Natalie Photo by: Jordan Starr

From the subway to a small town

New York City singer-songwriter grows Ojai roots

By Kelly McCartney 03/06/2014


Singer-songwriter and New York City native Natalie Gelman spent her formative years soaking up all that Manhattan’s West Village had to offer a starry-eyed, aspiring musician. After her mother told her that students attending the high school that inspired the movie Fame got to sing all day, Gelman set her sights on enrolling — and she succeeded. “It turned out to be everything I needed,” she says. “A lot of the students at LaGuardia High School, myself included, were the oddballs in school growing up. I really came into my own in high school and started getting exposed to so much, creatively.”

LaGuardia taught Gelman well, offering vocal training across multiple genres that led to appearances on the grand stages of Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. She rounded out her music industry experience by also working for the Metropolitan Opera and Roc-A-Fella Records. Soon enough, Gelman grabbed a guitar and began crafting her own compositions.

So where does a 16-year-old singer-songwriter go to hone her craft in New York City? She takes it to the streets, of course. Gelman recalls, “Someone saw me on the street with my guitar case and asked me to perform. I took out my guitar and sang one of my songs. When I was done with the song, I opened my eyes and had about 25 people stopped, watching me in the middle of Times Square.”

Much to her pleasant surprise, the inflow of tips and requests made for an easier gig than “hustling around to open-mics in the East Village with a fake ID,” so Gelman kept it up. In fact, she actually made more money playing on the street and in the subways than she did at her day job, eventually becoming part of the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s official performer program.

Then, two years ago, Gelman dug up her New York City roots and transplanted them to Ojai while making a record in Los Angeles. Despite the 3,000-mile geographical difference, Gelman sees similarities in the “artistic, bohemian spirit” between her old hometown and her new one.

Her love affair with Ojai — and her new partner — both started on the same weekend. Gelman observes, “My brother owns a sports bar in Ojai, Giorgio’s, and asked me to perform there after the Fourth of July parade a few years back. I met up with a new friend in town, too; and, in true small-town fashion, lots of folks kept asking if we were an item. We weren’t . . . yet.” Both seeds were planted, though, and Gelman made the leap because, “There’s something in the air here!”

Another thing in the air here is creativity. Last year, Gelman released Streetlamp Musician, her first album since 2006, and she’s already back in the studio working on two new projects. “It was definitely way too long between albums, so I want to put out a lot more music this year. I’m working on one full-length and one live album now. I’ve started recording at Brotheryn Studios in Ojai and have loved working with great local musicians!”

Gelman also plays a lot of live shows, both locally and on tour. Back in 2006, she rollerbladed her way from Miami to Manhattan, playing gigs along the way. Could another quad-powered run be on the horizon, perhaps a 10-year anniversary tour? Gelman admits, “I would love to do another rollerblading tour. I was driving down the PCH last week thinking it would be pretty sweet to do it out here. The problem is, there’s nowhere for me to go but off a cliff this time.” 

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