- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 24, 2001

By Derek Simmonsen

THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Going from obscurity to being hailed as the greatest folk singer of a generation in less than a decade is a lot for one singer to bear. But singer-songwriter Dar Williams, 33, seems to be taking it in stride

"I think I assumed that musicians sort of lived in this magical place and I never dared to think that I could join them," she says from a hotel room in Athens, Ga. "And I still feel that way. I still feel very lucky to be called one."

Miss Williams will be playing in the D.C. area March 26 and 27 when she returns to Alexandria's Birchmere Music Hall for the second time since November.

"I've always really loved playing in Washington, D.C.," she says. "It's a very international city where people bring their identities and backgrounds with them and keep them alive."

Miss Williams picked up her first guitar at age 9 and has long been interested in the arts, but never saw herself as the next Joan Baez. After studying at Wesleyan University, she headed to Boston to find a job in the theater.

Her solo singing career started while she kept her day job as the stage manager for the Opera Company of Boston. Those early coffeehouse performances failed to net her an audience, though, and Miss Williams soon departed for the smaller college town of Northampton, Mass. She self-produced her first album.

"I thought the first album was a happy fluke and the second album was a great surprise," she says of her awe at being where she is now.

Building up a fan base, doing toursof national folk festivals and releasing two albums back to back, in 1996 and 1997, slowly turned the unknown singer into the next-big thing. More media exposure had its up and down sides, she says.

"My constant exposure to the media for a while engendered a hyper self-consciousness," Miss Williams says. "I think it's important for anyone to deal with that in our culture."

One of the ways she deals with that greater attention is by returning to nature. Her fourth album "The Green World," released in August 2000, is filled with references to the greener side of life.

Miss Williams has been wary of the big city after she watched her artist friends move to New York City after college and struggle to create art while still paying the rent.

"Better to move to a small industrial mill town and find your voice than discover your voice has been smothered by just trying to make ends meet," she says of her thinking at the time.

Even though her celebrity is increasing and the pull of New York City is stronger, she still prefers the Hudson Valley over an apartment in Greenwich Village.

"I think cities are very overwhelming," she says. "You can get a lot of metaphors from them, but there's a whole range of things that you're in touch with when you're in a slower-paced town that are really valuable to me."

Her love of the outdoors comes through especially in "Calling the Moon," an ode to returning to nature after the busy rush of the city.

"The moon wanted more of my night/I turned off the engine and the headlights/The trees appeared as they'd never been gone/I promised the fields I'd return from now on," she sings on her new album.

Miss Williams will continue touring through the rest of the year in support of "The Green World," but is taking time out to pursue other activities, such as acting in an upcoming Northampton production of Eve Ensler's "The Vagina Monologues."

"I've learned from music that if somebody invites you to do something and you think you can't do it, you might as well do it and expect the best," she says.

WHAT: Dar Williams with opening act Darden SmithWHERE: The Birchmere, 3701 Mount Vernon Ave., AlexandriaWHEN: 7:30 p.m. March 26 and 27TICKETS: $27.50PHONE: 703/549-7500


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