Robin E. Contreras Bailey wants to sing to you.
If you don’t let her, she says, “It will hurt my feelings.”
For the musician you know better as Robinella, entertaining is a very personal endeavor.
“I want people to come so I can sing to them. I’m going to try to keep them in the palm of my hand, captivated, and I think they will leave the show feeling good.”
The show is “Robinella” and will be Friday, July 29, in Downtown Maryville at the Capitol Theatre, 127 W. Broadway. Owner Heath Claiborne will begin showing music videos at 7 p.m. with Robinella and a full band taking the stage at 8.
Born and raised in Blount County, Robinella, 36, has been singing her songs since she was a little girl. Her creativity comes exploding through not only in her music, but in her visual artwork as well.
“I like doing visual art more lately,” she says. “I’ve always done it, but music always makes more money. I really like being a visual artist, but I feel music has always been a better career for me.”
That career started after she and her then husband Cruz Contreras graduated from the University of Tennessee. “We didn’t start performing professionally until after we were married and finished with college. We played music together for years and realized we had a lot in common.”
Robin was 23 when Robinella and the CC Stringband was formed. Her soft ethereal voice blended country, bluegrass and jazz as did the Stringband with its violin, mandolin, bass, drums and piano. They rose to popularity quickly on the local scene, and released their first album, “Robinella and the CC Stringband,” in 2000. “No Saint, No Prize” followed in 2001, both records on the independent label Big Gulley Records. The music got the attention of Columbia Records, which signed the group in 2002.
Seven of the bands songs from the prior two albums were released by Columbia as a new CD, “Blanket for My Soul.”
In 2003, they tasted national success with a full album and a national tour, opening for such artists as Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Earl Scruggs, Nickel Creek, Robert Earl Keen, Kasey Chambers, Del McCoury and Rodney Crowell as well as an appearance on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” and a music video on CMT for their hit single, “Man Over.” They performed on NPR’s “Mountain Stage,” appeared on the Grand Ole Opry and performed on PBS’s “SoundStage.” In 2006, Robinella was nominated for “Emerging Artist of the Year” at the Americana Music Awards and released her fourth album, “Solace for the Lonely,” on Dualtone Records in Nashville.
Robin and Cruz’s son, Cash, was born in 2004, and Robin says the family struggled with balancing parenthood and their professional career. Robin says she and Cruz were always so in sync with their music, and seemed to be concentrating more on their music life, with family taking a backseat. “I felt the need to change,” she says.
“It’s really hard to get divorced. We were tight, but mostly tight with our music. It’s like that with musicians. Cruz and I were really, really similar and shared a lot of artistic strengths, so it was really hard to break away.”
After the divorce, Robinella refocused. “It was a couple of years of down time (to be with Cash). I sang sad songs for a least a year -- pathetic, sad songs. Then I transitioned into a new life with Webster (who she married in August of 2008).”
Beau was born to Robinella and Webster in June, 2009. Now a lively 2 year old, Beau occupies much of his mother’s day while Cash is in school at Fort Craig School of Dynamic Learning, and Webster is at work in the marketing division at Cornerstone of Recovery.
“I’m still creating music, and I’m still writing songs. I have Beau all day. When you’re practicing music, you have to concentrate. It is hard to concentrate when he is pulling on the strings.
“Writing a song is a selfish moment. You get emotionally into a song, and you pretend you’re in the song, and then Beau is there. Songs don’t happen when he and Cash are there.”
But they do happen in those quieter moments, although her husband, children and home life still find their way into those creative hours.
“I have five or six new, original songs, and they are based on home life. For example, I have a song about Lord Avenue and my neighbors on both sides of me, John and Bill.
“A lot of the songs I write are more along the lines of feel good songs. There’s something more in life, and it may be a spiritual or religious thing, but there’s more to life. It’s happiness, plain old happiness.”
The “romantic period” of her song writing hasn’t gone away, however. “I’m a romantic. I like love songs, so I don’t think I will ever stop writing love songs,” Robinella says.
A new, “old love” for Robinella is her visual art. She paints, redoes furniture and creates “Tinker Boxes,” which she says are “reinvented music and jewelry boxes.”
She sees an art show in her future, along with her everyday sales of her art and Tinker Boxes at The Village Tinker.
