Getting to know Emily Scott Robinson
By: Tamara Jarrett
Perhaps late to the party, we first heard of Emily Scott Robinson as part of the lineup at the 30A Songwriters Festival, which took place last weekend in South Walton, Florida. The festival is a veritable cornucopia of talent and, as such, is a tough gig to get. But, there she was, Emily Scott Robinson of Greensboro. Inspired to learn more about our fellow Tarheel, we reached out hoping she’d share her roots and music.
We met Emily at one of her old haunts, Tate Street Coffee House in Greensboro. She blasted in from a 2-mile jog as we sat sipping coffee and devouring coffee cake. She has a lot of energy. After a sweaty hug, we sat down for easy, thoughtful conversation. She is warm and welcoming. We drove right past all the usual pleasantries and straight to the real stuff.
These were our first impressions. Love or hate her music, you can’t help but like her as a person. But as one might expect, her music is an extension of her energetic, warm, welcoming and genuine energy. (We’d like to think that’s the Carolina way, but that would lack journalistic objectivity.)
Emily was born in Winston-Salem and primarily raised in Greensboro – the oldest of three to John and Betsi Robinson. John is a teacher and studied English at Duke University. Betsi studied at Chapel Hill before entering her career as a journalist covering, among other things, crime stories. While their tastes in universities remain cordially disparate, they are both musically inclined and encouraged their children to take up an instrument. They went to Moore Music Company, where Emily selected the flute, but in a wizarding-world twist, the clarinet selected her. She followed the illuminated path, and a musical love affair blossomed.
She participated in the music program at Grimsley High School, where she was gifted with excellent training and encouragement. Her discipline, commitment and talent were rewarded with a music scholarship to Furman University, where she majored in Spanish. She sang in coffee shops, bars and in the hallways of her residence hall. By now, she had picked up guitar and a penchant for storytelling through music. People gravitated to her musical style and talent. Still, the idea of a career in music wasn’t so much as a passing thought.
After college, Emily joined Americorps and eventually became a social worker helping women recover from abusive relationships and financial hardships. One fateful night, she went out to dinner with friends where a handsome young waiter was serving up her own private dish of “husband to be.” They married a year later. Emily worked part-time as a Spanish interpreter at the local hospital and “paid her musical dues in the local restaurants, bars, and breweries.”
In 2015, she entered her original song, “Marriage Ain’t the End of Being Lonely,” in a competition by American Songwriter and won. Eager to further develop her gift, she went to songwriter’s school at Planet Bluegrass in Colorado, where she was provided instruction, mentoring, community and a revelation: “This is it; music is it.”
In 2016, they decided to pursue music full-time. She and her husband purchased an RV and traveled all over the United States performing at all types of music venues and becoming experts at chasing big dreams while living in small spaces.
It was an inspiration-rich experience for an observant, empathetic chronicler. Eventually, she had enough original material to carry full sets and cut an album. Her first CD, Magnolia Queen, came out in 2016. It was well-received and set the foundation for a second, more ambitious project. Much of the production funding for her second album came from a Kickstarter initiative she created.
She set a goal of $25,000, and the campaign ended with closer to $31,000, assisting with everything from production to distribution. In addition to more traditional means, Robinson has used digital platforms such as Spotify and Amazon Music for distribution. She now has 196,263 monthly Spotify listeners, and her song, “Better with Time,” has over 2 million listeners.
Her second album, Traveling Mercies (2019), has received considerable critical acclaims such as making it to No. 21 on Rolling Stone’s Top 40 Country and Americana Albums of 2019 list with “The Dress” making it to No. 13 on Rolling Stone’s 25 Best Country and Americana Albums of 2019 list.
This breakthrough album helped Robinson into the lineup at 30A, where she shared the stage with talents the likes of Liz Longley, Eliot Bronson, fellow Tarheel Alexa Rose, and industry legend Steve Poltz. Robinson selected her songs based on the mood and interplay with the other artists.
Perhaps this is why “The Dress” was conspicuously missing from her performances. Still, her offerings of “Westward Bound,” “Ghost in Every Town,” “Shoshone Rose,” and “Better With Time” were gratefully accepted by audiences silenced by her stories and unique sound. She often finished her sets with “Overalls” – which tells the story of a WWII veteran confronting death with grace and dignity.
Looking over the audience as she sang, one could see the emotion on each face as they harkened her every word and entangled it with stories from their own lives. Inevitably, a person rushed back to purchase a CD, to share and savor the connection they had found with this moment, this song, this artist. Their stories each unique – a hospice worker, a band of old friends, a man who had just lost his father – all connected in the tapestry of a song.
At this point in her journey, Robinson has “earned the respect of honest critics” from those in the audience, studio, press, to those passing the torch to this next generation of artists.
“My wish for Emily is that she continues to stay honest and true…and writes the truth,” said music icon and Robinson’s mentor Amy Speace. “I think that is what is so appealing about her. There are a lot of young singer-songwriters in the Americana thing going on right now, and Emily cuts through because I think she is just unadorned and speaking the truth. And I think simplicity and humility follow her wherever she goes. And if she stays on that path, my expectation is that she will grow into a great artist.”
YES! Weekly will continue to follow Emily on this path with periodic updates and reviews. You can follow her on most social media and digital music platforms and at www.emilyscottrobinson.com. She is expected to return to North Carolina to perform at Muddy Creek in Sparta on May 23. She is expected to announce additional local performances for that time period as well.