Crozet musician Carly Witt is tall and slender, with a wide smile, deep dimples, and a gentle demeanor. But her singing voice is a lot bigger than she is—strong and versatile, alternating between a breathy innocence and an edgy, country tone, and moving through high and low registers with ease. At only 22, she already has a long performance history behind her—in Crozet, Charlottesville, Boone, North Carolina, and Augusta, Georgia, where she interned during college. She has just released her second album, a collection of original, acoustic, folk-rock songs called Small Town America. “My songs revolve around growing up in Crozet and other small towns, the relationships I’ve formed within them, and the bittersweet feeling that is wanting to leave and stay within the same place, all at the same time,” she explained. “Blocked in this three-street town and you’re all I have,” she croons in “Promise Land.”
“I’ve always been singing,” Witt confessed, “and telling stories. I started writing songs when I was ten years old.” She grew up listening to 70s music, and loved Simon & Garfunkel, Fleetwood Mac, Taylor Swift, and Casey Musgrave. By age 16, she was playing gigs at the Mudhouse, Old Trail’s Fridays after Five, and Pro Re Nata. “I especially loved open mic night at Rapunzel’s coffee/bookshop in Lovingston, where I’d play almost every second Friday during high school.” Witt’s first album, Teenage, was produced with the Appalachian State music program in 2015.
“My new album is more of a folk album, more raw. I thought about it more, so it is more personal and represents me better than the others,” she explained. “It’s also more cohesive. I wanted to release it now because these songs work so well together.” Her writing process involves “just writing down a bunch of words and phrases at the end of each day—the little details people don’t always pick up on.” The last song on the album, “Remember Me in Brooklyn,” paints an impressionistic portrait of small towns: “mobile homes, tree-street names, and baseball in the park/…. There’s something ’bout small towns that keep you from moving out/ They make you want to leave for good and then they drag you back somehow.”
Witt recorded the songs with her friend Rob Nowlin in his home studio. She plays gutsy guitar and Nowlin sometimes accompanies on piano, as well as singing occasional backup harmony. Witt’s own voice-overs can also be heard at times, adding haunting echoes to the sound. “We wanted to make something simple and acoustic, not overproduced,” she said. The songs, such as “I Never Knew You, Virginia,” and “Wildfire,” are melodic and soulful, with a tender innocence slightly reminiscent of Sufjan Stevens or Joni Mitchell. But Witt’s simple, gentle persona shines through them all. “I feel privileged to have had such wonderful parents and such a wholesome childhood,” she says. One song, “You Should Have Kept Your Day Job,” hints at a political sub-text, with lines like “I’m sick and tired of these lunatics who think that it’s okay/ To run this country with half a mind like it’s no more than a poker game.”
Witt graduated from Appalachian State University in 2018 with a degree in apparel design and merchandising. “At first I planned to pursue a degree in music performance, but what they were teaching—with an emphasis on classical music and opera—was not really my thing.” After considering music production, she decided to develop her longstanding interest in fashion and jewelry design. “It is so difficult for smaller artists to make money,” she realized, so fashion design became her backup plan. The fact that this industry is headquartered in Los Angeles and New York creates the conflict that is reflected in some of these songs. “If I lived in New York, I would miss the mountains!” she exclaimed.
Witt wrote the new songs during the last two years about this tension between nostalgia for her beloved hometown and her yearning to strike out for new territory. “I wrote about small towns because that is what I know,” she said. “I’ve moved from one small town to another: Crozet, Boone, and Augusta. I write about my experiences and relationships formed along the way.” Witt wants to continue performing and to collaborate more; she is currently looking for a local band to play with. “My ultimate career goal would be singing in a band and opening my own apparel business. I love doing hand embroidery. I make earrings and am interested in sustainable fashion and repurposing.” She hopes to move to the Portland, Oregon, area in the fall, where she can try out the suburbs of a smaller city.
Small Town America is available on all streaming platforms, including iTunes, Spotify, Pandora, Amazon, and Apple Music. You’ll also find a few of Witt’s songs on YouTube. If there were a demand, she would make a CD and would love to record on vinyl someday. You can find her on Facebook and she would love your feedback.