“Right now, I’m gearing up to do a large-scale art show. Everything I do normally is on a smaller scale, so artistically I want to go larger, with more space,” the artist says. “I really like being a visual artist, but all my art reflects my music.”
Her visual artwork, actually, is the reason she is known as Robinella. Ella is her middle name, but in middle school, she was Robin.
“When I would make a piece of art, I would sign it ‘Robinella.’ I felt Robin was a little too plain.”
Calling herself “somewhat of a perfectionist,” the desire to get it right and please the audience comes through whether the artistic expression is visual or musical.
“I want a lot of things to happen in the next few years. I want to be able to play music more, but I don’t want to perform for people unless I have time to prepare and make it just the way I want it. I’m pretty hard on myself, and I’m a little bit of a perfectionist. I want to make another album, but I’m biding my time with the baby. I did the same with Cash.”
With six albums to her credit, Robinella has a lot of songs to pick from for her concerts. For this show, which will feature her full band, she is also going to include some of her new material. Personally, her favorite of her music is a song she wrote years ago, “Left Right Back Together,” and her favorite album is the newest one, “Fly Away Bird,” especially the song, “Can I Go, Too?”
Robinella says she is always looking for feedback on her new material.
“I play songs for Webster. I play them for Cruz when he comes to pick up Cash. I play songs for my mother. She’s a very good critic because she is such a smart lady. After she got all four of us raised, she went back to school and got an engineering degree. She’s a really smart lady, and she doesn’t realize how creative she is. My mom is probably my favorite critic.”
A perfect day for Robinella blends both family and creativity.
“I like to cook breakfast for everybody. Then, if it’s a weekday, Webster goes to work, Cash goes to school, and it’s just me and Beau. I try to take a little time to teach him something, and spend the rest of the day with him and getting something done with my art. If I have a really good day, I would answer my phone and check my email. I don’t like either one. I should have been born 100 years ago.”
Robinella is proud of her hometown and what she sees as a new vitality for the arts and artists.
“I think the arts make everything more beautiful, and Maryville is getting more beautiful. Some people don’t like growth, but overall, we’re growing more beautiful, and the town is looking prettier all the time.”
As for her own growth, Robinella says, “I feel like I’m ready to get started again. I’m making music and getting art done.”
Her goal, however, isn’t a life of fast fame. “I’m not the kind of girl where things like being on ‘Conan O’Brien’ are a big deal for me. What has been a highlight for me is to be around the people I got to be with, my creative friends, just being with them and making musical memories.”
Within the next five years, Robinella wants to devote even more time to her arts. “I want to be creating every day, even if it is on a minuscule scale, and I want to make another album. I would like to play bigger shows and do some touring. I always say that, and then, once I’m gone, I miss home.”
While Robinella spends a lot of energy in the creative process, she says her gift to people is her performances.
“I like entertaining. If I have a captivated audience, those moments are the highlights of my career. If they are laughing at my jokes, and I’m touching some part of them, that is the part I really, really like. It is giving my art to people and them liking it.”
So Robinella says wants everyone to show up at the Capitol on Friday, July 29, so her feelings won’t be hurt. Her suggestions for headlines for her story were “There’s a Singin’ in Maryville,” or “Emotionally, Locally and Musically Yours: Robinella.”
Tickets to the concert, which is part of Maryville’s Last Friday Art Walk, can be purchased at the theater or online. Tables can be reserved and individual tickets are also on sale. For tables of eight, call the theater at 865-980-1966. Buy tickets online in advance for $12 and at the door for $15. For online purchases, go to www.bookthecapitol.com.
Classic music videos will begin at 7 p.m., and the band will begin at 8 p.m. Student tickets are discounted to $10.
The show is bring-your-own-bottle, beer and wine only, with a $5 charge per bottle or six pack. A Movie Menu featuring drinks and desserts from the Capitol Coffee Shop and an appetizer menu from Sullivan’s Restaurant are available.
Tables can be reserved on a first-come, first-serve basis and the number of tables that can be reserved is limited. If you would like to reserve a table (reservations less than 8 may be paired with another party), call the theater at 865-980-1966 and leave a message in the Tickets and Shows mailbox.