Bend Roots Revival has always been one of my favorite annual Bend music events, featuring a wide breadth of local musicians. Back in 2010, I saw JoAnna Lee under a blue tent to the right of the main stage, an oriental-style rug beneath her feet and a black and tan tapestry behind her. This all came back to me thanks to my iPhoto library, but her performance always stuck out in my memory.
Lee has powerful, yet sweet and demure vocals reminiscent of Colbie Caillat. Her approachable demeanor and relatable storytelling lay the foundation for a rising pop star. Lee blends pop with folk, R&B and rock to create universally-appealing songs destined for continuous play on Top 40 radio.
And her performance at Bend Roots impressed more than just local music lovers. A man by the name of Darrell Santos, visiting Bend for a golf tournament, reached out to Lee after her performance and told her to get in touch with a producer he knew who had helped other artists. The producer, Paul Brown, heard Lee's demos on her MySpace page, contacted her and flew her out to L.A. to record a proper demo.
Shortly after connecting with Brown, Lee decided to leave Bend and move to Austin.
"Moving to Austin was my way of me gaining independence and freedom and to prove to myself that any vision I have I can make a reality," Lee says. "It took a little time to get adjusted, and I almost wanted to give up a few times and come home. Austin is saturated with many musicians, but with focus and dedication I was able to find my place in the scene."
While in Austin, Lee worked hard to entertain on stage with just herself and her guitar. Once she was given the chance to perform at certain venues and events, she found she instantly made fans, which helped her keep going. Eventually, Lee signed to Cutmore Records and starting recording her debut album, "So Free."
"Most of the recordings I did previously were very raw and acoustic and recorded on something like Garageband," Lee recalls. "To be able to finally be in a legitimate professional studio and to be able to record my music with a bunch of incredible musicians was one of the best experiences I've had."
All of Lee's songs stem from personal relationships; emotions she's felt in her heart.
"When you're growing up, the relationships you have can really help build who you are," Lee says. "I chose these songs for the album, because I feel as though, it's not only a proper introduction, but also a reflection on who I am and where I have been."
Lee's performance at Munch and Music on July 6 marks her return to Bend before promotion for "So Free" kicks into high gear. She'll debut her first single, "The Real Thing," in London at the end of July and then has a few shows booked in Dubai in December.
"I look forward to seeing all the familiar faces, and to sharing with one of the cities I love most what I have been working hard on for the past few years," Lee says. "I have had so much support from all my family, friends and fans here in Oregon, it's going to feel nice to finally give something back."
JoAnna Lee, Arrival From Sweden at Munch and Music
Thurs., July 6. 5:30pm.
777 NW Riverside Dr., Bend.