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August 14, 2012 > Newman takes Niles

Newman takes Niles

By Julie Grabowski

The Tri-Cities can look forward to a big musical weekend in Niles as the historic town welcomes a woman who has a pretty impressive history of her own.

Tracy Newman got her start in the Los Angeles improv group, The Groundlings, which has produced such recognizable comedic talents as Will Ferrell, Phil Hartman, Kathy Griffin, Kristen Wiig and Lisa Kudro. As one of the group's founding members along with sister Laraine (who became one of the first Saturday Night Live cast members), Newman performed, wrote sketches, emceed, taught, and directed at the creative hub for several years. It was there that she met her future writing partner Jonathan Stark, with whom Newman got her first staff writing job in 1991 on "Cheers" at the age of 46.

The pair wrote for many shows including "Ellen," "The Nanny," "Hiller and Diller," and "The Drew Carey Show," and received an Emmy and a Peabody Award in 1997 for the coming out episode of "Ellen." Newman and Stark created "According to Jim" in 2001, and when it was sold into syndication, Newman said she figured they didn't need her anymore. So she left the world of television to return to the dream which had been with her since childhood - to be a folksinger.

With the ability to afford the life of a folksinger that she couldn't in her 20's, Newman is now all about the music, and released her first country/folk album "A Place In the Sun" in 2007 with her band, the Reinforcements. Success has continued to follow; her writing talents won first place honors in the 12th and 13th Annual Great American Song Contest, third place in The American Songwriter Lyric Contest, and first place in the Indie International Songwriting Contest. She says working in television has been invaluable in transitioning into a songwriter. "After 20 years of writing for television I really feel that whatever songwriting I did before that has just gotten better and better and better because I really understood how to be efficient and tell a story quicker and in pictures."

Newman says she's a tougher boss on herself and much more demanding now that she's doing her own thing. And songwriting happens to be a bit harder, having to tell a story in four or five minutes versus the 21 of TV.

As for the differences and difficulties of starting a music career, and doing so in her 60's, Newman says, "I guess I just don't care what anyone thinks cause I think you have to get to where the only opinion that matters is your own; where you're saying, you know, this is what I want to do. I don't know what kind of performer I'm going to be; I was okay when I was in my twenties! And I think that age and experience has made me a better performer because I have a freedom on stage now that I don't know that I would have when I was in my twenties. I have a lot to say in my songs so I think when you get on stage and really have something to say, you're not particularly nervous. There's nothing more fun."

Anybody writing great songs is sure to catch her ear, and the list of admired and influential musicians is long and varied: James Taylor, Merle Haggard, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, the Beatles, Carol King, Adele, Sheryl Crow, Shawn Colvin, and Fiest are just a few. But the man leading the shining pack is Jackson Browne, who she calls "a major, major influence on me."

Newman identifies herself as more literal than a lot of songwriters, wanting her words to be understood; more driven by the idea behind the song than the music. "My best songs are the ones where I know what I want to say." When asked what it is she wants to say, the response is surprising: "I'm just as big a jerk as you are." She acknowledges there are things about herself that she doesn't like, things she's not proud of, and has difficulties and fears just like everyone else. While some of these issues can become a joke in a sitcom, Newman says she can do it every day with songs. She values openness and honesty and others do too. "On occasion someone will come up to me and thank me for that because it was a relief to hear it; everybody feels that way."

Newman was invited to perform in Niles by local musician Michael McNevin, who she met at a Folk Alliance Region West Conference. "He's just a brilliant songwriter," Newman says, hailing him as a wonderful musician and singer. The two will share the stage on Saturday, August 18 at the Mudpuddle Shop and Newman will perform the following day at the Niles Town Plaza with local blues legend Ron Thompson. Both are sure to be great shows and a chance to experience Tracy Newman who proves that when you've got a dream, age is just a number.

"I am out there doing my own thing and performing; anything can happen," says Newman. "I'm putting CDs out there and I'm submitting songs and I've been winning contests; well that's already a miracle as far as I'm concerned!"

Newman's second album, "I Just See You" will be released September 23. Learn more about her at or follow her on Twitter at and Facebook at

Learn more about Michael McNevin at and

Tracy Newman and the Reinforcements, and Michael McNevin
Saturday, August 18
7:30 p.m.
Mudpuddle Shop
37433 Niles Blvd., Fremont
(510) 794-9935
Tickets: $20

Tracy Newman and the Reinforcements, and Ron Thompson
Sunday, August 19
Noon - 4 p.m.
Niles Town Plaza
37592 Niles Blvd., Fremont

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