Returning to rock
Chelsea Berry’s music career may be taking off Outside, but the 2001 Chugiak High graduate still needs to get her Alaska summer fix.
“I’m going to be hanging out in the sun and fishing and hiking and camping as possible,” said Berry, who will be returning to her hometown for a special performance at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, July 2 at Jitters Coffee House in Eagle River.
Berry is currently living Gloucester, Mass. near Boston, where she’s built a steady local following.
“I’ve established myself enough where I’m playing shows with 300 to 400 people and selling out,” she said.
And Berry has played in front of much bigger crowds in support of artists such as Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Roger McGuinn, and Livingston Taylor, who has written several top-40 singles.
Berry said Taylor has helped play a big role in her development as a singer and songwriter.
“He has opened so many doors for me,” Berry said of Taylor, who is James Taylor’s younger brother and a faculty member at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.
Berry has also been working toward a bachelor’s degree in songwriting at the noted music school, whose alumni have gone on to win more than 200 Grammy awards.
In February, Berry released her second album, “Devil and the Deep Blue Sea,” a combination of folk and rock she believes will appeal to fans of a variety of genres.
“There are parts of it that everybody can relate to,” she said.
Berry said the album’s title track has special meaning.
“The whole thing is dedicated to my little brother,” she said.
“Little” brother Nate is a Scout Sniper serving in the U.S. Marine Corps.
“I shouldn’t call him little, he’s six-foot-five,” Berry said with a laugh during a phone interview before flying to Alaska.
Berry wrote the song while Nate was serving a tour in Afghanistan. Though she said the songwriting process is deeply personal for her, she tries to write songs people can relate to.
“What I try to do is take whatever emotion or situation I’m dealing with and put it into a song written in a way that is open ended enough that people can apply it to their own lives,” she said.
Berry’s songwriting talent was evident from a young age according to Robin Hopper, a local music teacher and performer who has known Berry most of her life.
“She’s been singing since she could open her mouth,” said Hopper, who along with Chelsea’s parents Dale and Emily Berry was part of a group of friends whose children grew up together in Chugiak-Eagle River.
“There’s about five of us, we call ourselves the ‘Nother Mothers,’” Hopper said. “We kinda co-opted our families together. You have to pick your own family when you move to Alaska.”
When the families got together, Hopper said Chelsea always kept the adults entertained.
“All the kids would disappear upstairs and then they would come down and Chelsea would have orchestrated some type of musical performance,” Hopper said.
Hopper helped Berry hone her musical talent from a young age, attending songwriting workshops with the young musician and offering pointers wherever she could. Berry said she tagged along to many of Hopper’s shows, and before long was playing her own gigs at local coffee shops.
“It’s kinda her fault this whole thing happened,” Berry said. “She’s amazing.”
Hopper said she talks to Berry on a regular basis and always looks forward to Berry’s trips home.
“I’m sure we’re going to sit around the living room with guitars and swap songs and stories,” Hopper said.
Hopper said it’s no surprise Berry is making her mark as a professional musician.
“She has worked harder than anyone I know to get to where she is,” Hopper said.
Berry — who used to work as a kayak guide in Seward — said she plans to spend most of her time in Alaska outdoors. But she never misses a chance to play at the Eagle River coffee shop where she got her start as a performer.
“I play Jitters every single time,” she said.
Berry credits Jitters owner Dennis Johnson with helping her get her first break in music.
“Dennis has had me playing there since I was 14,” she said. “He’s so cool.”
Berry said she expects a big crowd at the July 2 show.
“I’ve got a really supportive audience base in Alaska,” she said.
Though she now makes her living playing music on the East Coast, Berry said playing a small show in front of a few old friends at Jitters is always a special occasion.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” she said.
Contact Matt Tunseth at 694-2727 or [email protected].