Interview with Leilani Kilgore

Here’s a new one in our “Artists on Independent Venues” interviews. Today it’s the turn of the super-talented songwriter and killer guitarist Leilani Kilgore.

Here is number four in our series of artist interviews which we are running throughout our cross-country trip to raise money for the National Independent Venues Foundation (NIVF) and Musicians on Call (MOC).  

We first saw Leilani Kilgore perform at Buddy Guy’s Legends, which was a very fitting venue for the blues-influenced songwriter/guitarist. Hailing from the West Coast, she has since moved to Nashville and is carving out a name for herself with her “in your face” style in a city that, whilst it is becoming more diverse, is still more typically associated with country music. She is, without a doubt, an artist on the up and is definitely a “must-see live” performer!

LH: What are the independent venues you remember from your neighborhood growing up? 
Leilani: I remember a blues bar called Knuckleheads; I think it was owned by someone I went to high school with. It was the local spot for blues jams and shows and where I cut my teeth as a player. We also had a jazz club in the old town that would host the local high school band and traveling jazz artists. 

LH: Do you remember the first show you saw at an independent venue?
Leilani: I wish I could say I do, but I’m not sure how truthful that would be. My parents started bringing me to live music as soon as my little ears could handle it, and I’ve seen countless shows at independent venues, but the first one is a bit of a stretch to recall. 

LH: What was the first independent venue you played as an artist?
Leilani: I started playing professionally 13 or 14 years ago, so it’s hard to say. But some of my earliest gig memories are from shows I used to play in high school at a pub in San Diego called Hennessey’s (I think). Someone told me it’s gone now; I’m hoping that isn’t true. When I scrapped my old covers list and began doing completely original shows, Mojo’s Boneyard and Nashville’s Eighth Room were some of the first stages I played. 

LH: Do you have a favorite venue/city that you particularly look forward to visiting?
Leilani: One thing I’ve learned from touring is how uniquely different every city is from one another. I love the distinguishing quirks they all have, and love all the cities I’ve visited for their own reasons. But it’s always exciting to play somewhere new and discover what it is that’s going to make you fall in love again. We’re playing NYC for the first time this tour and, while I’ve been there many times for leisure, I’m looking forward to putting on a show in Manhattan.

LH: Do you have a bucket list venue? One that you’ve not performed at that you dream of playing one day?
Leilani: Absolutely! Top of the list is the Ryman Auditorium, or Royal Albert Hall, or Red Rocks. But there’s so many legendary clubs and theatres worldwide as well, it’s hard to narrow it down. Honestly, I want to play them all. 

LH: Any special relationships with venue owners/anyone who particularly helped your career?
Leilani: The venue that supported me the most with regular gigs when I was first starting out in Nashville was, by far, Mojo’s Boneyard in Evansville IN. It’s about two and a half hours from Nashville, and they kept inviting me back time and time again (and still do!). The owners Jeremy and Tiffany are some of the most wonderful, welcoming people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing and I always look forward to returning to their stage. 

LH: Weirdest thing that ever happened at a show?
Leilani: There’s been countless odd experiences, but the one that stands out to me most happened when I was about 19 and playing somewhere in California. I was in the middle of singing when a man came up and started stroking my face!! I was in total shock and didn’t know how to react at the time, but luckily my bass player intervened and asked the man to step away. 

LH: Funniest thing that ever happened at a show?
Leilani: We were booked to play a venue up in Roan Mountain, TN, and the owner made multiple mentions leading up to the show of how proud they were to be running bands through the PA from The Grateful Dead’s “Wall of Sound.” We agreed that was super cool, and couldn’t wait to check it out! Soundcheck ran smoothly, so we settled in and had dinner before the show, then got onstage to a full room… and irreparably blew the sound system in the first 30 seconds of our set. Luckily, the venue owner thought it was funny as well; they have the (now autographed) board up on the wall. 

LH: As an artist, is there one thing that you would like venues to know/something they could do to make your life easier?
Leilani: Any issues I’ve had with venues was usually due to lack of communication on my end. Typically the only things we’ll run into is not being sure of what gear is or isn’t provided, but that’s as simple as myself or someone on my team asking.  

LH: Any specific questions you’d like us to ask the owners?
Leilani: What can bands do to make THEIR lives easier? 

LH: Any last words on independent venues and their importance to live music?
Leilani: Independent venues are everything. Without them, artists like myself would have no way to grow a fan base, a business, a show, or a name. Independent venues need to be both protected and respected at all costs, or the music industry as we know it will collapse beyond repair.

Head over to Leilani’s website to see when and where she’ll be playing next, check out her latest single “Los Angeles” and pre-save her upcoming single “Take It For Granted.” Thanks again to Leilani for taking the time to answer our questions!

To read more about our cross-country fundraising trip for National Independent Venues Foundation and Musicians On Call, click here and don’t forget to donate!

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About Phil Walton 79 Articles
Phil grew up in the UK and loved listening to and playing music from a young age. He moved from the UK to Chicago in 2011, falling in love with the city and its music scene. He enjoys nothing better than spending time with musicians, whether it be watching them perform, talking to them for the website or reading their autobiographies.