For Vanessa MacDowell, music is a godsend. “I lost my mom when I was 13, and my youngest brother passed away in 2009, so I’ve dealt with a lot of loss and tragedy,” she says. “The only thing that has kept me from doing drugs or drinking too much or all the self-destructive behavior that a lot of people use to cope with tragedy, is music.” Despite the pain she has experienced, with fun-loving local Irish punk band Murphy’s Wagon, MacDowell has found solace.
The five-piece band specializes in upbeat drinking songs with nautical themes. “Dark Water” and “Murphy’s Mutiny,” for example, are ominous, yet tongue-in-cheek-style, tales of pirates from days of yore, whereas the melodic rock number “Ireland” is a tip of the cap to MacDowell’s heritage. “It’s an outlet, a coping mechanism, but it’s also fun and recreational,” she says. “[Music is] so important to me that I have to literally play my guitar every day because it helps me to de-stress. Most people go to the bar and drink, I sit in my room and play guitar.” Murphy’s Wagon formed around St. Patrick’s day earlier this year, and hopes to start work on an EP in the near future. MacDowell, who sings and plays guitar, and her bandmates—Steven Yetter (drums/vocals), Jeff Rybczynski (bass/vocals), Michael Faherty (mandolin) and Alice Sietzer (violin)—have day jobs and play gigs as often as they can, all the while refining their sound and growing tighter as a unit. Both grateful for all that music has done for her, and determined to improve her craft, MacDowell is never without her instrument. “My friends tell me, ‘I never see you without your guitar,’” MacDowell laughs. “I have this three-quarter-sized guitar in my car that I take around with me everywhere … just in case.”
INFO: 9 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 17. Catalyst, 1011 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. $10. 423-1338.