By M.E. Jones
TOWNSEND — In a song that ’60s folk singer Buffy St. Marie made famous, lyrics set the scene for what could be a country-music mantra: “I’m gonna be a country girl again/With an old brown dog and a big front porch and rabbits in the pen.”
She sings of a simpler, more meaningful way of life. Classic Country songs come straight out of that tradition.
Deborahanne Mayer is a country girl from the city and her journey echoes that of the “country girl” in the song. Brought up in Medford, she found her bliss in country life.
And she sure can sing.
When Mayer, belted out Patsy Cline’s signature classic “Crazy” in an impromptu performance a few years ago, she started thinking about a singing career. Folks liked her voice, with a natural yodel that became her specialty. And she took to the stage naturally.
She took singing lessons, sought out venues, resolved to learn guitar, won a country music competition. Back then, she called it a “new lease on life.” As time went on, she re-examined her dream in a new light.
Besides, she had other challenges, different delights, plenty to keep her busy. Working part-time for a Fitchburg-based antiques dealer as a researcher. Fixing up the antique house (circa 1850) she bought several years ago, after her divorce. Pitching in for local causes.
And, most important, her primary job and guiding purpose, bringing up her daughters, Katie, 13 and Rachel, 11.
Then, almost out of the blue, came a break. Online, she spotted “The Colgate Country Showdown,” sponsored by radio station WKLB. She sent a CD two days before the entry deadline.
The message on her answering machine was a total surprise. “We loved your voice and your music,” the caller said. She was one of five finalists, chosen from hundreds.
“I was speechless!”
Not any more. During a recent interview she was excited, “humbled,” by the opportunity. True to her New England roots, she’s not putting too many eggs in that basket, she said. Knowing the competition is young, talented, she’s cautiously confident.
There are practical plans to make. What will she wear? She’s cadged a makeup artist, someone to do her hair. It cascades down her back, a thick mane whose stray strands float around her face like blond filaments.
Mayer wants to look her best. Her pipes won her a place, but it’s a package presentation and she has only two more weeks to prepare.
At the Colgate Country Showdown on Saturday, July 17, at the Comcast Center in Mansfield, she’ll sing two songs with a live band, Digger Dog. The headliner is a big star, Tim McGraw.
Mayer hasn’t chosen her songs. One may be a classic: Tammy Wynette, Patsy Cline, legendary greats. Modern influences include Jewel and, lately, Lady Gaga. She wants to listen to more Emmy Lou Harris, she said. She picks up gems as she goes along, improving her style, adding to her repertoire.
Speaking of local connections, Mayer occasionally sings with the band Overdrive, honing live audience skills. The lead singer is a friend, Laurie Hawkins. “She’s such an inspiration!” Mayer said.
Instrumentally, she’s moved from guitar to piano, taking lessons from the organist at the Townsend Congregational Church.
This isn’t the first time Mayer has switched gears, taken stock and begun again.
As a fortysomething single mom and a city girl gone country, Mayer met change head-on and thrived. Back in Medford, her “Italian housewife” mom sang show tunes around the house. Mayer studied dance at the University of Utah, then transferred to UMass Boston, where she majored in history. Her career path led from paralegal work in the city to real estate sales, briefly, to website maintenance for an area antique dealer while volunteering at her kids’ school.
Mayer found her niche in Townsend, in a charming old house with rough overhead beams, wide board “pumpkin pine” floors and other period perks. With an eye for form and function, she furnished it with bargain antiques and decorated with finds that range from old books and pictures picked up at yard sales to antique milk tins. When collectibles overflow, they migrate to the barn that she painted “with a bucket of red paint from Wal-Mart.”
Trim and fit, Mayer runs to stay in shape and works out at Option One Fitness in Townsend Center.
At home, she oversees a near picture-perfect country domain. She collects eggs daily from hens she keeps in a pen behind the barn. She loves to bake. During a recent interview, as one of her daughters searched the yard for the family cat, Mayer offered visitors take-home options: fresh eggs or banana bread, the aroma of which lingered in her kitchen. Homemade pies stood cooling on the stove.
Mayer has had several careers, survived disappointments, but she’s grounded. And her musical muse is alive and well, and all about country.