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Rockin' attitude


June 2014

The pairing of legendary musicians Alejandro Escovedo and R.E.M.’s Peter Buck drew eager music fans to Turner Hall, but it was rock violinist Susan Voelz’s ability to add beauty or grit to the music that stole the show.

Using her grandfather’s fiddle she has played since she was 9, Voelz’s natural ability as a musician, not to mention usually being the only woman on stage, makes her hard to turn away from.

The Wauwatosa native didn’t set out to be a musician. Voelz comes from a family of musicians — her father was a jazz bass player and her mother, a choir teacher. Voelz majored in violin and English at Indiana University Bloomington but was still unsure she wanted to pursue music until her boyfriend convinced her to play in his band. "I remember playing on stage and someone looked at me and said, ‘Yeah!’ and I thought, ‘I’m good at this.’ I had the violin degree, and because I could play, I could also put up with a lot of the male rock attitude," Voelz says.

She lived a self-described gypsy lifestyle, moving from California to New Orleans to Austin, where she met and began playing with Escovedo and Poi Dog Pondering, a long-running alternative folk band. She recorded with and toured extensively with both bands.

Voelz has also played with John Mellencamp and appeared with him on "Saturday Night Live" in the early 1990s; she also released two solo albums.

In 2007, she wrote a book about life on the road, "The Musician’s Guide to the Road: An All Access Backstage Pass," published by Random House. A few years later, Voelz, who now lives in Chicago, decided she had enough of touring and came off the road. She took time to care for her sick mother, spent a month in Thailand, opened a rock violin studio for children, got a dog and started gardening.

When she tours now, it’s usually for about two weeks at a time. "There’s a satisfaction in knowing how little you need as long as you have good boots, a pretty dress and a violin," she says. "Touring kind of shows you what you’re made of when you’re away from home without your support system. And we do it for these 60 to 75 minutes on stage each night, in the lights with all that energy and sound swirling around you like another universe."


This story ran in the June 2014 issue of: