By Nikki Hedrick
Jessie Ritter hit the area music scene with a splash a little over a year ago. The recently married singer-songwriter found the region through her now husband. And although she legally took his last name Toups, she plans to continue performing as Jessie Ritter.
“Time really flies,” says Ritter. “I moved down here initially because my husband was here. He grew up down here, and I was like, Okay, I think it’s time. I’m going to the beach and see where this goes. And it became so quickly apparent that there’s so much music around here.”
Without delay, Ritter landed a spot as the lead singer of the Village Door house band, performing every weekend at the popular Baytowne Wharf venue.
“As I was here a little longer, I got to see all of the opportunities and find a way to play my own songs and do the more acoustic thing, so I could do more of my own stuff.
“My town’s about three hours from Memphis, and about three hours from Nashville,” Ritter says of Cape Gerado, Missouri. “So we’re kind of in this whole little triangle.” That location worked to her advantage—she often performed at fairs and community events once the music bug took hold.
“I kind of started songwriting before I could ever play an instrument, before I really knew anything about music. I used to just sit out in the backyard on the swing set and sing at the top of my lungs. Never did it occur to me that the neighbors could actually hear me, because I thought that our wooden fence was totally private. But no, the whole neighborhood knew that I was singing.
“I’ve kind of just been making noise forever, and then it came time to pick a major in college. My whole family is physicians, so I seriously considered going to med school. But music had always been this passion, and I was like, I’m just going give it a shot. I loved the major, and I’ve been able to work since I graduated…I’m just going to keep doing it til it doesn’t work anymore. It seems to keep working, and I’m really happy about that.”
Ritter’s childhood was dotted with musicals and competitions, along with words of wisdom from her mom to keep her focused. “(She) used to say, ‘Jessie, you’ve got to lose a lot of fairs before you win a Grammy.’ That was like our motivational speech…we just went to all the little competitions around, and competed in them.
“There was always some girl in a sparkly leotard who sang some cute song and could tap dance and do flips, and…I mean, there were some really good people in these little fairs, and here I am, singing some country song, so we didn’t win very many. That’s okay. I didn’t let it stop me.”
Later, open mics and coffeehouses allowed Ritter to test out her own songs. “I was getting feedback for the first time on what I was actually writing, and realized that was really what I wanted to do,” she says. “It was not just being on stage and not just being a singer, but getting to tell these stories.”
Ritter has just released a full-length album of original songs, Coffee Every Morning. But one cover did make its way onto the record.
“I didn’t think I was going to put a cover on this album, but I have been singing ‘Jolene’ for over 10 years now. It was one of those songs I sang in the little contests a long time ago before I was even in high school. It’s been with me for a really long time. So even though I didn’t write it, it almost feels like part of my catalog now. Not that I could ever take credit for it.”
Ritter says her version of the Dolly Parton classic is darker and “really stripped down and edgy. So even though you heard the song before, I hope you get something different with this recording.”
She hopes to put together a house concert tour to promote Coffee Every Morning, but she also her eye on incorporating more full-band shows and seeing where things naturally lead.
“Whether it’s really intimate shows, where I’m just playing acoustic, or bigger stuff where we (have) a full band, I’m excited with whatever we can make happen. And really, I’ve found that the more you open yourself to opportunity wherever it can happen, the more things kind of just drop into your lap. Just gotta keep saying yes—you never know where it will go.”
Discover more at JessieRitter.com.
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