Fayetteville Roots Festival Profile: Mary Gauthier

Mary Gauthier

Photo: Frank Zipperer

Two nights ago, New Orleans-born singer-songwriter Mary Gauthier experienced the highlight of her career when she performed a sold-out show on a Monday night at a theater in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

Before that, the highlight came the previous night during a show in Big River, Saskatchewan, and before that, it was a songwriting session in the van with band members on the way to the show.

In fact, for the 51-year-old songwriter living out her dream nightly of playing music on the road, every moment seems better than the last.

“I feel like I’ve walked into someone else’s really good dream,” Gauthier told us earlier this week. “Sometimes it’s just so surreal. It’s a damn good time to be doing what I’m doing.”

In a lot of ways, Gauthier has taken the road less traveled to success in the music business. She was orphaned as an infant, a runaway as a teen, and after struggling with drug and alcoholism early in her life, she got sober and began writing songs in her mid-30s. After 11 years operating her own restaurant – a Cajun joint she’d opened in Boston called Dixie Kitchen – she sold the place to finance her second record, Drag Queens in Limousines, in 1999.

Since then, Gauthier seems to have found her purpose in her new life as a musician.

“For me, my stability comes from instability,” she said. “I can roll with unpredictable days better than I can a regular life. I’m no good at a regular life. I really love it out here (on the road).”

Recent years have been particularly good to Gauthier. She’s written songs recorded by artists like Jimmy Buffett, Tim McGraw, Blake Shelton, and Boy George. She’s performed at the Grand Ole Opry and the Ryman, and has shared the stage with the likes of Willie Nelson, Rodney Crowell and Darrell Scott. She also earned praise for her songwriting from Bob Dylan and Tom Waits.

But when asked about the highlight of her career as a musician so far, Gauthier recalls Monday night in Winnipeg.

“Those name dropping moments, they’re great, but it doesn’t top last night in Winnipeg,” she said. “It doesn’t top our (May 23) show in Arkansas at White Water Tavern, where the owners of the place care about the music, and the place is full, and everyone is listening and the fans like the music. It’s hard to top moments like that.”

Gauthier is set to perform at the Fayetteville Roots Festival at 6 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 24 on the main stage at the Walton Arts Center. She is also scheduled to make an appearance at the Fayetteville Public Library from 1-4 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 25 during a live taping of Argenta Arts Foundation’s Tales from the South radio show.

“I’m thrilled to be a part of (the Fayetteville Roots Festival),” she said. “I think my friend Darrell Scott put me up for that, and so I’m really thankful to him for that.

“If the people are anything like they were at White Water Tavern, I know I’m going to enjoy it.”

Mary Gauthier – “I Drink”