“My knees shake a lot. People don’t notice it, but I notice it.”
Sitting a room away from her second-ever live show, Nissy, an emerging artist from Hopkins, projected joy and nervous energy. Her first performance took place at her junior high’s annual talent show—Nissy is actually a ninth-grader at Hopkins West. Since then, the 14-year-old singer/songwriter has started to step out onto the local music scene. On Wednesday night, she joined three other artists at the Depot Coffee House for a show filled with talent and grace.
The man behind it all: Chris Koza, a local Americana/acoustic pop artist (hear his Nov. 4 performance at The Current’s studios here). Coming off collaborations with composer Jocelyn Hagen and the Hopkins High School Orchestra, the Rogue Valley frontman has found a passion for working with young musicians and has dedicated a lot of time to helping them out. He’s worked one-on-one with several new artists, workshopping and collaborating with them in order to “demystify the songwriting process.”
“When I work with young songwriters, I really try to respect where they’re coming from,” he said.
Dressed for the occasion in a black-and-white skirt/shirt and Converse, Nissy was the first slotted performer on Wednesday. After Koza played a song called “Hummingbird” to “break the ice” between the stage and the audience, Nissy hopped onstage, and Koza helped her set up; the first song, “I Miss You,” is one that’s not yet posted on SoundCloud. Her preface: “This is an old song,” with a giggle, “so obviously those feelings don’t really exist any more.”
Once the music started, the small room quickly filled—fans and family members left no gaps in the coffeehouse’s rows of chairs, with about forty seats lined up in the small room. After “I Miss You” came “Better Off With You (Friends),” which Nissy dedicated to her friend and co-writer Bryn, sitting next to the aisle in the very front row. When the sound/lighting booth threw a disco light on during the set, she pulled a face and shrugged, then smiled.
“Turn Around,” the fourth song, stuck out as the most memorable track. On the studio version’s chorus, layered vocal tracks create a charming, feathery effect. Live, the chorus is still catchy, but the song’s verses stood out even more because of Nissy’s remarkable runs.
Even though she’s only been seriously working on music for a short time, Nissy performed with polish. Her mom signed her up for group guitar lessons almost two years ago, and soon, she discovered she could sing. “After that,” she said, “I started to figure things out on my own.” Without her mom, though, she said “I would not be where I am today.” In fact, she owes her connection with Koza to the same person. “[She] went to a concert and then she brought up my name…” After telling the story, she shrugged and smiled. “Moms.”
Bergen, toting a guitar case with a sticker from every place she’s been, followed Nissy with a promising four-song set. Her music stood out for its emotional tenderness. While her “ultimate, ultimate goal” is to work for the FBI, she does have a future in music if she wants it; Koza has encouraged her to branch out from playing covers (which are posted on her SoundCloud) and keep composing original songs. She also enjoys the wordy aspect of composing: “Lyrics are the easiest part,” she said.
Allie Ries was the last of the three, showing off a strong sense of self and artistic style. Then, Koza took the stage again for a beautiful set that drifted from Rogue Valley’s “The Wolves and the Ravens” through some of his best solo work.
When Koza lost his place during “Foothills,” he graciously handled the slip-up by saying, “Young performers, if you’re ever wondering what happens when you forget how your next verse starts…this is what it looks like. You ask yourself, ‘Why do I write so many songs? Maybe I should just write one and play it well.’”
The show was pervaded with an excited, joyful spirit. After Bergen admitted, “I did not expect to be this nervous,” supporters encouraged her with a heartfelt round of applause, and she smiled. The Depot Coffee House, just off Hennepin County’s Cedar Lake LRT Regional Trail (not to be confused with First Avenue’s Depot Tavern or with the Depot Hotel in Minneapolis) was a great venue choice; their space is known for hosting open mics in hopes of providing teens a safe space and increasing visibility for young performers.
Up next, Koza is headed to the Mid West Music Fest to play a solo show. In Winona, he’ll also play guitar for Lucy Michelle. The other performing artists will keep working on music—between homework assignments.
Hummingbird (Rogue Valley song)
I Miss You
Better Off With You (Friends)
Pick A Card
This Is What I Want To Be
Ask The Waves
Say Anything (Tristan Prettyman cover)
Turning Page (Sleeping At Last cover)
I Miss You (Blink-182 cover)
Never Felt This
The Wolves and the Ravens (Rogue Valley song)
The Dark, Delirious Morning
Cecilia Johnson is studying English and Spanish at Hamline University. Her favorite things include travel memoirs, sunny days, and the Hard Times Cafe.