On the Road Again: a candid chat with Steff Mahan

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Nashville is packed to the brim with musicians of every stripe from every single point on the spectrum, but few of the performers who call Nashville home can begin to approach the level of dedication and commitment to their art of modern day troubadour Steff Mahan.

A crown favorite in Nashville, Mahan delivers soulful but sweet powerhouse tunes wrapped in a deliciously down-to-earth alt. country style that is immediately endearing and relatable. Of the many songwriters to call Nashville home, Steff Mahan is arguably one of the most talented and most giving. Always able to fill a room and pack the crowd in, Mahan recently used her considerable drawing power to help give something back to the community that supports her by choosing the East Nashville Hope Exchange as the benefactor of her “Steff Mahan & Friends” concert.

One of the hardest working women in the business, Mahan maintains a grueling tour schedule that keeps her constantly on the road plying her craft. Lucky Nashvillians will be able to see Mahan perform onstage at the 2006 Nashville Pride Festival in Centennial Park. Recently, Steff Mahan sat down with “O&AN” at Bongo Java East in the Five Points area of East Nashville to talk about her work and life on the road.

A large portion of your time in the year is eaten up with a breakneck touring schedule. What is it like for you to be in constant transition from place-to-place?

I miss home when I’m in the car. I miss home when I’m in the hotel. I do not miss home at all when I’m on the stage. When I do what I do, there is nowhere else I would rather be, but it’s hard sometimes for the people I love. I just ended a long-term relationship with someone because of the music. Well, there were other things too, but it had a lot more to do with me being gone a lot than almost anything else. I was with this girl for sixteen years and I would have done anything to take that back and be able to compromise a little by not being on the road so much. It’s a hard thing being out on the road doing the work and not having anyone to call home and tell that I arrived safely.

You seem to revel in the life of a traveling performer. What is your least favorite thing about the job that you do?

That’s a hard question. I have been really lucky that I have had such great response to my work but I sometimes get really worried that no one will come to my shows. I hate that feeling. I know that I shouldn’t be worried at all because people either will or will not come and there isn’t much I can do about that. But, I tend to feel really bad if a club is depending on me to draw a crowd and the crowd doesn’t show.

You haven’t always been a road-running troubadour. How did you end up pursuing your current life as a traveling musician?

I sometimes think that being gay saved me. Otherwise I would have been married and had three kids living in my hometown of Brighton, Ill. There are times that I meet some of my high school friends who did just that and I think that could have been me. I was working in a well paid advertising job in Memphis and decided to quit so I could pursue my music and make less than $150 a week. It was hard at first, but I’ve done well. I look back at my friends from home and where they are at the age they are starting to think about settling down I’m hitting the road and doing my thing.  

You have been privileged to be able to perform alongside a wide variety of talented musicians of note. If you could pick person you could perform alongside that you have not yet been able who would they be?

Bobby Gentry without a doubt. I remember being a kid and watching The Grand Ole’ Opry on television and the ladies like Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette were dressed to the nines in sequins and rhinestones with their make-up and big hair with men playing all of the music for them. Then, here comes Bobby Gentry in a white t-shirt and jeans playing the guitar all by herself. I was in love.