Local singer-songwriter to perform in downtown Niles

Published 10:31 am Sunday, November 12, 2023

NILES — Independent singer-songwriter Abbie Thomas packed the house this past weekend at Ignition Music Garage in Goshen. It was a celebratory evening, coming off the tail of winning the Artist of the Year Award from the Josie Music Awards at the Grand Ole Opry, earning a nomination for Best Live Performance at the Hollywood Independent Music Awards, officially naming her band, Abbie Thomas and the Crazy Hearts, and opening for Philadelphia’s Taylor Kelly and country music legend Clint Black. One of the busiest musicians in Michiana, Abbie has numerous shows left this year, including an appearance in Niles at Iron Shoe Distillery on Nov. 29.

“I just call ‘Midwest’ home,” said Abbie.

Though she was born in California and moved numerous times as a child and adult, she has settled into the region and become a prominent name in the local music scene in just a few years.

Her father, a retired non-denominational minister, had traveled the world as a missionary. He met Abbie’s mother in college and she joined him in his travels until they started to have children, limiting their wandering to the United States. Both brought music into the home. 

Her mother was a singer who even shared a trio with Crystal Gayle and her sister while in school. She taught Abbie to sing and would practice her vocals while attending to chores around the house. Abbie’s father came from his own musical family and taught her Beatles songs on the guitar. She remembers falling in love with R&B and soul music after seeing musician Lauryn Hill in the movie Sister Act 2. 

Abbie has written songs since she was a child, but she never expected to make music a career.

“I didn’t know you could make it a job unless you were Britney Spears,” she said.

Thomas was expanding her exploration of music prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Pushed by a friend and supported by her future husband, she began attending open mic events, going several times before finally signing up to perform. She remembers that first moment in 2018, shaking while playing before a full room. She found a supportive audience and encouragement from John Smith, who is still a collaborator today. She recalls stepping off stage and Smith, who had been sitting in the front row, saying “Girl, you’ve gotta share that with the world!” Six months later, Abbie found herself on stage at the Acorn Theater, taking part in their 2019 Singer/Songwriter Competition.

The COVID-19 pandemic changed Abbie Thomas’ path, pushing her into music as a career. After ending a successful photography business due to a spinal injury, she had settled into a creative director position at a corporation. She was in a recording studio, working on her first single while seven months pregnant, when the phone call came that she had been let go from her job. She left the studio crying, heading to the bathroom, where she found a heads-up penny waiting for her on the floor. She considered it a sign of good luck and a push toward her creative pursuits.

“I walked back to the studio and was like, well, this is going to be my job now,” she said.

Thomas, who still has that coin and even named her daughter Penny, found more than music in that moment. A realization about what was important in life was born. Abbie had been exhausted, overworked, and angry about putting in too much effort for someone else to profit. She missed seeing her family and friends and wanted to turn her effort toward something that mattered to her.

“As adults, we get to choose what brings us happiness and we get to choose the things that can bring other people joy and we get to choose how we spend our time and I was spending my time in all the wrong places,” she said.

Thomas described that first year, dedicated to music and her new daughter. Her anxiety and depression went from critical to non-existent. She continued from there, applying her business skills to booking herself, learning how to communicate with fans, venues, and other musicians, and connecting with the local music scene.

“It’s a thing up here,” she said. “Whatever your music vibe is, there is a place that you can go.”

She described a scene with enough varied venues for work as a full time musician, making a living while close to home playing in bars, wineries, restaurants, listening rooms, and theaters. The local music community is also friendly, with more encouragement than ego. Musicians help each other find gigs, offer each other chances to play with others so fans and venues can see their work. Abbie has been able to build up to the full band, the Crazy Hearts, and begin to transition to more concerts instead of bar gigs.

She has also found a path in music in the world of soundtracks. This year, she created her first score for the short film, Tight Squeeze. She’s taken her love of movie soundtracks, the combination of imagery and sound, and worked the orchestral sounds into her own music. She even had a short film debut at the Riverbend Film Fest, a combination of three music videos that tie together into a short film.

Abbie Thomas and the Crazy Hearts put that progress on display at the Ignition show. She brought fellow Goshen artists, BEE! The Band, in as her opener. BEE bassist Isaac Fisher serves the same role in the Crazy Hearts and the opener’s singer, Evan Krabill, joined Abbie onstage to add saxophone to the performance. The crowd sang along and followed the end of the show with a standing ovation, demanding more music. A tearful Abbie collected herself, approached the mic and stated “I never had that happen before.”

Abbie hopes other musicians and artists learn from her example. She notes that she sat for years, writing in a notebook but not sharing it. She learned to embrace her mistakes and learn through practice.

“Just do it,” she said. “Take a chance on yourself, work hard. The only competition is yourself and how much you’re willing to put into it.”

Abbie Thomas continues to play shows with the Crazy Heart and as a solo act throughout the region. She will be playing in Niles at Iron Shoe Distillery on Wednesday, November 29th. Tour dates and more can be found at abbiethomasmusic.com.

Justin Flagel is the founder of Red Chuck Productions, where he writes, tells stories, and creates new media. Follow his work at redchuckproductions.com. Feedback can be directed to contact@redchuckproductions.com.