When she was a middle-schooler in Arkansas, Sarah Slaton would stay up all night downloading music, then burn mix CDs to hand out to her friends. "For me, listening to music was so cathartic," she recalls.
At seventeen, she dug out her sister's guitar from the back of a closet and taught herself how to play. In the years that followed, she performed a few gigs and dropped a couple of songs on MySpace, but she was just getting her feet wet.
In 2004, Slaton went to Missouri State University, where she learned about the music industry and earned a degree in entertainment studies. She landed a marketing internship with Live Nation in Denver, and so packed up and moved here, hoping the city would offer even more opportunities. Later, she worked as a talent buyer at Casselman's and the Vinefield Agency, and eventually became a production assistant, doing stints with Live Nation and AEG.
In 2014, she formed the folk trio Edison; by 2016, the band was signed to Rhyme & Reason Records and touring in a rig the members named "Trailer Swift." Edison became a staple in the Denver music scene, and Slaton and her bandmates played more than 400 shows. They performed at Treefort and South by Southwest, toured with Iron & Wine and Jared & the Mill, and opened for such local stars as Nathaniel Rateliff and Gregory Alan Isakov and touring acts like Andrew McMahon and Shakey Graves, driving more than 200,000 miles along the way.
When both of her bandmates moved out of Colorado, Slaton started writing music independently again, and has since made a name for herself as a singer-songwriter.
The song "Time to Go," about the band's end, has been used to promote the Save Our Stages Act, a piece of federal legislation championed by the National Independent Venue Association that would send economic relief to independent venues, movie theaters and other live-entertainment businesses. The accompanying music video, released in October, documents Edison's time touring at independent venues around the country.
For Slaton, the independent venues that are now at risk of closing played a huge role in starting her music career. One of the last shows she played before COVID-19 closures was at Hodi's Half Note in Fort Collins, which shut down permanently in July. It's one of many Front Range music venues that have not survived the pandemic, including 3 Kings Tavern, El Chapultepec, Live @ Jack's, La Cour and others.
Right now Slaton is doing everything in her power to help save the remaining venues, many of which are on the brink of closure. She's been filming a documentary with the Armory Denver about how the pandemic has impacted musicians, venues and everybody involved in the music world. The film, whose working title is When the Music Stops, will be released in early 2021.
Slaton knows firsthand the toll the pandemic has taken on people in the entertainment industry. Being a musician herself, she grappled with not knowing how to play or what to do next when the shutdowns began. She lost her day job at a bar and music venue in Fort Collins, and all of her shows and plans for the year were canceled, leaving her feeling lost.
But even as the industry collapsed around her, she did what she always does when lacking direction: turned to her acoustic guitar. She also wrote a new single, "Get Up," a tune that's the polar opposite of the pandemic blues so many artists are playing.
"Get Up" came out on December 11 and is accompanied by a music video that Slaton hopes will give people a little inspiration and hope. For her, the song helped her overcome extreme self-doubt about the future of her career.
"My fear was that my best creative days were behind me," she says. It was a rut she was in even before the pandemic started.
She says the song is meant to be uplifting; various parts serve as different voices, reminding her that she's stronger than she thinks she is. It's the upbeat stuff of music festivals, ripe with electronic dance-inspiring swells.
In part, the song was inspired by one of her favorite bands, Explosions in the Sky, an indie-rock outfit known for its powerful, emotional instrumentals. But as with all of Slaton's songs, the lyrics are all based on her own life experiences. She describes them as "pieces of her soul."
The video takes audiences on a journey with Slaton and her partner and collaborator, the musician Sarah Joelle of Lola Rising, who Slaton says was largely responsible for helping her get through the difficult times. The video is shot around Horsetooth Reservoir and Old Town in Fort Collins. Going to the reservoir and setting up their hammock was what got them through the summer, she adds.
Like other artists, Slaton is itching to play live shows, holding her breath for a vaccine that might allow people to come together. She would love to do more outdoor concerts and small tours in 2021.
"The most rewarding thing is playing live music and getting to have that shared experience," she says. "It's a feeling I don't even know how to describe."
Hear more at Sarah Slaton's website.