Courtney Hartman

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Quiet, Introspective Folk

It is clear – not just from her music but also her demeanor – that folk musician and vocalist Courtney Hartman derives inspiration from paying attention to the little things. She reaches inward first before she tries to project outward.

The result is gentle, calm meaningful folk.

Courtney Hartman

by Kara M. Bachman

This Colorado-born guitarist, singer, writer, and producer, now based in Wisconsin, expresses a love for all things organic, whether it’s her garden or music that strives to be communicative and honest.

Like how visual artist Georgia O’Keeffe sought beauty in the subtle details of things, Hartman looks to the small and detailed when making music. 

“It’s similar, with the kind of intimate and small details of what our world sounds like,” Hartman said, describing her approach and likening it to the famous artist. Hartman isn’t so much interested in big, bossy, knock-you-over-your-head sounds; she’s interested in targeting nuance and including some of the details other recording artists overlook. For instance, she loves “all the intimate sounds our mouths make when we speak or breathe.”

Hartman said exploring these quiet things is easier when in the recording studio, and she attempts to do so in her second album, Glade, which she’ll be performing songs from as she tours this summer.

Feel the Music

It’s not that Hartman eschews other types of music – in fact, she’ll be touring this summer with S. Carey, a member of the hugely popular Grammy-winning indie-folk outfit, Bon Iver. She said S. Carey’s music is more rock-oriented than what she does with her solo work. Although very personal folk is “her thing,” she sees room in her life for all types of music, and there’s a sense in which her original compositions seem to crisscross into various genre arenas. The sound does not fit precisely into any preconceived notions of what folk is supposed to be. It appears as if it sits in its unique box, but it’s a box with transparent sides, where joys and melancholy are permitted to flow in and out.

“I love rock,” she admitted, “and I love to crank some Tom Petty or something…but I really love music that calls you in….”

Even as a child, she began “calling people in” when she first began performing locally. She was older when she transitioned into folk because her world was bluegrass back then.

“I was really influenced by roots music – and old-time and bluegrass – as a kid and teenager,” she said.

She gathered some of her siblings into a band, and they began performing at festivals and homesteads.

“We’d trade a wagonful of vegetables at the farmer’s market for a couple of sets of music,” she reminisced.

Before long, Hartman would be on the road, touring full-time with Grammy-nominated Boston outfit Della Mae. In 2017, she was nominated for the Instrumentalist of the Year award of the Americana Music Association. She also recorded a duo album with Robert Ellis in 2017 and, in 2018, a collection of duets with Canadian folk singer Taylor Ashton. Her first solo recording came in 2019 with Ready Reckoner, followed by Glade in 2021.

When she describes her songwriting process, it does not seem deliberate; she always remains conscious, noticing the things with personal meaning.

“It’s more just a consistency of showing up,” Hartman explained. “I garner a lot from time outside. Walking has been a constant source of rhythm…it helps my subconscious just meld or come to the surface.”

She summarizes her main themes in a way that seems all-encompassing, despite her focus on the minutiae of the biggest things in life: “It’s all about relationship…to yourself, to sacred, to people that you struggle with, to partners…writing for me is a way of being present, and just noticing what’s happening around me and in me.”

Hartman said she has no specific timeframe for the music release but is working on new material.

In addition to her work, she’s dipped her feet in a project she produced and engineered for Companion, a “twin sister duo” she describes as “really beautiful work, really deep women.”

“That was special, to be a guide in helping people to be a little better at what they do,” she said. “I enjoyed the power of having a feminine presence in a studio setting,” she added. “There’s power in that and a strength in that.”

Although “Glade” is in significant part about the Colorado of her youth, Hartman lives in Eau Claire, Wisconsin today. 

“My husband’s from up here, and there’s a really sweet community of musicians in the town I’m in.”

When asked about where she sees herself in the future, she gave precisely the type of reply we’d expect of an artist focused more on nurturing the inner life than on gaining outer success. 

“There’s a lot of mystery in it,” Hartman said. “I would like to keep making music. I’d love to keep writing.” She laughed gently. “I want to keep growing vegetables.”