Chandler Carter: One to Watch at the Cincinnati Music Festival

By Betsy Ross, Contributing Writer
Photos and video by Madison Schmidt

It’s amazing what you can do with a Guitar Hero microphone and a boatload of talent. It was enough to win Chandler Carter the #SharetheRhythm Emerging Talent Competition at the Cincinnati Music Festival and earn her a coveted main stage slot both Thursday and Friday night at the Festival. 

You might already have seen the Mount Notre Dame and University of Cincinnati grad perform around town, but this weekend will, literally and figuratively, be the biggest stage of her life. It’s a Herculean jump from that aforementioned video game mike and her first attempts at performing. 

“I got into ‘Glee,’ the TV show,” Chandler said. “And on the show Naya Rivera, who has a really smoky tone that mimics Amy Winehouse, covered one of her songs, ‘Valerie.’ I really liked the style and from there I really got into listening to Amy Winehouse’s music. 

“So I got in the closet, on a Guitar Hero microphone plugged into my computer, and did a cover of ‘Valerie.’ I played around with the song and figured out my sound and how I wanted to portray my voice, my style.”

That closeted performance led to a very public one while she was a senior at MND—tryouts for NBC’s “The Voice” in Chicago. 

“There was a group of 10 people,” she said, and everybody has 12 seconds to sing. I sang the first part of ‘Valerie’ and I was the only one in the group to get chosen. 

“They give you a secret location for the next day where you get interviewed and sing two songs. (Her phone rang during the middle of one of the songs from, you guessed it, a telemarketer). Then they say wait six months, so I went back home. I ended up not getting it, but that gave me the confidence to go public with my singing.” 

Fast forward to her freshman year at UC and her first performance in front of a live audience--which, by the way, almost didn’t happen.

“My friend was doing her capstone project and she said, ‘I’m doing a benefit concert, do you want to come sing?’ And I was like sure, while I was internally screaming, but I knew I had to take that first step. 

So I got a backing track for ‘Valerie’ and ‘Change the World’ by Eric Clapton. I got to the show, and almost backed out, but I went through with it and everybody’s like, ‘I didn’t know that you did this, why didn’t you tell anyone?’ And I said, ‘I didn’t know I wanted to do this.’” 

More gigs followed, both solo and with a band called the Plainfield Rhythm (“We were driving up and down Plainfield Road all the time”), singing covers and originals at benefits around town. Chandler’s solo career then started to blossom when she dusted off her guitar, picked up where she had left off after her first-grade lessons, and again, found her own style. “I started out with simple songs, singing and playing kind of a folksy sound, until I got to the point where I could accompany myself.” 

That’s why now you’re likely to catch her at the AC Marriott in Liberty Center or Jekyll’s on Fountain Square, and why the psychology degree she earned in December is on the shelf—for now. 

“My mom said, ‘Can you find a job? You need a full-time job and get insurance.’ At the same time, I told her, ‘You have to let me try.’ One of my biggest fears is falling into the trap of getting a real job, putting music on the back burner and then wondering ‘what if.’ I’m passionate about psych, I love it to death, but I can’t see myself being in one place, one job, and not doing music.” 

She’s able to mix both of her passions when she performs at the Seacrest Studios at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, where kids who are in their hospital rooms for treatment can call in and request songs and then listen to the music. “I’ll see some of the kids walk by the glass doors, they hear the music and start dancing. It’s the best thing ever. For me, that’s what this is all about. There could be two people at a show and if one of the two people makes a connection with the music or with me, I did my job. 

“You never know what song is going to impact somebody. Yesterday I did Elvis’ ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love,’ and someone came up and said, ‘You just made my entire week.’ It makes it so worth it. I love it so much.” 

She comes by her interest in psychology honestly: Her entire family has, in one way or another, been involved in the health/medical profession. “Mom got her master’s in psych, was a job coach, vocational rehab, and did that for 30 years. She and my dad met at work. My sister works in medical research and her ultimate goal is to be a neurosurgeon. My grandmother, she’s 86, and still works at the EPA. She’s a virologist and she and my grandfather, they met at work. He was on the team that discovered the vaccination for polio. So the medical side, that kind of trickled down. The artsy side comes from my dad, for sure.”

Chandler plans to sing three original songs for Thursday’s Opening Night 15-minute set: Cold (Cigarette Smoke), Moonlight and OG Flowers. 

She knows that the performance is only part of making the most of this opportunity. 

“Best case scenario for the week: Because I get to hang out back stage is that one of the headliners (including Mary J. Blige, Usher, Fantasia) will come to the lounge show or hear me during the opening of the festival. We’ll talk, they’ll take me on and I’ll work my butt off.” 

As for short term goals? 

“Moving from the bar scene to the festival scene. I’d like to do a radio edit of Cold and put that out there, then hop city to city performing. Then I’d like to come back and do a homecoming show and be able to sell out 100 tickets without having to pester my family and friends.

“I’m not looking at it in a way that it can’t be realistic. Some people say, ‘I’m going post on YouTube and hope somebody finds me’ and that’s not how it works. Realistic goals are selling out 100 tickets, opening up for somebody on tour, then eventually, like Lady Gaga and her Dive Bar tour, do something like that and work my way up. Then it’s about surrounding yourself with the right people to get you where you need to go.” 

That includes her family, and yes, Mom is now warming up to the idea. 

“At first she was skeptical but now I think she realizes that this is something that could really happen. Dad’s crazy about this. My older sister, two years older, when we were kids and I was singing in the car, she was always telling me to stop singing. I thought, you know what? One day she’s going to like it.”

As will a lot more people, after this weekend. 

Tickets for the Cincinnati Music Festival are on sale at CincyMusicFestival.com.

About the Cincinnati Music Festival
The Cincinnati Music Festival (CMF) began in 1962 and is one of the largest music festivals in the United States attracting over 75,000+ people from around the country with its roster of leading R&B, jazz, soul and hip-hop artists creating an economic impact of $11 million for Cincinnati.  CMF is set for July 27, 28 and 29, 2017 at Paul Brown Stadium. Procter & Gamble is the presenting sponsor for the Cincinnati Music Festival for the third year in a row. P&G is proud to #ShareTheRhythm at the 2017 Cincinnati Music Festival, connecting thousands of music lovers with the sights, sounds and spirit of the “Queen City” through musical entertainment, new experiences, and bringing P&G brands to life.  P&G hopes to foster an inclusive spirit that reflects the diversity of our employees, consumers and the surrounding community.

The entertainment line-up includes the following:
Thursday, July 27 Party with a Purpose:  Doug E Fresh, Kid Capri, Rob Base
Friday, July 28:  Mary J. Blige, KEM, SWV, En Vogue, Bell Biv Devoe, Ed Thomas
Saturday, July 29:  Usher, Fantasia, Anthony Hamilton, Confunkshun, Ro James
In CMF’s 55th year, P&G will continue as title sponsor with Kroger as its retail partner and provide areas at the Stadium where concert-goers will be pampered, delighted, and refreshed in the My Black Is Beautiful patio spa with Pantene and Olay, Always/Secrete refresh station, enjoy the go in the Charmin bathrooms and more.

Alex ReillyPROFILES