Faces of Fauquier: Singer seeks “to touch the heart”
Photo/Don Del Rosso
Brooksie Wells, who has written songs about Fauquier and Rappahanock counties, wants to make a film about Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass.
File Photo/Lawrence Emerson
Ms. Wells performs at the “Unity Rally” early this year in Warrenton.
What I like to do is hold up a mirror to women and witness their value. I tend to write about women’s struggle to be fulfilled, to be whole, to find love, to be supported. I try to tell a story to touch your heart.
The Warrenton folk songwriter and musician got an early start.
“I’ve played music since I was a little girl,” recalls Brooksie Wells, who began with piano lessons at age 5 and by 13 had taken up the acoustic guitar. “I’ve been a musician my whole life. I’ve tried to give it up, and I just can’t. It’s part of who I am.”
A Georgia native, Ms. Wells grew up in an “activist” family during the 1960s.
After a long career as an Air Force lawyer, her father, John Wells, got a master’s of divinity from historically African-American Howard University in Washington, D.C., and participated in the civil rights and anti-Viet Nam war movements, she says.
“He was the only white man in his class,” says Ms. Wells, who earlier this year performed at a “unity rally” in Warrenton organized by the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy. “My childhood was very much part of the activist movement and the folk community is a big part of that.”
Ms. Wells composed her first song at age 15 — “I’m so Sick of Waiting for You to Say Goodbye” — and since has published about 150 more.
In the 1970s, pop singer Bobby Darin signed her to a contract to write songs for a big Manhattan-based music producer. Her credits with that company include a song she co-wrote for a horror movie called “He Knows You’re Alone.”
In the early 1980s, Ms. Wells returned to Northern Virginia and performed with various bands.
She describes her music as “Folk Americana” — a style marked by acoustic instruments that chronicle “the story of the American experience.”
“I come out of a singer/songwriter acoustic sound. My influences were Carole King, James Taylor, Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell when I started writing.”
Her subjects often deal with women, places and “courage or strength.”
“What I like to do is hold up a mirror to women and witness their value. I tend to write about women’s struggle to be fulfilled, to be whole, to find love, to be supported. I try to tell a story to touch your heart.”
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Her fifth CD — which goes into production in January — will include a song about Rappahannock County called “The Meade-Maker and the Stonecutter’s Wife.”
Making a living as a songwriter/musician can be daunting if not nearly impossible, Ms. Wells says.
“It’s very difficult, because we no longer have CD sales the way they used to. Anybody under 40 doesn’t buy CDs anymore.”
To make ends meet, Ms. Wells and most other folk musicians do “house concerts.” Friends host such performances for a small group of guests.
“They don’t sell tickets,” she says. “It’s kind of love offerings. You can have an intimate, up-close and personal visit with the musician and they usually have CDs to sell.
Ms. Wells does about 40 concerts a year, supplementing her income through teaching and conducting workshops.
She plans to extend her entertainment reach to movies. She and two other Fauquier residents have started a company to produce a $10 million biography of Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass music.
The company still needs about $8.2 million to make “Blue Moon of Kentucky.”
• Age: 50-plus
• Home: Warrenton
• Work: Songwriter, musician and producer.
• Why do you make music?
I’ve played music since I was a little girl. I’ve been a musician my whole life. I’ve tried to give it up, and I just can’t. It’s part of who I am.
My songwriting and music career have been a means of expression for me as well as a job. As an activist, I have a wonderful opportunity to share my music, both with adults and children. And it has been a blessing that my mother gave me piano lessons. And then I learned how to play the guitar. So not only could I write the words, but I could also write music.
Divorced; two children from second marriage.
• How long have you lived in Fauquier?
About 12 years.
• Why do you live here?
I moved to Warrenton because of “First Night Warrenton.” I played a children’s show here, and it was so beautiful I thought it would be a nice place to live.
• How do you describe this county?
