Santa Barbara Chanteuse Kate Wallace Plays Song Tree

Portable Rhythm Section

Kate Wallace

Kate Wallace holds up her long-nailed fingers: “This is your whole band when you’re an acoustic guitarist.” She wiggles her thumb, “This is the drummer and the bass player.” “This is the rhythm section,” Wallace laughs, as she holds up the rest of her fingers.

“When I saw some of the best lead players in Nashville using their fingernails, I decided that was what I wanted to do; I didn’t have to use a pick.” And between performing, rehearsing, and teaching guitar, her fingernails take quite the beating. While discussing her upcoming Song Tree gig, she revealed that superglue is providing structural support for one of her “bandmembers,” and she hopes it holds out until her September 8 show.

That’s when Kate Wallace will perform a slew of her own work as part of the monthly Song Tree concert series. She has the backup support of two musicians who seldom play live: Dave West, who coproduced her most recent album, Politics and Religion, and Tom Lee, an amazing upright bassist who helps organize the Song Tree events.

Since its first gig in 2002, the Goleta-based Song Tree has hosted a wide variety of musicians-including singer/songwriters like Wallace, Celtic harpists, and bands such as the Dos Pueblos Jazz Choir, Small Potatoes, UCSB Middle East Ensemble, and Ulysses S. Jasz, who performed at the series’ inauguration.

The event is just one of a number of regular music series held in the Santa Barbara area. Sings Like Hell, at the Lobero, is the biggest, while numerous church halls host donation-based events that benefit the artist and fund social outreach programs. The Live Oak Unitarian Universalist Congregation hosts Song Tree, and Wallace is one of the producers of Trinity Backstage, which fills the community hall of Trinity Episcopal Church (1500 State St.).

These series are synergistic contributors to building a vital community of live music in Santa Barbara. While Tom Ball joins Kenny Sultan to jam every Sunday at Cold Spring Tavern, their spring Song Tree gig was packed nearly to capacity. In August, Wallace joined Santa Barbara music scene regulars Ball and Doug Clegg, along with Bay Area musician Karen Armstrong, for a Trinity Backstage evening in the round, surrounded by an audience of more than 140 people. Wallace reports that Ball had never played an evening in the round, where all the performers take the stage together, producing a sound that is completely unique to the experience.

A key element in all of these events, according to Wallace, is the time and effort put in by volunteers who set up chairs, collect tickets, work sound systems, sell CDs, and complete a countless list of other thankless tasks to make live music accessible to Santa Barbara audiences.

Glancing up at the sky, Wallace contemplates life in Santa Barbara, where she can write and sing about politics and religion for captive audiences. Among her many talents, Wallace teaches guitar, produces Trinity Backstage, and records provocative, thought-provoking music with a rich, lyrical voice. She’s a regular at Texas’s Kerrville Folk Festival and plays in Nashville, where she used to write music for Polygram Records. Thankfully, Santa Barbara’s captured her now, and if we’re lucky, she’ll debut her new tunes at Song Tree.


Kate Wallace hits the stage on Saturday, September 8, at the Live Oak Unitarian Universalist Congregation Fellowship Hall (820 N. Fairview Ave., Goleta). $15 suggested donation. Tickets can be purchased at Folk Mote Music, Jensen Guitar, online, or at the door. Visit for more info.


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