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'Wolff' Bowden, Amanda Birdsall met through intervention of Buddhist priestess

If You Go

What: The Winterlings, a singing-songwriting duo from northern Washington

When: 7-9 p.m. Friday, Aug. 30

Where: McMenamins Edgefield Winery Tasting Room, 2126 S.W. Halsey St., Troutdale

Admission: Free


COURTESY PHOTO: MICHAEL BELFI  - Amanda Birdsall and Jay Wolff Bowden met in Florida, migrated to Washington and have performed together as The Winterlings for more than 10 years. In his younger days, Jay "Wolff" Bowden, one half of The Winterlings duo, was at a bohemian-flavored party in Florida, when an opportunity to make a wish changed the course of his existence.

At the gathering, a Buddhist priestess was engaging in an ethereal fire ritual to help a guest deal with residual stress from his experience as a former convict.

"She had a piece of paper," Bowden, 44, recalled of the priestess, "and said 'Write on it what you want and put it in the fire so it will rise up and the heavens will know your wish.' I thought, 'Wow, wouldn't it be lovely to have a partner in this journey?'"

About an hour later, Amanda Birdsall walked into the room where he sat contemplating.

"I said, 'Hey, come in and try this fish dip.' She tried it and said 'Ooh, this is good.'"

In that moment, an enduring, endearing duo was born, though it took some time and travel for the pair's talents to coalesce.

"Her songs were much better that my poems," Bowden admitted. "She agreed, but (joined in) because of the power of my fish dip."

The Winterlings will share their deeply felt songs — brought to life with banjo, fiddle, guitars and the warm, engaging harmonies of Bowden and Birdsall — in a free performance from 7-9 p.m. Friday, Aug. 30, at the McMenamins Edgefield Winery, 2126 S.W. Halsey St., Troutdale.

COURTESY PHOTO: KYLI HEITZMAN - Many of the songs Birdsall and Bowden write and sing are rooted in themes of nature, the American wilderness and the complex range of human behavior and foibles.  After traveling to India on a whim, the pair eventually relocated to the Pacific Northwest, where the singers and multi-instrumentalists wasted no time coming up with a repertoire of 50 songs. Infused with the spirit of nature, wilderness and American history and mythology, those poetic songs covered subject matter ranging from transgender Civil War soldier Jennie Hodgers to a friend's double lung transplant to the life story of a housefly. 

"We write about deeply emotional issues — divorce to suicide and everything in between," Bowden said in a recent phone interview from the duo's base of Edmonds, Wash. "Sometimes our songs are hard on people to hear."

The 43-year-old Birdsall concurs, but adds the songs also can "be comforting and healing. People reach out to us and say they really resonated with (a song) and found it healing," she said.

Before they settled on a permanent name, Bowden and Birdsall made one early album under a different name before releasing "The Animal Groom" as The Winterlings in October 2010. The recording reached No. 6 on the Roots Music Report Folk Chart.

Two more albums, "You Are Acres" and "Poems That Live As People," followed. In September 2017, after their performance at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., during the Restore Civility Peace Rally, The Winterlings released a fourth studio album, "American Son."

Citing influences like songwriting masters Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan, along with reggae legend Bob Marley and contemporary songsmiths like Gillian Welch and Patty Griffin, The Winterlings take care to create meaningful songs that reflect that legacy.

"A lot of pop songs are fairly superficial and vague. A lot of our songs are deeper," Bowden said, (reflecting that) we're living in a racist country with divorce and suicide. Not that all of them have that dark negativity. People have told us our songs are very real."

Sometimes that "realness" translates to intimate connections with the duo's fans and friends. One, who successfully battled colon cancer, told Bowden and Birdsall he would celebrate his newly clean bill of health by having a hot dog.

"We said, how about some kale and kombucha (tea)," Bowden recalled. "He tasted it and said, 'No, that's not for me.'

"We love our fans," he added. "We want them to be healthy and walk through things with them — and give them a little bit of hell."COURTESY PHOTO: LAURA DANIEL  - The Winterlings — Amanda Birdsall and Jay Wolff Bowden — released their fourth album, American Son in 2010. They will perform at the McMenamins Edgefield Winery on Friday, Aug. 30.

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