One singer-songwriter doesn’t take her cello sitting down
Lindsay Mac is about to get on a flight. Leaving her home in Cambridge, Mass., the 31-year-old singer-songwriter has booked herself a seat to fly out to the West Coast for her latest tour, which comes to Don Quixote’s on Monday, March 8. Next to her on the plane won’t be a band member, a stranger or, thankfully, a crying baby. “Cello Mac,” as she refers to her instrument of choice when giving it a passenger name for a plane ticket, gets to join the compartment for human bodies.
“Now that oversize luggage is charged so ridiculously it’s not nearly the savings it was to check my cello in,” she begins, “so buying a seat for it is worth it.” While giving her cello an assigned seat is normal during her travels, onstage it’s a different story.
Known for her unusual stand-up style of strapping on her cello and wearing it at an angle more like a guitar, Mac ditches a chair and a bow for a fingerstyle pluck and prod and strumming that give her full-bodied instrument a textured percussive sound. Standing up frees her to move dynamically around and also lets her breathe in at maxiumum capacity to extend her vocals to the greatest degree. It’s definitely odd—you’d think a future sponsorship by Advil for backaches would be in the cards—and she didn’t start out performing this way.
Veering off the well-trodden classical path, it was, ironically, Mac’s experience studying at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music that made her realize she wasn’t destined to be one piece of a chamber orchestra. At the time, the Iowa native was listening to pop music outside of school, and classical music “didn’t feel intimate or vulnerable enough for me. I didn’t feel like I was being released as an artist, I felt like I was trying to do something perfectly.”
After witnessing a performance by Dar Williams, Lucy Kaplansky and Richard Shindell, and being moved by their power in words and melody, Mac found herself gravitating toward the singer-songwriter route. “They were writing about their life, pain and happiness,” she remembers of the trio. She knew then and there that she wanted to do the same. Still, being a devout cellist made her question whether she could make that path a reality. So, she went to Berklee College of Music to try out jazz:
“I thought maybe I’d split the difference and become a jazz cellist because I knew of a few people doing that. But when I went to Berklee it didn’t pull me emotionally like the songwriting did, so it morphed.”
Since 2005’s debut, Small Revolution, and 2008’s Stop Thinking, Mac has “morphed” into what she initially thought might be impossible: an emotive folk-pop solo singer-songwriter. Though sticking to the cello has ultimately given her a niche that catches curious eyes, she was always wary of just being a novelty act or a “stupid human trick.” So, to remedy that fear, she says she worked hard to craft songs with lyrics that envelop the listener through all their senses—to “make sure the art behind [standing up with a cello] was something I was proud of.”
Surely her folk singer-songwriter aspirations must have made her consider ditching the untraditional cello for something like, say, a guitar?
“There was a moment,” she admits. “But the cons of me switching to guitar really outweighed the pros. I was going to be really bad, really far behind, and I wasn’t going to be able to bring my authentic voice to the table. By that point my artistic voice was invested in the cello—it was in my soul.”
And, as it turns out, playing with a cello has other advantages. Even though it’s a burden to lug her massive apparatus on planes, Mac says there have been some unforeseen perks.
“The plus side is that I get frequent flyer miles for it, which is really great. And then I love it when the American Express credit card offers come in the mail addressed to a Cello Mac!”
Lindsay Mac performs at 7:30 p.m. Monday, March 8, at Don Quixote’s, 6275 Hwy 9, Felton. Tickets are $10. For more information, call 603-2294.