EXETER — Kaleigh Baker has the wanderlust gene, but the initial avenues she traveled to get to the highways were long and winding.
Baker grew up in Canisteo, New York, and attended college in Buffalo, New York, on an athletic scholarship, but her desire to play music was on a collision course with her obligation to play college basketball.
“I ended up quitting basketball halfway through the season because I started playing in clubs in Buffalo and we weren’t allowed to be out at clubs 48 hours before a game,” Baker said. “I was getting benched and having to run extra, so I had to reassess where I was at. I (didn’t) go back to the court after winter break and continued to play in clubs (instead). Then I realized that type of college wasn’t for me.”
Baker left for Full Sail University in Orlando, Florida to pursue a bachelor’s in music business. She didn’t feel comfortable playing out when she arrived in Orlando — students in classrooms dissecting Beatles songs intimidated her — but after she graduated she played an open mic and was hooked. She spent the next six years playing in Orlando before making her way back to New York and settling in the eponymous city.
“I loved it in New York City, but it’s hard to put a band together” there, Baker said. “Everybody wants to be paid to rehearse and then you have to pay for rehearsal spaces and I couldn’t afford stuff like that. I packed up and moved back down to Florida, stayed down there for a couple of years and then I went to Colorado. Colorado was too far from the East Coast, so I came here.”
Baker said that she moves somewhere, leaves her stuff and goes on tour — she calls it the gypsy mentality. Right now, she calls Old Forge home and she’s on the last week of her three-week residency at Susquehanna Tavern.
She didn’t just choose this area because of its proximity to the Big Apple, though — Baker and Northeastern Pennsylvania have a history.
“When I (decided to) go somewhere I said, ‘I’d like to go hang out in Northeast Pa. for awhile,’” Baker said. “I’ve been coming to this area for probably four or five years. The first time that I came here I ended up staying at (a) house and when I left the next morning they had given me a sword. It kind of painted this gypsy picture to me, like the old school, ‘We give you these weird gifts because you bring us music.’”
Baker will release “Weary Hours” — her first full-length album — on Oct. 16. Local residents will notice lyrical references to Kingston, along with a blatant Northeastern Pennsylvania homage in the track listing (“Pittston Pistol”), but these are only some of the experiences Baker shares over the course of the record’s ten tracks.
“I write some pretty dark stuff,” Baker said. “The record is about love and loss and misbehaving and all the bad things that happen after midnight. I definitely have pop tendencies with melodies, but there’s a real darkness to it.”
Baker said that she always has one foot out the door — she gets the itch and just wants to go. That itch will take her to Colorado at the end of September, where she plans on staying for two weeks before heading to New Mexico and Texas. Baker calls Orlando her music hometown, but music fans in Northeastern Pennsylvania can catch the Americana troubadour wrapping up her residency at Susquehanna Tavern on Saturday, Aug. 29.
After that, she can be seen wherever the itch takes her.
Reach Gene Axton at 570-704-3943 or on Twitter @TLArts