Bristow: The troubadour
Jackie Bristow is carving out the kind of career a young girl from Gore could only dream about.
Yet here she is, returning to her home patch in triumph, a world away from the shy singer who took her first tentative musical steps in country competitions.
She was honoured at the ILT Southland Entertainment Awards, at the Civic Theatre in Invercargill, with the international Westpac Southland Music Ambassador award, in recognition of her achievements flying the southern flag on the world stage.
Since she left Southland in the early 1990s Bristow has made a good life out of her music, writing, recording, travelling and performing with an honesty and directness that has made her a crowd favourite the world over and a very in-demand support act to the stars.
Now based in Los Angeles, she has recorded three critically acclaimed albums, with a fourth on the way, and toured the world, performing solo and with a galaxy of big-name talent.
Some of the support gigs on her CV: Tommy Emmanuel, Marc Cohn, John Oates, John Waite, B J Thomas, Rick Springfield, Art Garfunkel, Madeline Peryoux, Phoebe Snow, Daniel Lanois, Jimmy Webb, Howard Jones . . . That one big break that will get her name to the top of that illustrious list has eluded her so far, but she remains a fiercely independent performer.
Travelling light by necessity, without the expense of a band behind her, has helped to shape her stagecraft.
"Most of these big gigs I've played solo, just me and my guitar, and it's becoming one of my strengths, " she says.
"I've developed my own style and I can pretty much pack a suitcase, jump on a plane or in my car and play any show without hesitation or worry about how much a band will cost. I am my own band."
The music business has changed so much in the past decade with less money to invest and fewer breakthrough artists, but Bristow hasn't given up hope that the limelight might yet fall on her.
"A breakthrough album and song is every artist's pursuit. I've achieved more than I ever dreamed and I'm in it for the long haul. I've opened for major stars and have their respect and support but who wouldn't want a No 1 hit?"
Still, you won't see her any time soon on American Idol trying for the kind of disposable instant fame that comes with it.
"One of the only ways to get famous quickly nowadays is to go on a reality TV show, " she says.
"They have nothing to do with the development of an artist or be original, like the days of Joni Mitchell, or Neil Young where the troubadour was supported and developed, great albums were made and people are still listening to them 40 years later.
"I'll keep making records and playing with world- class musicians and producers and I'll continue to grow and build my audience. I'm a fulltime working musician. This is my job and I feel blessed to make a living doing what I love."
After five years of immersing herself in the Austin, Texas, music scene, Bristow recently relocated back to buzztown LA, where the tinsel always glitters.
"As time went by I was touring outside Texas more than I was playing in Austin and I started to miss my buddies in Los Angeles. There is a big Australian/New Zealand community here and I have a lot of great friends.
"When you're living away from your home country you need that support and also I was finding I had a lot of work in California and it was just time to move back.
"Los Angeles is an amazing city. You never know who you're going to meet and who is connected to who."
Recently after a show in Santa Ynez Bristow sold a CD to a man who introduced himself as Henry Diltz. He offered to take some pictures of her.
She googled him and discovered he'd been the official photographer at Woodstock, who'd done photo shoots of Jimi Hendrix, The Who, The Doors' Morrison Hotel album cover, Linda Ronstadt, Michael Jackson and Bob Dylan. Diltz's photos will grace the cover of Bristow's next album.
"I'm based in Larchmont, Hollywood, very close to everything. I can see the Hollywood sign from my bedroom, I love California, the ocean, the people and the weather - it's been a great move coming back here."
Bristow is thrilled that she'll be getting the Westpac Southland Music Ambassador award at next week's awards show in Invercargill.
"It really does mean a lot to me. Respect and recognition for your achievements is very important and I really appreciate the support I have got over years from Southland, New Zealand.
"I'm proud to be the girl from Gore and I love sharing my stories around the world about Aotearoa."
While she's in New Zealand this month she'll also be sharing her music with some excited children from St Mary's in Gore, where she went to school herself, and Waverley Park School in Invercargill.
Children's choirs from those schools will join her on stage at the Christian Centre in Invercargill and the Catholic Church in Gore.
"This wasn't an idea I sought out, it just happened organically through an old school friend last year when I was asked to visit their school after finding out they had been singing my song Aotearoa in assembly.
"I decided to invite the kids to sing and it was a real buzz for me and for them. I got my start in music at primary school learning guitar, ukulele and singing in the St Mary's choir because I had a wonderful music teacher, Mr Walter Hails.
"I can share my musical knowledge and experience and inspire and give the kids some encouragement. It's a lot of fun and very rewarding.
"It's also a buzz for me to hear their mass choir with their sweet voices singing on my songs."
* The ILT Southland Entertainment Awards were held in Invercargill on March 19.
- The Southland Times