Music News & Reviews

Cellist-turned-folk-singer Anna Fritz hopes to engage Olympia audience

What do you get when you cross a folk singer and a classically trained cellist?

You get Anna Fritz of Portland, whose musical career has been a mashup of styles and genres that has brought her to this.

“Just this year, I have finally embraced calling myself a folk singer,” said Fritz, who’ll perform Friday in Olympia. “For a while, I was worried that wasn’t cool enough, but that’s what I’m doing.

“It’s a chamber folk,” she added, then interrupted herself. “I don’t know if you can call it chamber music because there’s only one of me.”

Fritz is a founding member of the Portland Cello Project, but she’s currently on leave from the group and focusing on her solo material.

“It’s literally solo on this tour,” she said. “It’s just me and my cello and my voice with very minimal amplification. It’s very intimate.”

For her October tour, she’s playing only in Friends meeting houses.

“I was raised Quaker, and that is a part of my spiritual life,” she said. “My songs, although I would not call them Christian, have a spiritual grounding.”

She does play clubs, but prefers homes, yoga studios and meeting houses.

“I really love being in an environment where the focus is on the audience and the performer connecting and creating this experience together,” she said. “It’s not so much about being seen or going out and having fun with your friends while there’s something in the background.

“It’s a more intentional experience.”

She wants to connect deeply with her audiences. “It’s very much about inviting people into this experience with me,” she said. “I invite my audiences to sing with me, to create with me in that folk-music tradition.”

Fritz’s odyssey began when she took up the cello at age 6, after two years of violin. After years studying classical music, though, she realized she wanted something more.

“I loved playing classical music and I loved the cello,” she said, “but I also was a big fan of folk and bluegrass and rock and roll. I was also a big-time activist and really loved the role that music played in the world of activism. I didn’t know how to connect being a cellist with all this other really alive stuff.”

When she moved to Portland in 2000, Fritz left the classical world and started an indie band, Annavox. She’s since played with The Decemberists, My Morning Jacket, Blue Cranes and Dirty Projectors.

And she’s returned to the classical world, too. She plays with a cello quartet, and the Cello Project collaborates with all kinds of musicians, classical included. She played with the Cello Project from 2007 to 2014 before going on leave.

“The last few years, the touring schedule was so rigorous,” she said. “I put out a second album last year and couldn’t find the time to do what I wanted to do with it.”

But her solo work is getting good reviews. “Anna Fritz shows she's got strong singing and songwriting skills to match her cello chops,” Brett Campbell wrote in a Willamette Week review of her 2013 album, “The Gospel of Tree Bark.”

“Bark” includes songs on political themes but also incorporates social consciousness, gender issues and personal material.

Her aim, she said, is to follow in the footsteps of Pete Seeger and Holly Near.

“I’m trying to get folks involved,” she said.