Though she now plays on stages in front of sold-out crowds around the world, singer-songwriter and Eureka native Sara Bareilles said she still remembers one of her first.
”I still go back to that place in my mind, standing on a tree stump in the backyard, overlooking the fields and singing to nobody,” Bareilles said of growing up in Humboldt County. “In small places, you can dream really big dreams.”
On Jan. 26, Bareilles will return to California to attend the 56th Annual Grammy Awards. Though she's been nominated for several awards in the past, it will be the first year the artist has the chance of taking home the Album of the Year award for her 2013 album, “The Blessed Unrest.”
Upon learning of her nomination, Bareilles said she “felt over the moon.”
”It started off with shock, screaming, and then I called my family,” Bareilles said. “You spend so much time crafting this collection of songs. It's so much more than a single song. It feels so special to be nominated for that.”
When she felt it could not get any better, Bareilles learned last week that she would be performing at the award ceremony alongside one of her musical inspirations -- acclaimed singer-songwriter Carole King.
”Getting to collaborate with one of my heroes is a gift from heaven,” Bareilles said. “It literally couldn't be any cooler.
The other nominees vying for the award alongside Bareilles are Daft Punk, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Taylor Swift and Kendrick Lamar. Many critics have considered Bareilles' nomination as a surprise and are referring to her as the underdog of the group. Bareilles does not mind, saying she has always viewed herself that way.
”I think I wear the underdog jersey well,” Bareilles said. “Maybe it's the small town mentality ... It's more fun to surprise people anyway.”
The album's top single, “Brave,” also landed her a nomination for the recently created Best Pop Solo Performance award. Bareilles wrote the song with guitarist Jack Antonoff of the band fun., and said it was “one of the first songs I was open to collaboration on.”
”I get nervous or shy about sharing my ideas,” she said. “Turns out, having the right people in the room can make a huge difference.”
Bareilles said the message behind the song was inspired by a friend who was dealing with personal struggles. Since its release in April, the song has become an anthem for people who are facing a difficult period in life, whether it be coming out to friends and family or battling cancer.
”It's a love letter to a friend of mine who was struggling with her life and who was trying to speak what was true to her,” Bareilles said. “I'm so glad people are finding a connection with it. I feel like the song is taking on a life of its own.”
Growing up in Eureka, Bareilles took up music at an early age, playing piano and performing in several musical theater productions at Eureka High and local theaters. Drawing upon that musical upbringing, Bareilles is currently writing the music for a Broadway musical adaptation of the 2007 film “Waitress.”
”That's what I listened to growing up, it was all musical soundtracks,” she said. “So this actually does feel like coming home in a way. I feel like there is a natural draw to go where you came from.”
Though she now lives in New York City, Bareilles said Humboldt still holds a place in her songwriting.
”I actually attribute a lot of my musical mind to the nature up there,” Bareilles said. “As a kid, I ended up spending a lot of time alone in the forest and fields, making up stories and playing with my cousins. It was a very imaginative and creative foundation, being among the redwood trees and being so far removed.”
Bareilles said that her parents -- who still reside in Humboldt -- “gifted me with everything.”
”They made me feel that whatever I wanted was possible and that they would love me unconditionally,” Bareilles said. “It wasn't about success. It was about following my heart.”
Bareilles had a special message for the people in her hometown.
”I'm so proud to be from Humboldt County and to be a small town girl,” Bareilles said. “When I come home, I've always felt so embraced. It's an embrace I take with me every time I leave.”
Will Houston can be reached at 707-441-0504 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Will_S_Houston.