116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
For Maddie Poppe, life on the road means planes, trains and automobiles. Along with all the other discoveries for the Clarksville native since winning “American Idol” in 2018, she now prefers trains over planes on tours.
“In Iowa, obviously, we drive,” Poppe, 24, said by phone from Los Angeles, where she was spending a quick tour break on songwriting sessions and a project she can’t yet divulge, but the excitement in her voice rang through.
On the longer jaunts, trains get the nod.
“It’s much easier to get up and walk around,” she noted, “and it's literally like a quarter of the price.”
Last year, she emerged from the pandemic lockdown for a nine-concert acoustic holiday tour in Iowa, including two sold-out shows at the Paramount Theatre in Cedar Rapids. She’ll be back Sunday night, Dec. 19, 2021, with her guitar, new music and some old favorites, with keyboard player Max Naseck joining her onstage.
What: Maddie Poppe’s Acoustic Christmas 2021
Cedar Rapids: 7 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 19, 2021, Paramount Theatre, 123 Third Ave. SE; $29.50 to $39.50, artsiowa.com/tickets/concerts/maddie-poppe
Cedar Falls: 8 p.m. Dec. 31, Great Hall, Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center, 8392 University Ave., followed by an after-party in the lobby; $40.75 to $80.75 adults, $11.75 college students, $6.75 youths, unitix.uni.edu
Dubuque: 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 17, 2021, Diamond Jo Casino, 301 Bell St.; $15 to $35, moonbarrocks.com/
Artist’s website: maddiepoppe.com
This year’s holiday tour features twice as many concerts, and winds from coast to coast. It launched Nov. 21 in Arnolds Park, in northwest Iowa’s Okoboji lake region, then hopped to the East Coast for five shows, and onto the west. She’ll be back in the Midwest, beginning with a Friday night concert in Dubuque, before winding around the region, ending up in Nashville on Dec. 28, then ringing in the new year Dec. 31 with the Waterloo Cedar Falls Symphony.
“The only covers that I'm playing are Christmas songs,” she said, “and I've got a lot more Christmas songs than I did last year — different newer ones. But I also am doing a lot of my own stuff too, and songs that I didn't always do. Even though they're my songs, I don't always play them because I don't always have a keyboard player up there with me. But now that I’ve got him, I have a lot more options.”
She was grateful to be able to perform in her home state during last year’s holiday season.
“Iowa was the best place to be during that time, for a lot of reasons,” she said. “Nobody else was allowing live music to happen — and I understand why — but Iowa was very open to that. It was a lot of fun and I was kind of like overwhelmed with those shows. It was a lot of shows back to back to back, and I thought that was a lot. And then they scheduled this year's tour and I was like, ‘Wow, last year was nothing.’ ”
She spent part of the pandemic at boyfriend Caleb Lee Hutchinson’s place in Nashville. He was her runner-up on “American Idol” Season 16, and the two often travel together, staffing the merchandise table at each other’s concerts. He was with her in Los Angeles last week, but then was returning to Nashville before his own concert Friday night in Florida. So Poppe’s sister Emma, 19, will step up to the merchandise table.
While the pandemic shutdown was hard for someone like Poppe who was trying to get established in the music industry, the downtime also had an upside.
“Like a lot of people, I took a lot of losses career-wise,” she said. “And I still feel like I have to just start all over, which is not the greatest feeling. But it's also kind of freeing in a way, because it just allows me to do exactly what I want to do, and not have any authority or anybody telling me anything.
“And not having such a rush on everything. After I got off (”American Idol“), it was like, ‘OK, we need to make this album now, and we don't try to figure out the logistics, we just have to put music out.’ And that was kind of tough because I was not sure what kind of stuff I wanted to make, but I knew that I had to make something. As great as it was to have music out right away, it was like, was it all really true to me?”
She admits could have used the downtime to write more music.
“I didn't really take that opportunity to write, which I should regret, but I just wasn't ready yet,” she said. “I was coming off a really crazy two years, and it was nice to take a break, to be honest.”
Honesty is a cornerstone for the young singer/songwriter, who has found a new base for writing in Nashville. She has her own place in Iowa, separate from her family’s home, but Music City is giving her the chance to be true to herself and find her niche.
“If you would have asked me four months ago, I would have said I'm still kind of figuring it out. But recently I've done a lot of sessions in Nashville, and I feel so happy with the stuff that's coming out there. I definitely feel like I found my thing.”
And that “thing” isn’t country-tinged. She’s still embracing the pop singer/songwriter vibe she gravitated toward in her mid-teens, when she discovered the music of Ingrid Michaelson and Sara Bareilles.
“Those people really shaped who I am, and the style I lean toward,” she said, adding that her new music isn’t country at all.
"That's what a lot of people think when they think of Nashville, obviously,“ she said. ”But there’s definitely people who are looking to do something new, looking at other genres. I think they've been writing country for so long there, that it's refreshing to write something else for a change.“
Plus, Nashville has lots of session players eager to perform and record on various projects.
When it comes to business decisions, she goes with her gut feelings. She does turn to Hutchinson and her father, Trent Poppe, for advice. Even though her father isn’t in the industry, she appreciates having an outside perspective.
“I think that so many times, people in this industry are so jaded and they've been in this industry for so long that they kind of forget what it's like,” she said. “They're kind of in this machine and they forget what real life is like and what consumers actually want to hear.
“And so I like to live kind of one foot in one foot out, because I don't want to get too sucked up in this thing that I forget who I am.”
She also realizes the industry has people who might try to take advantage of someone they see as young and vulnerable.
“But like I said, you’ve just got to go with your gut and stick to your values and your morals.”
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