Chevel Shepherd releases holiday disc, looks forward to resumption of touring
Country singer hopes to return to live performing in 2021
FARMINGTON — As was the case for most people, 2020 didn't exactly play out the way Chevel Shepherd anticipated.
The Farmington High School graduate had a big year in the works with the release of her debut recording and a busy touring schedule, all part of her plans to establish herself as a rising star on the country music scene and continue capitalizing on her success as the winner of season 15 of NBC-TV's "The Voice."
But those plans were waylaid by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing Shepherd to change course and resume a more normal life.
"This year has been, of course, completely different from what I expected, from what anybody expected," Shepherd said Dec. 15 during a phone interview from Farmington as she prepared to celebrate the holidays with her family.
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But Shepherd didn't let the pandemic keep her completely sidelined. Earlier this fall, she summoned the members of her touring band and two Durango, Colorado, musicians — Gary Cook and Matt Palmer — and headed back to the studio to record a collection of holiday songs. The result of those sessions, "A Good Ol' Country Christmas," is an album of 12 tunes that was released Dec. 11 on Shepherd's own Country Sweetheart label.
The disc represents a slight departure from Shepherd's debut EP, "Everybody's Got a Story," which was recorded with a group of studio musicians. Shepherd's familiarity with her touring band helped foster a relaxed, efficient atmosphere that allowed the holiday recording to be completed in just a couple of weeks.
"It was so much fun," she said. "I love those guys to death. They're like my second family."
Cook, the longtime leader of the legendary Bar D Wranglers, contributed mandolin and some guitar to the tracks, while Palmer — who left the Wranglers last year after a lengthy run with the group — performed on fiddle. The two were approached about joining Shepherd in the studio by the singer's representatives, and they quickly agreed to the offer.
"It was just a fun project to be a part of," Cook said. "And, of course, her singing speaks for itself."
Cook noted his young daughters are both huge fans of Shepherd's work, and he remembered how she often attended the Wranglers' chuckwagon shows every summer outside Durango as a youngster.
"She asked us at one point why we didn't have any female Bar D Wranglers," he said, laughing.
Shepherd recalled that conversation, as well, adding that she was brash and confident enough as a 5-year-old to tell the Wranglers she planned on becoming the first female member of the group.
Shepherd's return to the studio may have been brief, but it was a welcome resumption of music-related activities for her. Shepherd said she hasn't performed before a live audience since February, and the last nine months have been a difficult adjustment for someone who quickly grew used to spending a significant amount of her time on stage.
"I miss performing live — more than you know," she said.
The pandemic did mean Shepherd was able to spend much more time at home than she did in 2019, when she was mostly on the road. She said she has taken advantage of her forced hiatus from touring by focusing on learning to play the guitar. She's been teaching herself and explained proudly that she has learned to play chords, as well as how to sing and play at the same time.
That's been the priority instead of crafting some material of her own, she said.
"I am focusing on singing right now," she said. "I'm not sure I'm much of a songwriter yet."
Shepherd did perform one virtual concert this year, a show that was streamed from the empty Community Concert Hall in Durango in July.
"It was different from anything I had experienced before," she said. "I had to amp the energy up from someplace other than the audience."
Shepherd said that required a mental adjustment on her part and made for a little more work than usual. It wasn't an ideal experience, she said, but it was much better than not performing at all.
"It was fun to get to play with other musicians, but I definitely do prefer live performances over virtual ones," she said.
Shepherd acknowledged she's a little frustrated by how long the pandemic has gone on, but she said she realized it has impacted many people far more seriously than her.
"I miss shaking people's hands," she said of the one-on-one contact that she had come to enjoy as a touring performer. "But I would say everybody's a little frustrated with it."
Cook thinks the pandemic will be only a temporary setback for Shepherd. He believes she's still destined for much bigger things, and he thinks she's already grown as an artist since her time on "The Voice."
"Probably the guidance and coaching she received on TV, I would say it's priceless," he said. "I don't know where else you would get that, to be on that stage at 16."
Shepherd's career already has extended beyond music into the acting world, as she has a major role in the independent film "Wildfire," which is based on the Michael Martin Murphey song of the same name. The production was scheduled to be completed in 2020 before being shut down by the pandemic, and Shepherd said she hopes to complete filming her scenes in 2021.
Tops on her wish list for the new year is a resumption of life on the road with her band. She said she has no idea whether that will happen, given the recent surge in COVID-19 cases across the country, and she doesn't want it to unless she's sure it's the safe thing to do.
She said the pandemic has taught her some valuable lessons.
"Don't take anything for granted," she said. "Live in the moment and enjoy what you have. But I think everybody's ready for 2021. I know I am."
Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or email@example.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.