Sure, Clare Dunn is a Nashville recording artist, but she’s no urban cowgirl.
Dunn’s hometown, Two Buttes, Colorado, is so small she can probably name everyone who lives there. She worked her way through music school by hauling hay, silage actually, which is mixed with corn and fed to dairy cattle.
“We’re in the very rural, remote dust bowl part of Colorado,” she said. “Most people associate with Denver’s gorgeous mountains, not the southeast part of the state.”
Dunn is a rising songwriter and guitarist who released her self-titled album in September 2015. In a phone interview with Tahoe Onstage, she reveals that her accent is as authentic as her songs are soulful and honest.
The playful, pop rocker “Move On” is a standout track.
“It’s just a fun little ditty about a girl wanting a guy to put the move on her,” Dunn said. “There’s nothing wrong with the girl making the first move, but I personally am too shy to do it. This was just an experience that I went through, just trying to give this guy a hint.”
Coincidentally, Dunn’s song has a similar title to Bob Seger’s breakout hit, “Night Moves.” Seger is perhaps Dunn’s greatest influence. In 2015, she opened for Seger on her first major tour.
“I inherited a love of music from (my parents) but neither one plays or sings,” she said. “I became a Bob Seger fan and my mom is a Waylon Jennings fan, so I learned so much about him, (along with) George Strait and Reba (McEntire) and Shania Twain. And on my dad’s side it was Bob Seger and a lot of R&B.”
There not a music scene in Two Buttes (Population 30), but Dunn spent her youth in a dance program an hour’s drive away. As an early teen, she earned a scholarship to study at Janet Jackson’s dance company in Los Angeles. And while she attended Belmont College, she was recruited to perform with Vanderbilt University’s dance program.
Despite her dance background, you won’t see Dunn onstage without a guitar.
“I’ve always heard a sound in my head for my music,” she said. “I didn’t play an instrument until I moved to Nashville and so my farm-work ethic really came in handy. I knew how I wanted my music to sound and I couldn’t express that to anyone. No one understood it because only my ears heard it and so I had to go about learning the process of actually making music, which was quite a daunting task.
“It was just my work ethic that made me dig in and learn to play an instrument, learn to make records in my bedroom with a laptop in a microphone. I do believe full heartedly that had I not been raised the way I was raised, I would have never survived the music business. Growing up on a farm, you know perseverance and you know hard work day in, day out. Those things absolutely prepared me and are the reason why I’m here.”
After college, Dunn drove her Ford F-150 and a trailer, with her three male band members, from show to show.
“We put 100,000 miles on the first year playing every honky-tonk and dive bar we could weasel our way into,” she said.
She sang backup on Luke Bryan’s 2011 hit song “Country Girl (Shake it For Me)” and signed a regrettable publishing deal that she was able to exit after three years.
She co-wrote each of the five songs on her new album with Terry McBride (best known for his work with Brooks and Dunn), Jesse Frasure and Ben West. Her tune “Tuxedo” has been streamed more than 10 million times.
Dunn has what Nashville folks call a “one-off” appearance on June 16 with Aaron Brooks at the Carson Valley Inn’s outdoor venue, TJ’s Corral.
“This will be the first time I’ve played with Aaron,” she said. “I love his music so much and I’ve been a fan for a long time. It’s going to be so much fun.”
Dunn is a captivating performer with just her voice and an acoustic guitar. However, for her Carson Valley debut she will be accompanied by her full band.
“We’re bringing the whole enchilada,” she said.
The musical entrée will be followed with rock ‘n’ roll for dessert.
“We always pull out the Led Zep,” she said. “We don’t like to get anyone overwhelmed and send them into premature shock. So we kind of leave it toward the end when everyone’s good and loosened up. Then we lay it on them.”
Dunn’s musical career is limitless, however, she said some day she wants to return to small-town life on the farm. Be careful what you wish for. She recently went home to celebrate her birthday and was greeted with “a monstrous 30-inch blizzard (of snow) and we were out working with cattle.”
Clare Dunn and Aaron Watson
When: 8 p.m. Friday, June 16
Where: Carson Valley Inn, TJ’s Corral
Tickets: $39 and $45 LINK