Beautiful. The physical landscape of Fauquier is magnificent — the rolling hills. I wrote a story about it: “The Sweet Virginia Hills.”
It’s slowly advancing into more of an urban environment. Northern Virginia is slowly moving out here. I would actually prefer a more diverse community in Warrenton. I think it would be good for the town and good for the county to have more of an influx of people.
I would love it if young people stayed here. But they don’t, because there’s no work for them.
• What would you change about Fauquier?
More restaurants. More things on Main Street to keep the flavor of a small town, but to have more diversity so that outsiders could come as visitors rather than necessarily living here.
I’d like it to be a little more business-friendly. It would be great if we could encourage more young people, find ways for them to have work here; encourage different kinds of industries, to have a little bit more excitement, besides the horse community, which is very vibrant. And I love that, but for those of us who aren’t horse people, it’s difficult.
The county has all the physical beauty available, but it would really benefit from a larger artistic community. And I have no idea how to make it that way. There’s not enough to do in the evenings to sustain artists and musicians as far as to stay here. We have to go elsewhere to perform. We have to go elsewhere to work.
• What do you do for fun?
Musical jams. I’m an avid reader. And I make great use of the Fauquier library. I get about three books a week, because I’m a speed reader. I also work out. I have a trainer. I lift weights.
• What’s your favorite place in Fauquier?
Drum & Strum (Music Center in Warrenton.) They have events there with musicians that come in from out of town. They support children playing music, which I’m all about.
• What will Fauquier be like in 10 years?
Fauquier will maintain its rural character, but I believe that many people from Northern Virginia will be headed in this direction and will hopefully be welcomed additions to an already-established community.
I hope there will be affordable housing for young families so they can start their lives here and stay here.
• Favorite TV show?
“Game of Thrones.”
• Favorite movie?
“The Shawshank Redemption.”
• Favorite book?
“Little Women,” by Louisa May Alcott.
• Favorite vacation spot?
Saint Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands.
• Favorite food?
• What is the best advice you have ever received? From whom?
Love faithfully and well. My mother.
• Who’s your hero and why?
My mother. She lived a long, fruitful life, was a fine mother and a wonderful poet as well as teacher. As a minister’s wife, she was willing to stand up for women and be a force in the women’s movement before it was popular, back 50 years ago. On her gravestone, we wrote: “Mother, wife, feminist.”
• What would you do if you won $5 million in the lottery?
I’d make a movie — “Blue Moon of Kentucky.”
Suggest a profile candidate
Do you know someone who lives in Fauquier County you would like to see in Faces of Fauquier? E-mail Cassandra Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org, Don Del Rosso at email@example.com or Editor Lou Emerson at LKE@FauquierNow.com.
IMHO illegal immigration is not the way to live in this country, come here legally, get your citizenship if you want to stay. Immigration reform sounds more like it's about keeping certain people out, and letting other more valuable (in the eyes of Americans) people in. What would have happened if they had not let the Germans and Irish in back in the day? I certainly wouldn't be here as my ancestors were German and Irish. What would many community have for healthcare and other support? My doctor is Middle Eastern, my dentist is Middle Eastern, our dry cleaners are Chinese, the man who cuts my hair is South Korean, we frequent many ethnic restaurants (Chinese, Thai, Indian, Mexican, etc.). I believe that is what "makes America GREAT", the diversity and even a unity rally that may have gone a little sideways. We are VERY fortunate to live in this country.
citizen observer · December 31, 2017 at 8:53 am
I may well have misjudged Ms. Wells. She did not make any comments, she was singing. It was the crowd demeaning me with comments about my hat. I would never have walked down there if I knew what was occurring, definitely not with the hat I happened to grab. I found it sad I walked down the street in a great town to a crowd that was not welcoming. Has never happened before or since. I did not stay very long and I just happened to remember her.
