Right after Kaela Sinclair gave the biggest performance of her life, she got the news. It was spring and she had been invited to sing the national anthem for a Texas Rangers game at Globe Life Park on less than a day's notice. The singer-songwriter from Denton was used to playing in clubs and cafes, and there she was in front of 38,000 people. That was when her life got turned on its head.
Out of the blue, Sinclair received an invitation from a member of the Scottish Parliament to perform at the Making Noise for Poverty, Equality and Diversity music festival in the Orkney Islands. She'd never traveled outside of the United States and had less than a month to make plans, but she scrambled to book additional shows for a U.K. tour and obtain a passport. Before she knew it, Sinclair had traveled the British Isles and even appeared on BBC radio.
Sinclair, who studied jazz at the University of North Texas, had no idea why she'd been invited to the festival in Scotland. She has no ancestral ties to the country and had only played regional shows up to that point. Even stranger, she was booked to play alongside a host of musicians who were primarily from Africa. What followed was a 10-day whirlwind.
The next thing she knew, Sinclair was arriving at Heathrow Airport, where she waited a few hours for her mother to arrive on a separate flight. Not old enough to rent a car, her mother rented one for her and they drove (on the left side of the road) straight to her first performance inside a London clock tower. “There’s a baby grand piano in there,” she says of the renovated clock tower in a building constructed in the 1800s.
Then, before her first overseas performance, Sinclair blew a fuse in the power source for her keyboard.
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“I had a converter!” she says. “But I did something wrong.” Luckily, she didn’t need the keyboard. The room had great acoustics (and a view of central London). Sinclair had “found” the venue and arranged to use it as a performance space for a live performance video, a session for a web series based in Oxford. (She plans to return to the space and have a proper show.) After the performance, she had the fuse replaced and rented a heavy transformer, which had to be hauled along for the rest of the tour.
The next day Sinclair played a house show in a town that sits on the west coast of Scotland. “They were receptive and interested,” she recalls of the Scottish crowds. “The pastoral scenery is very different than what I’m used to.” From there Sinclair performed in a packed club on Sauchiehall, a street in the city centre of Glasgow known for live performances since the 1800s. After her performance, Sinclair learned that Scottish singer-songwriter Paolo Nutini had been in the crowd. As it turned out, the Scottish Album of the Year Awards were that night and many of the U.K.’s biggest stars were wandering the area.
Another Dallas musician, drummer Jeff Ryan from the Baptist Generals and Pleasant Grove, joined Sinclair for the Glasgow performance. Ryan happened to be in Scotland at the same time and had contacted her right before she left. “That was really cool,” Sinclair says, “to get a Dallas connection in Scotland.” Ryan joined her for another acoustic show in Edinburgh, where Sinclair played a piano in an intimate venue. “It’s such a beautiful city,” she says. “It’s a fairytale.”
And the fairytale continued. Sinclair didn’t sleep that night and drove all the way through the Scottish Highlands to board a ferry to the Orkney Islands the next morning. She performed two days at the Making Noise festival. “There was a great variety,” she says, noting that there were artists from many genres, some playing kalimba. “It seemed like all of Orkney came out.” It was summer solstice when Sinclair played the main stage. The sun didn’t set until nearly midnight and it was back in the sky a few hours later. For all the build up, the festival — the reason she'd made the trip in the first place — wound up a bit of a blur, but the people were out enjoying it.
The next day Sinclair performed near the Standing Stones of Stenness, a henge site dating back to 3100 B.C. She also performed at a grammar school where students of many ages from all the islands gathered and seemed especially interested in her music. According to an instructor, these students seemed to know about Sinclair’s music, which perhaps even led to her being asked to play the festival. She hopes to perform at the festival again next year, when it will be focused on a different cause. “I’m hoping to go back for a full summer tour,” she says.
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Sinclair got to fulfill one more dream when she was invited to do an interview and performance for BBC Orkney. “I love BBC and NPR,” she says. “I’m a dork.” She often finds new music on NPR and enjoys listening to BBC late at night after gigs. She auditioned for "Tiny Desk Sessions" last year and gushes at the thought of performing for the show one day. “There’s a respect that comes with playing on that show and a validation,” she says.
Now that she's back home in North Texas, Sinclair admits she's still not sure how the whole experience came about. It was never fully explained how the member of Parliament had found her music, why she was chosen for the festival or why the students knew her music. The whirlwind experiences haven't stopped: She's now scrambling to prepare for a set opening for Vertical Horizon at Granada Theater on Friday, having only been asked to play on Tuesday. Then again, Sinclair's pretty well used to that by now.