NPR recently sent out the call for musicians across the U.S. to record original music videos for the 2016 Tiny Desk Concert Contest. The contest is an offshoot of NPR’s popular Tiny Desk Concerts – intimate video performances recorded live at the desk of All Songs Considered. Gaelynn Lea, a violist from Duluth, MN, was the national winner.
Shorthand Charlie is an anagram for singer-songwriter Nicholas Ehrhardt. Ehrhardt, who works as a full-time RN, builds his own instruments and lives on a 150-year-old farmstead near Hartford, SD where he and his wife converted a 1950s Chevy pickup into a stage they call "Uncle Adolph's Place."
SDPB: How did you start performing as Shorthand Charlie?
Nicholas Ehrhardt: Shorthand Charlie is an anagram for my full name. No one could ever remember or spell my last name so I started thinking of stage names and I thought the anagram was a fun fit.
SDPB: How do you describe your sound?
NE: On my Facebook page, I describe my music as "Homegrown and Handcrafted Folk. Original music built from the ground up." By homegrown, I mean that I play mostly original folk music, with stories and themes that usually come out of my own life. By handcrafted, I mean that I play most of my music on instruments that I built myself, from my acoustic and electric guitars to my washtub bass and foot-powered percussion setup.
SDPB: At what venues in South Dakota do you typically perform?
NE: I started playing in Sioux Falls at Latitude 44's Wednesday Open Mic nights. That is where I have connected with the local music scene and play shows there a couple of times a year. I have also played at a few coffee shops around town. I entered the Sioux River Folk Fest Campground contest last summer and won, which allowed me the honor to play a short set as the opener for the Saturday Night headliner, Town Mountain. That was a blast! My wife and I also host occasional house concerts on our farm where we converted an old machine shed and 1950s Chevy pickup into a stage. Check out the Uncle Adolph’s Place Facebook page to find out more about that. Lots of good pickin' has taken place there and I always love to join along to share a few songs. I'm a very part-time musician who is trying to figure out how to play more and more. But for now, I really don't get to play that often.
SDPB: How do you find performing in South Dakota? What are the benefits? What are the challenges?
NE: Like I mentioned before, I'm pretty new to performing and playing in South Dakota. But I have found the music scene in Sioux Falls to be very open and supportive, with a ton of great eclectic local musicians to listen to and play along with. As a new musician to the scene, I have found it difficult to find new venue opportunities but that might have more to do with me being a busy husband, Dad, and a full-time RN in Avera McKennan's ICU. If I had more time to commit to it, I'm sure this pretty great local music scene would have more opportunities available.
SDPB: How did you find out about NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert?
NE: I have been a long time NPR junkie so I heard about the contest last year through NPR music's music streaming app. I entered a video last year, had so much fun being part of that community, so had an easy time deciding to enter again this year.
SDPB: Why did you choose “At the Top” to enter into the Tiny Desk Concert? What were you hoping judges would hear?
NE: I wrote "At The Top" a few summers ago while sitting with my guitar at the top of the silo on our farmstead. I sit up there a lot when I need to slow down and find some moments to escape from an otherwise busy schedule. The song has become one of my favorites to play and perform. I hoped that my enthusiasm for the song would show through in my contest video. I also hoped that the judges would sense a little SD love in the video, to get a sense of the local hometown feel in the song.
SDPB: Are any of your songs influenced by South Dakota?
NE: I grew up in the mountains of Colorado so am not at all a South Dakota farm boy by nature. However, when we moved here over three years ago to live closer to my wife's family, I have felt a connectedness and rootedness to this place like I have never felt before. I can feel the span of generations that inhabit the house I live in and old buildings that surround me. My son is the 7th generation to live in our family farm house. Those sort of South Dakota roots have definitely started to show up in my music. I have songs about sunset walks through cornfields with my wife, old barns and rusty tractors, fall harvest songs, big winter South Dakota blizzards, spring coming after those long winters, and big summer thunderstorms. My friends have told me to be careful before all of my music ends up being about life on the farm.
SDPB: Anything else you think it’s important for our SDPB audience to know about you, your music, or the music scene in South Dakota?
NE: There is an incredible local acoustic/folk scene in (Sioux Falls). Check it out! Latitude 44 and the White Wall Sessions is a great way to check out the local scene. And fingers crossed, as I start to find ways to fit music into my schedule more and more, I hope to be a bigger part of the local scene. I intend to get into the studio to record my first album this spring.
See Shorthand Charlie's Tiny Desk Concert here.