For a dynamically talented and consistently traveling couple like singer/songwriter Anne Steele & travel impresario Kelli Carpenter, the past year could have posed more than a challenge. Rather than let the darkness overtake them, Steele and Carpenter “pivoted”, creating a series of concerts at home, where Anne Steele LIVE In Isolation gave complete joy to others in the same situation. While the music was beyond a treat, it also had a purpose; courtesy of Venmo tips to help feed essential workers (over $50,0000 was raised)! As the world starts to open up, Steele and Carpenter have combined their talent once more to provide visibility and pride to their own small-town community in Ramsey, N.J., as they sit on the board and help with the preparation of Ramsey Pride. I sat down with these multi-faceted and endlessly busy couple as they talked with me about what it was like to be forced to slow down this year. how Steele is preparing to get back on the road with a brand new concert series, and what lessons they each take from the past endlessly-surreal year.
Michael Cook: The stage is where you truly come alive; what has the past year been like for someone like you?
Anne Steele: The last year has obviously been very hard for all of us. To lose basic human contact that most people had taken for granted was more harmful than I think we even know. I think the entertainment business has taken an extreme blow. The way I communicate is through music and live performance and for that just to be gone without any idea when it would return, yes it was a very difficult time. Learning how to take that time and to pivot into doing something that would not only fulfill my need to connect and express myself, but to help others when we all felt so helpless was the key to me getting through it all.
MC: Your Anne Steele LIVE In Isolation concerts at home were revolutionary and an absolute joy. What inspired them and what was it like to change venues as it was?
Anne: I started doing online concerts from our couch on March 18th. I knew I needed to find a way to reach my friends, family and fans during that very scary time and it seemed like the best way to do that. That began an incredible journey of learning and growing. We bought sound equipment, microphones, a sound board, etc. My wife Kelli learned how to run everything and help me with the technical needs. I learned a new streaming platform called StreamYard and ran that part of the show, as well as singing all of the songs! The concert series was born!
MC: Anne Steele LIVE In Isolation was also a show with a purpose as well though, right?
AS: Because we have so many friends that work in the healthcare industry, we were hyper aware of the incredible challenges they were all facing every day. We wanted to help but felt so helpless. Then I thought about the concerts and decided to pivot again. We began taking Venmo tips to raise money to send meals to essential workers; it exploded in the best way. Over 10 weeks, we raised over $50,000 and sent meals to over thirty different hospitals, fire stations, police stations and paramedics. I personally called in every order and either had them delivered or picked them up myself and dropped them off. We also started a separate fund raiser for City Harvest NYC after realizing how increasingly bad food insecurity was becoming during the pandemic. We raised over $10,000 to help feed hungry New Yorkers during that effort. It suddenly felt like we were able to take our power back.
After that series ended and the weather started to warm up, we pivoted again! We decided to take to our lawn in Ramsey, NJ and start the series Anne Steele LIVE from the Lawn! We bought all new equipment and set up socially distanced pods all over our front lawn. We spent five weeks from late Summer into Fall entertaining our friends and neighbors and truly finding a way to reimagine what my performances could like like. It was such a gift to be able to do all of those shows.
MC: Kelli what has the past year been like for someone like you who has made travel their life and livelihood with R Family Vacations? What do you think you have learned the most about travel from your perspective?
Kelli: As you can imagine, the pandemic was devastating for tourism and the travel industry. For over a year, it came to a screeching halt and left many in the industry without work or income. For those who wanted to travel, it opened up many incredible options for domestic travel in our own beautiful country. Road trips and RV rentals have become popular again and will continue to until international travel feels safe and is open again. With that said, my R Family Vacations trips for the end of this year and into 2021 have been selling quite well. People are ready to explore the world again and I am ready to take them there!
MC: As a married couple; how did you both made it through pandemic. Many have found it to be a supreme challenge, and many have thrived and become closer.
Anne: We have felt very lucky that we had each other during lockdown. We have friends that are single and knew how hard it was for them to be in such isolation and without human contact. So mostly, we were very focused on being thankful for each other. That being said, it wasn’t all perfect. So much of our relationship has been based on travel, either for Kelli’s work or for mine being on tour. The external stimulation and excitement was always there and we never really knew what it was like to just sit still together for so long. What we have discovered is that we can get through anything together. Even the dark days when neither of us knew when the next work would happen or we are depressed because the world seemed to be falling apart or we were exhausted by the previous administration, we always knew we had each other to lean on. So let’s just say that was our silver lining during a very cloudy year.
