Since 2007, violinist Petra Kelly has been adding her strings to outstanding bands like Hares on the Mountain, Spooky Folk, The Fox and the Bird and The Angelus. She moved up to Denton in 2003 from a suburb just outside of Houston to attend the illustrative music school at UNT, but quickly dropped out. It was her status as a superfan that led to her current wealth of gigs: She attended shows, gushed to bands afterward, and told them that if they ever needed a violinist, she was the girl.
"The reason I started playing the violin is because my dad wanted me to be a lawyer or a doctor or something, and playing music is good for your brain development," the 27-year-old says. "It makes you smarter. So I was supposed to ... grow up to be a successful, intelligent person."
In high school, she frequented shows in Houston to see bands like Mates of State, the Anniversary and Crooked Fingers. Despite being somewhat savvy about more obscure and vital scenes around the country, she admits she wasn't aware of the scene in Denton when she moved there.
After dropping out of school, she got her stockbroker's license and began working for corporate America. "There's no accountability [in the corporate world]," she relates. "It's this giant machine where everything's inefficient. And in theory it works because it's broken down into all these people that have individual jobs that are supposed to come together, so that the overall thing works, like a cog. But it doesn't. Oftentimes things get fucked up because no one's looking at the big picture."
That experience pushed her into her current life as a waitress by day at the Spiral Diner in Oak Cliff, and violinist by night. As it pertains to paying her bills, she prefers food service to stock brokering: "The straws are empty. Go refill them. Done. Someone needs a glass of ice. Got it. There's an honesty about it. I can control what's happening and I don't feel bad selling food to people."
Some of her first musical collaborations were with Fort Worth's Joe Allison and the now-defunct Leatherwood. From there, a friend told her to go see a mutual buddy, Kaleo Kaualoku of Spooky Folk, play a gig at Art 6 in Denton. She immediately fell in love with the music, asked him if she could play violin with him, and she has been in Spooky Folk ever since.
The same happened with George Neal. She loved Hares on the Mountain, asked if there was a slot for her, and Neal simply told her to show up at a practice. Same with The Fox and the Bird. Most recently, the Angelus asked her to play a few songs from On A Dark & Barren Land live.
She says local violinists like Tamara Brown and Becky Howard were instrumental in defining her style. She loves the lazy violin strokes that exist outside the pocket. Musicians like Mike Sidell, who arranged the strings for Josh Pearson's 2011 album, Last of the Country Gentlemen, and Warren Ellis of Dirty Three also heavily inspired her current approach.
To say Kelly is omnipresent in the scene is not that much of an overstatement. This week, she appears with The Angelus at LaGrange on Thursday night with Crushed Stars, covers Sparklehorse songs with Ryan Thomas Becker at The Kessler on Friday night, has a brief sabbatical on Saturday, and closes out the week playing with Hares on the Mountain for their regular Sunday gig at Dan's Silverleaf. This life, it seems, is more her speed.
"That was the other problem with working with corporate America," she adds. "I cannot discuss the last four episodes of American Idol that have been on this week. They have an audition show, and then the next day they have another audition show, and then they'd have the actual competition, and then there's the results show. Everyone talked about it at work, and I just didn't want to talk about it. I don't watch Dancing With the Stars. It's fine if you do, but that's why we're not gonna be friends, because we don't have shared interests. That's what it is."
For now, Kelly is fine not knowing what the future holds for her. She is more prepared for the apocalypse than she is for Western society's model of working a job you may or may not be able to tolerate until you are old enough to retire and die. Her hypothesis states that humanity will probably fuck itself over long before she can accomplish any of that.
"I love camping," she says, tongue planted firmly in cheek. "So I feel like I could deal with the apocalypse."
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