I suspect that many Austinites are familiar with having a favorite local band or artist who you champion, frequently going out to their live shows and wondering why national success has eluded them. Jesse Lyda’s documentary tells the story of one such artist and one with some Austin success under her belt at that.
The landscape of the music industry has changed immensely since Ana Egge started recording. She left her self-professed “hippie family” behind in New Mexico and headed to Austin to make music. Her 1997 album “River Under The Road” earned her a pair of Austin Music Awards for Best Songwriter and Best Folk Artist, but she got a little spooked by the “potential fame and excitement.”
She left her life in Austin to return to New Mexico for awhile, in part because the people who were approaching her about her music wanted to change her. The goal was often to soften her image to make her appear more “femme” and to translate her sad songs into something more upbeat. These were not compromises that Egge was willing to make.
As time went on, she moved to Brooklyn, got married to her wife Amy, recorded an album with Steve Earle and began the process of starting a family. Her ability to craft songs from intensely personal material even caused a few riffs in her family.
To say that she’s suffered for her art is a touch melodramatic, but it’s hard to say what “could have been” if she had been willing to make some sacrifices in order to gain a larger audience. In the end, it comes down to what your measurement of success really is. For Egge, her ability to stay true to herself and make the music she wants to make is the most important thing.
I often wonder why things click into place for one artist and not another. There’s often no rhyme or reason to it and a lot of it is just plain luck. With absolutely gorgeous vocals that recall Gillian Welch and some truly emotional and heartfelt lyrics, it’s a shame that Egge’s work hasn’t resulted in a larger fanbase. If the stars align, maybe this documentary will finally be what does the trick.
“Bright Shadow” had its Austin premiere at AGLIFF in the Documentary Feature category. It does not currently have U.S. distribution.