When Kari Arnett says she’s been singing since she was 2 years old, people who have heard her perform will not be surprised. She has that kind of voice, with the range and command it takes to summon deep, sometimes dark emotions. Growing up near Cambria, Wis., in a musical household, her father a country rock musician, her mother a lover of classic rock. She first got serious about singing
pop and R&B, but as she reached adulthood she saw a different path for her music. Arnett, who performs June 9 at the Charmant Hotel in downtown La Crosse, has now established herself as a talented country/folk singer and songwriter.
“I kind of realized later on in life that that wasn’t who I was as an artist,” said Arnett, who said she was particularly inspired after listening to a lot of Jason Isbell, Amanda Shires and Neko Case. “They changed my life. It was something that hit me in my foundation of music. I thought, that’s the kind of artist I want to be. They’re writing about real issues, stuff that I’m experienced with.”
That epiphany happened when she was living in Madison before moving to the Twin Cities, where she is happy to be in a music community that has embraced her. “I was super fortunate to meet a lot of great people here. It’s a very supportive community for musicians,” she said. “Right now, I’m pretty happy being in Minneapolis.”
Arnett has had thoughts of moving to Nashville, Tenn., and had a memorable night during one visit there. Arnett went there on a getaway, with no agenda, but a friend cajoled her into trying to get a spot performing at the legendary Bluebird Café during an open mic songwriters spotlight. Arnett relented and, after a lot of calls to the Bluebird, she got on the performers list for that night.
At the Bluebird, Arnett sang one of her songs and went back to her seat in the audience to listen. She was shocked when she got called back up for an encore and not really ready for that eventuality — she had broken a guitar string during her first song. Another performer sized things up immediately and offered the use of her guitar.
“The community down there is so supportive of everybody,” Arnett said. “I hope some day I can get back down there and do some more writers nights.”
Arnett said she has been doing a lot of writing lately and is gearing up to launch a crowdfunding campaign to help her record a follow-up album to her 2015 debut, “Midwestern Skyline,” a seven-song collection of mostly somber ballads that might prompt people to inquire about her state of mind.
“A lot of people are, like, ‘Are you OK? Are you depressed?’ And to be honest, I have struggled with depression and anxiety. I want to make it OK to talk about,” Arnett said. “Life isn’t always sunshine and rainbows.”
The new songs she has written since “Midwestern Skyline” cover a wider swath of musical landscape, with some road songs, some that are rocked up, and some that have “a honky-tonk vibe.”
“I feel like I’m growing as an artist,” said Arnett, who has performed with Derek Ramnarace and his Old Soul Society band. “I think the songs are going to be representative of that. There are so many different styles I’m playing around with.”