were.

Williams did about 16 dates with Baez in Europe. “That was the best thing I have ever done…. I felt almost over-stimulated it was so exciting.” Baez then asked Williams to join her for a U.S. tour. Williams said while touring the U.S. with Baez, she calmed down enough for it to seem like walking in a dream.

Today, Williams is continually asked to tour with artists like Baez and Ani DiFranco. She participated in part of last year’s Lilith Fair tour, and will do so again this summer. She is currently in Australia with DiFranco and will do a solo tour of England in May.

Williams believes she has the best case scenario because her manager and agent really know their business. “There are checks and balances. People are looking to expand markets but then there are other people wanting to make sure that I’m retaining my integrity as a writer and performer. So it’s kind of ideal.”

“All of my dreams came true. I had always wanted to work with the people I am working with and so when they chose me, it was like Cinderella.”