Life West River a dream come true for Blue

By Sheila Ring

South Dakota Public Broadcasting artist Eliza Blue will perform Stories & Songs in concert at the Emmanuel Mennonite Church in Onida on Sunday, October 24 at 1:00 p.m. The event is a fundraiser for the courthouse dome restoration project. Tickets for the performance are $10.00, available in advance and at the door.

The Minnesota native landed in western South Dakota by way of a teaching contract, but she had no plan to stay. “Growing up, my mom jokes I was enthralled with the Little House books,” said Blue. “I’d thought to just try something different, but my mom said, ‘I think you’re going to stay.’”

Blue has spent much of her adulthood wandering. “I didn’t think I’d become a musician,” said Blue. “I studied English Lit in college, and after I graduated, I got a ‘normal’ job.”

Blue says that she didn’t find much satisfaction in her job, and decided, “Here I am young, with no family, I should give it a go and see what happens.”

Her reasoning led Blue to performing in coffee shop and open mic nights, and eventually, playing folk music, touring both solo and with bands.

“I’ve been to all 48 of the contiguous United States,” said Blue. “I went to Europe a couple of times.”

Eventually, Blue says that she came to the point “I knew I couldn’t keep doing that. I’m glad I had the opportunity to tour, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to stop.”

“I had intended to regroup while I was deciding what to do next, but my mom was right - I stayed.”

Blue found in Western South Dakota not only the embodiment of her childhood reading, but also her husband and new life, which she writes about in her book, Accidental Rancher.

It was while Blue was promoting a show with banjo player and songwriter Jami Lynn that she went on South Dakota Public Broadcasting for a Moment in Sound, and met SDPB’s Lori Walsh.

“I’m a huge fan of hers,” said Blue of Walsh, host and senior producer of In the Moment, South Dakota Public Broadcasting's news and culture radio broadcast. “She’s a great interviewer and writer.”

Seeking a means of offering a snapshot of ranch life, Blue says that she told Walsh, “I have recording equipment. It would be cool to present these vignettes and seasonal offerings about ranch life.”

“South Dakota Public Broadcasting does a great job, but it’s harder to find rural content,” Blue continued. “Things revolve around urban centers.”

“I wanted to offer them a little picture of life outside the city since most of the state is rural,” said Blue. “They were up for it and gave me free reign to come up with the content and started producing those.”

‘Postcards from the Prairie with Eliza Blue’ is a monthly audio postcard that captures a moment from life on the ranch for radio broadcast.

For television, Blue developed Wish You Were Here with similar content. “The idea is to capture rural life,” said Blue. “For artists, it’s harder when you live rurally to tour, especially if you also work in ag. With that lifestyle, you can’t leave as often as other artists might be able to do.”

Wish You Were Here is a venue for showcasing and sharing work that “might not otherwise have a platform,” said Blue. “South Dakota Public Broadcasting has been super supportive all the way through, and now Prairie Public in North Dakota and Minnesota as well, they appreciate that mission.”

Members of the Sully County Historical Society familiar with Blue reached out to arrange to have her perform in Onida as a fundraiser for the courthouse dome restoration. “I’m pretty excited,” said Blue. “At this point, I don’t do a ton of touring because between the ranch and my children, it’s hard to do. I’ll be able to come down for the day and get back home at night – it will be fun to be someplace new.”

Blue says that “writing and music is what I do for fun.” She continues, “I taught school, and my first job was teaching preschool. I love hanging out with my kids; it’s fun for me most of the time. I enjoy their company. I get to live that. Doing what you love, it’s all work, but it’s joyful work.”

Contact Sully County Historical Society fundraising committee members Beth Rinehart 605-222-2966; Nola LaRosh 605-222-1383; Susan Lamb 605-765-4516 or Kelli Stephens 218-969-0920 to purchase advance tickets.