Even when Tracy Grammer plays solo, she isn't alone: She'll always have her late partner, Dave Carter, to keep her company.
'It feels like he's here with me, and it shows,' she says quietly. 'It took awhile, but now I'm reconciled to the fact he's gone.'
Elfin violinist Grammer will perform in her adopted hometown of Portland as a warm-up for a seven-week national tour, which includes opening for Joan Baez.
Carter died in Grammer's arms last July 19 when the two were on tour in the Northeast. He had just returned from a run; he collapsed three weeks shy of his 50th birthday. A memorial concert in Portland in mid-August drew more than 500 people Ñ and Baez and her band.
Carter and Grammer had produced three immensely successful folk CDs since meeting in 1997. Carter's wry, witty songs were delivered in his trademark Texas drawl, while Grammer harmonized and played violin or mandolin.
'When I Go' was the first album, recorded in Grammer's kitchen. It was followed by 'Tanglewood Tree' and 'Drum Hat Buddha.' All three received rave reviews from significant critics and lodged in the upper reaches of the folk charts.
The two quit their daytime jobs in 1998 Ñ surely the mark of real musical success Ñ after Grammer decided that Carter's songs were good enough to win songwriting contests. So, she entered the three biggest contests she could find Ñ and Carter won all three. The two were on their way.
Grammer first heard Carter when he was playing at Southwest Portland's Buffalo Gap Saloon in a songwriter's showcase.
'When he played, the whole room got quiet Ñ and that was the end of the night when things get noisy,' she recalls. 'People were shushing each other. I didn't know him because I'd just moved here, but I recognized something great.'
When she finally worked up the nerve to speak to him, Carter noticed her violin. It turned out he was looking for a violin player.
'He asked me to practice the solo in 'Kate and the Ghost of Lost Love,' and I thought, 'This is easy; I can totally do this.' '
The two formed a band and began touring and getting airplay, and other musicians started playing Carter's songs.
Grammer says a 'Pinch me, I'm dreaming' moment occurred with Baez in Columbia, Mo.
'She'd started singing 'The Mountain' (from 'Tanglewood Tree'), and we set up a meeting at her hotel,' Grammer says. 'So there we were, sitting on the lawn, and Joan was talking to Dave about what songs mean, and we looked at each other and thought, 'What the hell are we doing singing along with Joan Baez?' '
Grammer is slated to play at a number of folk festivals in the summer, ranging from Falcon Ridge in New York to the Strawberry Music Festival in Groveland, Calif., and the Woody Guthrie Free Folk Festival in Okema, Okla., in between.
She'll be accompanied by Donny Wright on bass and guitar for her Portland show but will perform some shows back East with Richard Shindell.
'Richard's been covering 'Farewell to Saint Dolores,' and he and I have talked about doing a Dave Carter tribute tour,' she says. 'If that happens, I can't imagine a better person to play those songs than a songwriter who'll put aside his own work.'
Grammer reckons she plays 20 to 22 of Carter's songs, 'though some are harder than others.' She's working up a remixed album of some of his early songs that the two recorded as a duo, to be titled 'Seven is the Number,' 'but it's going to have to wait until May when I'm back from the tour.'