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Oregon's Swanson lets soul shine

Folk singer-songwriter to play Saturday at Rosbrook Studio

OREGON – Kendra Swanson has an appreciation for the simple beauty in lot of things. Music just happens to be one of them.

“Whoa! Look at this bug … sorry,” Swanson says smiling, interrupting her train of thought just a few questions into an interview at Lowden State Park just outside of Oregon.

The singer/songwriter will celebrate the release of her new album, “Go Down to the Low Down,” with a string of performances, kicking off with a show Saturday at Rosbrook Studio in Dixon.

Swanson describes her style as Midwestern folk on her website – but admits it’s hard to pin down.

“I would call what I do like maybe Midwestern roots, Americana, indie-folk,” Swanson says with a laugh. “I know, I know; everybody says ‘Oh my music is uncategorizable.’”

Though she’s been billed before as a bluegrass artist and has a lot of respect for bluegrass musicians, she would not call herself one.

“I don’t have the chops for that,” Swanson says. She writes most of her music on guitar and banjo, but is also an avid fiddler and violist.

The 29-year-old was born in South Dakota and grew up in Freeport, graduating from Freeport High School in 2003. Music has been a part of her life since as far back as she can remember.

“My family used to all make music together when we were little and growing up,” Swanson says. “My mom, [Laurie], my dad, [Don], and sister, [Karissa], and I all sang together. My dad played guitar. We’ve always been a musical family.”

Don passed away suddenly in the spring of 2012. He was a chaplain, serving as director of marketing planning and pastoral care for Freeport Health Network for 20 years.

“He was kind of a town hero,” Swanson says, her face lighting up.

Swanson calls her process of writing music a “cathartic and joyful thing to do,” and says it has helped her in dealing with the loss of her father.

The singer/songwriter wants to help people with her music.

"We need music for the hard times. Music lights up the darkness," Swanson says.

Keeping the family music tradition alive, Laurie sings on the album, and Karissa provides piano for one of the tracks.

Her parents always supported her musical endeavors. Swanson played viola in the high school orchestra and continued to play classical music in college.

From classical to folk? How does that happen?

Well, Swanson lived in Bratislava, Slovakia, for about a year after graduating from college in 2007. One of the women she worked with there was from Kentucky.

"She had like five autoharps,” Swanson said. “So I started playing viola with her and her husband. Here we were, playing American folk music in Slovakia.”

“I came back to the states and was like, ‘I want to start playing the banjo.’”

Since then, Swanson has been on a journey of writing her own original songs, and collaborating with different artists.

She’s played at many venues, finding enjoyment in the places she’s played, but more so in the people she’s been able to experience it all with.

“A lot of the best times are just playing with friends, jamming out, meeting people,” Swanson says. “It’s great to meet people with an instrument in your hands.”

Swanson sings high praises of Rosbrook Studio, calling it “a real asset to the community.” She's played there before with other artists, participating in open mic events Saturday nights.

When she’s not playing music, Swanson works as an educator at Northern Illinois University’s Lorado Taft Field Campus in Lowden State Park. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Luther College in 2007, and master’s degree in education in 2011.

In mid-July, Swanson hopes to embark on a West Coast tour, though she says she will probably need a new car.

“Does anyone out there need a 1999 Honda Accord with over 200,000 miles out there?” Swanson says jokingly. “No, but seriously, it still gets like 32 miles to the gallon.”

Wherever she goes, Swanson should be just fine.

“I love showing up to places unannounced where no one is expecting music. Music transforms a space. It invites conversation. It gets people out of their phones,” she says.

“So anytime that happens it’s pretty great.”

Live at Rosbrook

What: Kendra Swanson, an indie-folk singer-songwriter out of Oregon, will perform along with friends and celebrate the release of her latest CD, "Go Down to the Low Down."

When: 8 p.m. Saturday; doors open at 7

Where: Rosbrook Studio, 107 S. Peoria Ave.

Cost: $5 at the door.

Refreshments: Mama Cimino's beverages will be sold.

More info on show at

More info on Swanson at and

Listen up

Click here to watch Kendra Swanson perform her song "Every Day."

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