Singer-songwriter Jessica Lea Mayfield says she’s not sure why she’s in jail. But she’s currently calling collect from a Davidson County holding facility in Nashville on a pay phone she says smells strongly of barf.
“I’m not supposed to be here,” the Kent native says. “I’m here because of insane circumstances. Today is a day I have to be strong. I know the right thing has to happen sometime, and this is a story that will help someone else.”
The last year has been hard; the last five years actually have been hard. As her musical success has progressed, her personal life has devolved. And a year since taking her darkest secrets public, she knows she can’t take any of it back.
First came the Instagram post in July 2017: “I’ve struggled with posting this, but feel it’s necessary. Last week, I had a surgery for a broken shoulder related to a domestic violence incident. I had been suffering with this injury (and others that still require surgeries) for three years. This is not uncommon … My silence helps no one except the person who did this to me.”
Then, came the release that September of her fourth studio record Sorry is Gone
, a heartbreaking yet hopeful work dedicated to the perseverance of the human spirit in the face of her ex-husband’s abuses.
She toured behind the album through early 2018. But then her beloved dogs suddenly died (something she also posted
on Instagram), which the police later told her was a poisoning, she says. She suspects the culprit is the person who physically and mentally abused her for years. She says that since then, it’s been hard to leave her home and that she’s only wanted to squirrel away. She canceled most tour dates. Then, today, while attending a court hearing with her current boyfriend, she says she was hauled out, handcuffed and told there was a warrant out for her arrest.
“You think I’d be livid or angry,” she says. “I feel sad and sorry for the person who is no doubt behind this.”
When the call came earlier this year to do the Beachland Ballroom show on Friday, Dec. 21, she says she was hesitant.
“But I want to live my life, and I want to play music, and I don’t want to be scared of anybody,” Mayfield says. “I want to come home and do a show for my friends and family and the people who were there since the beginning.”
Growing up playing in her parents’ bluegrass band alongside her brother David, a wonderful singer-songwriter in his own right, Mayfield has been making music on stage essentially since she can remember. Her teenage years were full of sketchy shows and also last-minute opener gigs, including at the Beachland, just trying to be heard. Eventually, she started making music with Dan Auerbach and later the Avett Brothers. Her 2010 single, “Our Hearts Are Wrong” garnered serious play on college rock stations across the country. Critics and fans alike took notice of her sparse, rock vibe and melancholic vocals.
Along with the rise came an increasingly overprotective partner, whom she says micromanaged every move she made down to the songs she listened to and the food she ate.
“I call those the bunker years,” she says, “I was so closed off.”
Since the release of the record, she says she’s found her purpose.
“I told everybody what happened with me,” she says. “I now have this job and obligation to continue to share my life. I’ve gotten so many messages from women who say that seeing me keep going helps them. That’s gotta be why I’m here.”
Through it all she says she’s learned how to protect herself, but that there are also people out there who have her back. There was a time she believed she was alone because that was what someone told her. That was a lie.
“I’ve learned I love life,” she says. “I want to be alive.”
She also wants to continue to make music, and is currently working on a bunch of projects she’s not at liberty to discuss yet. In the meantime, she’s focused on her upcoming Cleveland show. Mayfield loves the holidays and says the Beachland show may be more Christmas-tinged than anticipated.
“I’ll be dressed Christmassy; I’ll have spirit,” she promises.
Expect also to hear her version of Loretta Lynn's "To Heck With Ole Santa Claus,” a single released just last holiday season, somewhere in the mix. There’s much to celebrate, including freedom from the slammer. After hours behind bars the day of our interview, bond was paid, and she sent a text: “I’m free!”
Jessica Lea Mayfield, Emily Keener, 8 p.m., Friday, Dec. 21, Beachland Ballroom, 15711 Waterloo Rd., 216-383-1124. Tickets: $18, beachlandballroom.com