Growing up near Port Huron Michigan, Rae Ann McVeigh never knew she would end up as a singer. But once she got to St. Clair County Community College and started studying theater, she found her passion.
McVeigh, 25, of Marysville, south of Port Huron, is a self-taught musician who has only been playing acoustic guitar for the past three years. She is nominated for Best Female Musician at the Blue Water Music Awards, which take place Feb. 22.
“A couple of years ago, Sadat Hossain invited me to Lynch’s Irish Tavern for their Tuesday night Open Mike nights,” says McVeigh, whose stage name is Raven Rae. “And I have been going ever since.”
Hossain is a Port Huron musician and the owner of a local café called--ironically--the Raven Café. “Watching her develop these past two and a half years--she’s always so eager,” says Hossain.
“The Raven Café is really cool,” says Shannon Conover of Marine City. “It’s super unique.”
“From Lynch’s it blossomed into local festivals like Folk in the Woods, Blue Chili Grass Festival, Paddle and Pour, and Open Mike nights at breweries, restaurants and pubs across the area,” says McVeigh.
She plays mostly covers, but has recently begun writing her own material. “I like slower, finger-picking songs, and melodic tones, but if I wanna rock out, I will rock out.”
McVeigh is influenced by performers such as Fleetwood Mac, Janis Joplin, Joan Jett, Pink, and more.
“She started as a singer-songwriter and now her repertoire is all-encompassing,” says Hossain. “She can do pop tunes like Melissa Etheridge or U2, but then she has been getting a dancier feel, and could cover current artists, like Metric.”
She says she has recently purchased an electric guitar and has been working with fellow local musicians on learning how to play it.
“If anyone has ever came to a show, left me a tip, or bought a CD, this is the result--my guitars. The fans bought them so thank you.”
The music scene
McVeigh and Hossain consider themselves part of a diverse set of musicians who call the Port Huron area home. There are bands like Mountain Babies, who are more ambient folk, psych-country, and Americana; Native Howl, a four-piece band that calls their sound “thrash grass,” a blend of rock, bluegrass, and experimental; and Gasoline Gypsy, Southern-tinged rock.
McVeigh says she is happy to be nominated with her peers and says that although it is competitive, everyone is more or less supportive of each other.
“Paige Slade is running against me, but she opened up for me recently, and is passing on the torch, kind of. We all have dreams, so we have to help each other. “
“The scene in Port Huron has been going on for quite a while,” says Hossain. “There’s always a new generation of musicians or a new clique of about 10-15 bands.”
Finding a home
Hossain says that it is hard for Port Huron artists to find places to play in the area, because there are no concert venues.
“The only place to play is in a bar,” he says, “since we don’t have a venue. It’s kind of crippling. With the café, we try to give equal billing to touring and local acts--predominantly acoustic, which hobbles me, because, once again, we don’t have a venue.”
One of the places a lot of musicians are able to feel at home at is SchwonkSoundStead, a 103-year-old house that is part studio, part live venue, part practice space, and more, run by local musicians.
Bands can record, practice, play shows, and sell merchandise there. It is open seven days a week by appointment, by visiting https://www.schwonksoundstead.com/
“It’s a community space more than anything,” says SchwonkSoundStead engineer Randy Willis. “We see it as a cultural exchange, a place to build connections.”
The Schwonk, as it’s known as, is not for profit and free. There is the suggestion for patrons to make a donation to the bands, though.
“There are a diverse group of people from all walks of life,” says Willis, “Jazz, funk, hard rock, rap--there are some great albums being dropped out here.”
“I can’t do it without all of these people,” says McVeigh. “It’s the support that keeps everyone going. There is no try again, you have to keep going.”
Recent developments in Port Huron, like the opening of Sperry’s Moviehouse, and the City Flats Hotel, give Hossain hope that maybe some new venues will be available.
“Those places are anchors to the actual community, and I feel like that is what Downtown is getting to,” says Hossain.
“If you want to learn how to play, just do it,” says McVeigh. “Pick it up. It’s going to be scary, and even if you don’t know what to do, keep doing it.”
For more information, visit McVeigh’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/SingerRavenRae/?fref=nf&pnref=story
, Ravens Café at https://ravencafeph.com/
, and Lynch’s Irish Tavern at http://www.lynchsirishtavern.com/home.aspx