STAFF WRITER JENNIFER FIERRO
A self-described shy girl from Marble Falls is in the midst of promoting her band’s fourth album, which includes a stop at this year’s UtopiaFest.
Grace Rowland, a 2002 graduate of Marble Falls High School, is the lead singer for Austin-based The Deer, which has been in existence since 2013.
The Deer will perform at 3 a.m. Friday, November 15, on the festival’s Late Night Good Times’ Groove stage at Reveille Peak Ranch. But if you can’t catch the early show, they take the stage again at 5:45 p.m. the same day.
The Deer, signed to the Keeled Scales label, has toured Oregon, Utah, Washington state, and Colorado to kick off their latest album, “Do No Harm.”
Rowland called the band’s sound an interesting mix.
“It’s indie rock that’s rooted in secular, but much of it is spiritual,” she said. “It’s mostly non-denomination and spiritual. It has something everyone can relate to.”
She pointed out the self-descriptive “Move To Girls” on the new album, which talks about “traveling on the road and finding love and being able to ask about what you need in life.”
According to critics, the album illustrates the band’s growth from where it started. Their debut album, “An Argument for Observation,” was originally Rowland’s solo project. But backup singer Stephanie Bledsoe, Rowland’s best friend, died shortly after the record’s release, which pulled the bandmates closer together.
After Bledsoe’s death, the group came together under one name: The Deer.
By 2016’s “Tempest & Rapture,” The Deer included upright bass player Jesse Dalton, lead guitarist, mandolinist, and fiddler Noah Jeffries, guitarist Michael McLeod, and drummer Alan Eckert.
Rowland first began performing during the Christmas pageant at First Baptist Church of Marble Falls as a youth. She admitted she was “nervous about being seen and going out and baring my soul.”
“It was terrifying every time,” she said.
But it also proved to be a valuable training ground because she felt a connection to the audience and took that as permission to share so much of herself with others.
Rowland refers to singing as her therapy, noting she “can do it on my terms. I feel I get a whole lot of therapy through this job.”
Rowland added that being on stage performing takes away the negative feelings she might be experiencing: worry, stress, affliction, and tension.
While in high school, she was a member of six choirs and took advantage of her hometown’s proximity to the Highland Lakes chain by riding personal watercraft, wake boarding, and fishing.
“Growing up in Marble Falls gave me a fearlessness,” she said. “Part of me was always scared of the water. It took me a long time to get on the lake.”
Her parents, Annie and David Rowland, still live in Marble Falls. She has an older sister, Jennifer.
She credits English teacher Shirlene Bridgewater, theater teacher Martha Patino, and choir teacher Julie Felts as well as First Baptist Church choir director Tommy Ryan for seeing her potential, encouraging her, and demanding she share her abilities with others.
That newfound confidence led her to major in music at Texas State University, where she met other music majors who would have a profound influence on her life: bandmates Dalton and McLeod.
Her life changed forever when she attended the Kerrville Folk Festival at the urging of her best friend. Sitting with their friends, Dalton told Rowland to play a song she’d been composing.
“He taught me a lot about accepting myself and putting myself out there,” she said.
As she sang, Rowland released all the negativity she’d been holding in.
“Everything that had been pent up left my body,” she said. “Music became a therapy to me.”
With that realization, Rowland returned to Marble Falls from the festival, packed a bag, and headed back to Kerrville, where she spent the next two weeks composing songs because she had an epiphany: She knew she had to perform.
“I wrote songs and went to the river and played songs,” Rowland said. “I wrote and wrote different music.”
She, a cello player, and a guitarist formed The Blue Hit, performing as a group from 2006-10. They still occasionally play together.
Rowland considered teaching music, but it just wasn’t her gig.
For three years after The Blue Hit formally ended, she worked on what she thought was going to be her own album. Instead, it became The Deer’s.
Getting on stage still brings anxiety, but Rowland’s yearning to share her soul always takes over. It’s what makes her take the mic.
“When it’s a need, it feels like you have to do it or you’ll go crazy,” she added.
UtopiaFest is Thursday-Saturday, November 14-16, at Reveille Peak Ranch, 105 CR 114 just west of Burnet. Adult general admission weekend passes, which include all day Friday and Saturday, are $199. Weekend passes are $60 for ages 13-19 and $30 for ages 2-12. Weekend pass holders can include Thursday and Wednesday for an additional price. The Euphonic Pass, which features a VIP experience Wednesday-Saturday, is available for $519 for adults.
Passes for UtopiaFest are available online.