Crunchy folkie finds big-city niche


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Photo by Daniel R. Burke

The first time Jaime Bard played her songs for a Penn audience, it was at a college house open mike a little more than a year ago. She won first place.

The prize was a gift certificate to Le Bec-Fin, Bard said, with an exaggerated French accent and a little laugh. I sold it. They probably didnt have anything vegetarian anyway.

The experience, however, held greater rewards.

Watching Bard play guitar that night at the college house were Matt Robusto (EAS00), a singer-songwriter; Aaron Levy (C99), a Kelly Writers House junior fellow; and Jeff Barg (C02), a guitarist who worked at WXPN. Through them, Bard connected to the Writers House, free studio time and engineering for her debut CD, and a niche at Penn shed been seeking since transferring from Maines

Bowdoin College as a sophomore in January 2000.

Bard has been writing songs since 9th grade, when she won an Earth Day contest and the first song shed ever written was made into a commercial on the radio and TV. She will perform new and old work at the Writers House Saturday, April 28 (see Whats On).

When I asked Bard to play her latest song, she picked up her guitar without hesitation or false modesty and started playing, perched on the edge of her bed. The song was folk but not gentle. She plucked and hammered at the strings, making them rebound against the guitar with an audible crack. The vocals were fast and furious, and her singing voice was soulful, even smoky.

At Bowdoin, Bards regular gig at the campus pub plus the small size of the school had made her a campus celebrity by the end of her freshman year. Even people who didnt know me knew I was the folk musician, she said.

But when the small colleges nascent environmental studies department said they wouldnt be ready to graduate majors by the time Bard was due to finish, she started looking elsewhere.

I came [to Penn] knowing full well I was going to be out of my comfort zone, said Bard, a Newton Centre, Massachusetts native who calls herself a crunchy mountain girl and had never lived in a city. She said that after being at Bowdoin, where crunchy mountain girls are the norm, she wanted to be around a wider range of people.

The culture shock, she said, was huge. But shes adjusted and found her place here. Shes the culture editor at 34th Street magazine. In addition to playing concerts at the Writers House and appearing on the Live at the Writers House show on WXPN, shes also played at the Philomathean Society and for Penn Musicians Against Homelessness. She recorded her debut CD, Iathou, at WXPNs World Café with Barg playing backup a year ago and released it last fall.

And several professors have taken her under their wing, helping her figure out how to fuse her passions for writing and the outdoors, and giving her the kind of personal attention and guidance she said she hadnt expected to find at a large university.

As for her future, she wants to be a writer, first and foremost. I dont think Im good enough to be a superstar, she said. Every time I write a song I think its, like, luck. But I hope to always be performing, because it makes me so happy to be onstage and sharing my music.

Bards CD can be ordered online at www.slought.net.

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Originally published on April 19, 2001