Sometimes, the real gems are buried beneath the headliners. That's the case at the upcoming Bend Fall Festival, where one of the most interesting acts is slated not for the end-of-evening slot, but instead is opening the main stage on Saturday.
Bend native Sara Jackson-Holman—who shot from total unknown to the national spotlight after someone from a record label read a comment she made on Blind Pilot's Myspace page saying they influenced her music—takes the stage at 11 am, but is worth showing up early for.
"It wasn't too like 'the top,' but at least, it was like a rocket to somewhere for sure," jokes Holman. "I was nowhere before."
One place it took Holman was Portland, where the larger population of musicians and the plethora of creativity-inspiring rainy days gave her the opportunity to broaden her scope and produce several albums of piano-based electronic pop that earns comparisons to ballad queens like Amy Winehouse and Lana Del Rey, as well as indie-pop performer Feist.
"She truly has a captivating voice that rivals that of several neo-soul chanteuses filling the airwaves, iPods, and large venues around the world," wrote Scott Lewis in The Oregonian.
But in the several years since, Holman says that thrill-ride has faded to being more of a quirky anecdote, which is fine with her. Especially since it calms the fervor a bit when she returns home to perform, as she has done every year or so since she left Bend five years ago.
"Now that I've been away, it feels like vacation," says Holman. "It took awhile for it to not feel like home."
But don't get her wrong. Her home may now be Portland, but she's a hometown girl, and that makes playing at Fall Fest a special treat.
"I've always enjoyed going to those festivals," says Holman. "I grew up with them, long before I even considered songwriting."
But those attending her performance will be in for as much of a treat as Holman. Her set will be a complete cover-to-cover preview of her next album, which she is still in the process of recording, and which represents a big shift from much of her earlier work. Instead of playing with a full band, Holman will take the stage armed only with her piano and her voice for a stripped-down solo performance.
"My last couple albums I didn't write for solo performance, but with the full band in mind," says Holman. "But the way I've approached this album is as a singer-songwriter album. So I don't even really have to rearrange anything."
Originally, Holman says she wanted to make it a double-album, with the first half composed of the stripped-down approach and the second re-imagining those songs in a more flushed-out pop format.
But sometimes life has other plans.
"I had to write it," says Holman, of her new material. Sonically, Holman says the album has hints of Leonard Cohen and The Bee Gees and Nancy Sinatra. But lyrically, the currently-unnamed collection is a concept album chronicling the rise and fall of Holman's years-long relationship with her producer, who is also recording the album.
"It's pretty weird for both of us to have this album be about our relationship and to then record it together in the months afterward," says Holman. "It's weird, but I feel like it could be weirder."
The album won't be out until early next year, so Fall Fest attendees will truly be getting the inside scoop on what Holman has been up to.
Sara Jackson-Holman at Fall Fest
11 am, Saturday, October 3