Thinking about it later I found it ironic that they were protesting a new president for just enforcing existing laws. I wondered why they did not hold a rally in 2006 to protest when Senators Obama, Schumer, and Clinton were all on CNN demanding President Bush stop illegal immigration and secure our borders, for all the reasons Trump stated. It amazes me how money and the hope for more power can make a politician quickly turn 180°. Immigration reform has been called for since the 80's, I wonder why our elected officials can't get it done.
Jim Griffin · December 30, 2017 at 12:10 pm
You should always feel welcome in your community, most especially at a "unity" rally with many POVs represented, which according to news coverage included rabbis, Episcopalians and others. I share your goal of making America great again.
I was not there, know only what I read, nor have I ever heard Ms. Wells perform. I suspect she would happily perform at Bluemont if asked.
It's a surprise to read you complain about "nasty comments." I like sharp dialogue and I would think you do, too, judging by your comments here. I like artists expressing their views, however divergent, and I welcome yours, even when we disagree.
These things among others make America great: Free speech, free religion, freedom of association, open markets, and much more. All are present in the activities we are discussing.
Chiding someone for choosing art as a living or deriding them for hoping to make a movie is not about making America great. It is mean-spirited.
citizen observer · December 30, 2017 at 11:08 am
You're right JG, my bad. I didn't realize that was what it was called.
All I know was I happened upon it after leaving the post office and walked down. I won't repeat on here the nasty comments made to me on the Make America Great Again hat I happened to be wearing. For an "interfaith rally" I quickly noticed there were no catholic or protestant speakers. I found later in the news that it was headed by a muslim to protest Trump stopping illegal immigrants and terrorists from entering this country. They can call it what they want; it was Anti-Trump.
I don't know much about Ms. Wells but her choice to play in front of a crowd where I wasn't welcome because of a hat left a bad taste in my mouth. I decided then that I will not waste time or money to ever see her perform. That is my choice.
If she really supports her community, how come she doesn't play the Bluemont Concerts where everyone is welcome?
I welcome artists and musicians to a new ampitheater. However, if they choose to use it as a political forum for either party; I will just do as I did this rally and quickly leave.
Silii · December 30, 2017 at 10:02 am
Seriously and Citizen Observer, Yes. You're both missing a lot. She is an educated, talented woman, has dreams and works to achieve them, is a progressive thinker, probably reads a lot more than you do, has compassion and is active in her community, knows herself and is confident with that. Just naming a few things that you're missing. I suggest you take chill pills on New Year's Eve or at least make a resolution to take a close look at your anger and cynicism.
Jim Griffin · December 29, 2017 at 4:18 pm
For "Seriously?": She does have a job: She is a songwriter and musician, a job by any measure, and, yes, that's how movies get made: Someone has an idea, pens a script and gets more artists (Director, Lead Actors, etc) attached to attract a producer to finance it.
Were you thinking someone with a weekly paycheck from a job finances a new movie like this one? Like you wrote: Seriously?
Citizen observer: The article did not fail to mention her presence at the rally. It included a Lew Emerson photo of her singing there and a cutline referencing her performance.
Despite your misinterpretation, it was not billed as "the Anti-Trump rally" and some people there were holding signs supporting Trump, as the link below notes:
Finally, your comment that there was already a movie about Bill Monroe made twenty years ago only highlights interest in Bill Monroe. Five years ago Bluegrass Today welcomed the idea of an update, heralding work on a new movie with different musical choices and actors:
Hollywood prefers the tried and true to risky new ideas and where there's one biopic another is sure to follow.
Let's support our local artists. Don't build a new amphitheater if you're expecting every artist who performs there to match your politics. Isn't it Trump who decries political correctness? Or is that a one-way street?
citizen observer · December 29, 2017 at 3:36 pm
You're not missing anything Seriously.
The article failed to mention she was the headline performer at the Anti-Trump "rally" in Warrenton earlier this year.
A comprehensive movie about Bill Monroe, The Father of Bluegrass, was already produced in 1993.
Seriously? · December 28, 2017 at 9:39 pm
Am I missing something? She needs millions for a movie but has no job?