MC: New Jersey’s Ramsey Pride. Tell me about how you both got involved and what this year has coming up…
AS: A couple of years ago we were approached by Jennifer Crandall, the organizer of the first Pride in Ramsey in 2019. She asked us to serve on the Board to plan the upcoming 2020 Pride. Obviously that ended up being a virtual event, but it did get us excited to plan 2021. We are excited to have live music performances including myself, Dad To The Bone (hometown favorite cover band), Ram Jams (Ramsey High School a cappella group) and more. This year we will also have many leaders in our community speaking including Kelli Carpenter (co-founder of R Family Vacations), Detective Jaclyn Sabatelli from The Ramsey Police Dept, Detective Chinere Jenkins of the Passaic County Sheriff’s Dept, Rev William Cruse of St John’s Episcopal Church and many more.
The event will take place Monday, June 7th from 6-7:30pm under a large tent outdoors at Pietro’s Restaurant, 46 West Main Street. Ramsey is excited to welcome all residents and guests to celebrate Pride at this community event. This year at the ceremony food and drinks will be available for purchase from Pietro’s. LGBTQ-specific merch will also be for sale to help cover the cost of the event. This will be a COVID compliant event. Since a large crowd is expected, everyone will be asked to wear a mask. At 7:30 pm, the celebration continues across the street under the big tent at Brady’s at the Station, 5 West Main Street, where the Pride Flag will be flying! Ramsey band, Mary’s Basement, will provide live music for the latter part of the evening.
MC: Why was it important to get involved in your community with Pride? What have you found to be the biggest challenges and rewards?
We believe that exposure for the LGBTQ community here in Ramsey would help our younger LGBTQ generation know they are not alone and that there is support within our community. That can make a huge difference for a young person struggling. Our town leans more conservative and the fact that people are filling their yards with our fundraising rainbow yard signs is only one way to create visibility for our community within Ramsey. Having a big Pride event in the center of town filled with LGBTQ+ people and all of the allies we know are out there will certainly make a statement that we are here and we aren’t going anywhere!
MC: Personally, “I Miss Those Days” is not just one of my favorite songs of yours; it is actually one of my favorite songs in recent memory. Where in your writing process did you know that you have captured the feeling and emotion that that particular song emotes? Has the past year inspired any particularly emotional songwriting?
Anne: Thank you for your support for that song. I know you i understand the sentiment since you experienced those days so long ago in New York City piano bars and the culture that surrounded that time. The reason I think that song is so successful in its connection though is because you don’t have to know my story or that time at all. It speaks to anyone that has let old friends slip away. Time can go so fast and we can all get so caught up in our own thing that we forgot to reach back to those people that meant everything to us at very important times in our lives. If this last year has taught us anything, I would say it is to never take a moment for granted; nothing is a guarantee. Tell your friends and family you love them and value every hug and every smile. When I sing that song now, it means even more to me.
It’s funny…I haven’t written any new songs this year. It’s almost like it was all too much to put down, plus I didn’t want to write about all the sadness. Now that we can see daylight and a light at the end of the tunnel, I suddenly feel re-inspired to write again, so stay tuned.
MC: What does the summer hold for you both now that we are able to start emerging into the world again?
Anne: I am very excited about this summer. Venues are opening up again and I am going back out on the road with my new show Anne Steele:The Remix. In this show I am going to revisit a song from every one of my past shows, but I will reimagine them in a new way, plus artists that have gotten me through and new mashups of songs that I have loved over the past year. It’s going to be a feel good show about getting back to life! I will play City Winery NYC on July 16th, Blue Moon in Rehoboth Beach June 28th, Crown and Anchor in Provincetown on July 22nd, R Family Vacations Uniworld River Cruise from Aug 1-8th, Crazy Coqs in London on Sept 23rd & 24th and Toucan’s Tiki Lounge in Palm Springs on Nov 20th and hopefully more to come!
Kelli: For me, I am hoping borders will continue to open and people will feel safe to travel. The vaccine roll-out has helped tremendously in people feeling excited in booking their next vacations. Our first post-pandemic vacations are in August, and fingers crossed they will go out successfully.
MC: When do you feel the most authentically yourself?
Anne: I feel most like myself when I am home with Kelli, the kids and our dog. Whether we are cooking dinner together, listening to our vinyl collection, snuggling on the couch watching tv, helping with homework or doing laundry and washing dishes….it’s life. We will never take a moment of it for granted again.
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You can find all dates and ticket links at www.annesteele.com
To check out upcoming R Family Vacation trips, please go to www.rfamilyvacations.com http://www.rfamilyvacations.com
Visit the Ramsey LGBTQ Pride Facebook page for additional information: