On the Porch With Cindy Lee Berryhill as She Heads to Mattituck

Cindy Lee Berryhill, photo by Dina Douglass
Cindy Lee Berryhill, photo by Dina Douglass

Cindy Lee Berryhill has had an interesting life. Going through a tragedy that would break anyone’s heart, writing music that has biting wit combined with beautiful, wistful vocals and raising a son on her own is more than enough for a talented singer-songwriter. Her husband, Paul Williams, founder of Crawdaddy! magazine, passed away this past March from complications due to early onset dementia, after a bicycling accident resulted in a traumatic brain injury. Considered a pioneer in the field of music journalism, as well as the man who helped bring legendary science fiction author Philip K. Dick back from obscurity, Williams was certainly an important and impressive man.

I chatted with Berryhill about her upcoming performance at the Old Mill Inn, apparently her first performance since the passing of her husband, as well as her songwriting for her new album. “We’re starting to record now. I’ve been writing, while also serving as caretaker for my husband and trying to raise a young child,” Berryhill said. “It’s a thrill putting the arrangement together and finding musicians, so I’m very excited to be working on a new album.”

Berryhill, who maintains the popular blog, Beloved Stranger (also the name of her 2007 album), speaks frankly about her life with Williams, as well as her son, Alexander. Berryhill was open and honest, showing the kind of woman she is—a strong-willed, smart and hardworking mother and artist. Her latest blog entry, “Caregiving Talk Part 2” is filled with insightful information, but also personal anecdotes about her husband, along with some wonderful photographs of their life together.

“I made a decision about three years ago, to put my husband in a nursing home, due to the dementia, and I wanted to write songs about life and kind of kick back to the points of inspiration,” Berryhill said. “I would say the last album had a strong family influence, Beloved Stranger, that album was very rooted in sitting on the back porch and just playing an instrument, you know? The new songs are about love and I wanted to get back to a place where I’m inspired by a muse. Where the music comes from, where the work comes from. The music comes from that excitement and desire, that kind of feeling you had when you’re a teenager, that’s where a lot of my new music comes from.”

It’s inspiring to hear an artist talk about that almost-intangible concept of excitement and desire. So often, you struggle to put your finger on exactly what that feeling is, as a writer, artist, musician, whatever, but Berryhill puts it so perfectly. Listening to her music, tracks of “Beloved Stranger,” I hesitate to call it folksy, but maybe using her term of “back porch” is a bit more apt. It conjures poignant imagery while also delivering some brilliant, biting social commentary and satire (“When Did Jesus Become A Republican?” is a personal favorite).

“I’m quite excited to be performing on the East End, I don’t get to tour that much anymore, you know?” Berryhill said. “I’ve had a really serious lifestyle shift the past 10 years. I didn’t get to go out and be an artist much, so, this is a huge deal for me. Some people like to go to Tahiti. I like to go on tour. I’m very happy I’m being given the opportunity to do it.

“I’m happy to be sharing my experience through music,” Berryhill said. “I’m really psyched about coming out. I’d love to meet people in the community, whether you’re familiar with my work or not.”

Cindy Lee Berryhill is performing at the Old Mill Inn in Mattituck on Saturday, August 17th, from 8–10 p.m. The Old Mill Inn is located at 5775 West Mill Road. For more information or tickets, please call 631-298-8080 or visit theoldmillinn.net. Her blog, which is filled with passages on her experience, her husband and her son can be found at cindyleeberryhill.com/blog.

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