Story by Hannah Smith
Spring has sprung, but the young musician’s skirt is patterned with reindeer, providing a clue to the authenticity reflected in her artistry.
“I don't do this to get famous. I do it because I love it and I'm blessed in that I can probably make a living off of it,” says Julie Holmes. And you can do that without being famous.” Lounging in one of the first venues she played in Athens, in one of the upright armchairs decorating Hendershot’s downtown, Holmes discussed her promising musical career in terms of the personal freedom it provides.
“I don't have any aspiration to be on a label in the near future. I just really enjoy my freedom and that I can play any shows I want whenever I want, being who I want to be,” she says.
“Julie is probably one of the most genuinely real people that you would ever meet in your entire life. She is who she is. She's just going to enjoy life because she just wants to be happy and no one is going to stand in the way,” Alyssa Hood says of her best friend and roommate. “You wouldn't expect it from her, but she just takes the spotlight so well. You just want to watch her and want to listen to what she's doing.”
Over a week later, Holmes has a performance at another venue, one just outside Atlanta. Steve’s Live Music contains 95 seats, only half of which are filled when she takes the stage. The event is sold-out, but she is the opener and the full audience won’t arrive until later. For now, she has to settle with the 40 or so people too enthralled with their drink orders to do anything more than half-listen to her set. She shows no signs of being discouraged.
“When she gets in her mind that she’s going to do something, she sticks with it. I think that speaks well of her promise pursuing her musical career because if you quit every time you get bumped down, you’re just not going to succeed at this,” says David Barbe, one of Julie’s professors in the music business program at UGA. She’s extremely tenacious about getting what she wants and I mean that in a complimentary way."
Her parents sit in a small booth in the far right corner of the venue directly beside the tiny stage overladen with instruments for the headliner. Her father, Ken, sets up the video camera in anticipation.
“She played viola for all those years and then one night she said ‘Dad, can I borrow your guitar? I want to learn to play guitar.’ I've been playing all my life and I know four or five chords, she borrowed my guitar and the next morning she was playing guitar, it was something she decided she wanted so she just went and did it. That's kind of the way she is about everything. She eclipsed my 30 years of learning guitar in one night,” he says fondly, looking to his wife, Kathie.
Laughing, she confesses, “He still can’t play the song he’s worked on ever since I’ve known him.”
Later, Holmes joins her parents at the table before show time. She sips her glass of water sans ice and casually looks over the six-song set list she’s haphazardly scrawled on a folded napkin. She’s ditched the pink sweater she was wearing over her black dress and traded in the sandals for three-inch wedge heels. With a short introduction, her name is announced and she darts off, but not before relaying her food order to her mom, requesting a three-cheese flatbread for after her set.
“I think he said it all, so I’m just going to start playing,” she says before diving into the first song.
“I think she tries to treat everyone kindly,” Holmes’ mother says, admiring her daughter. “That's one thing, especially in music: people try to support each other. I think she does that because it can turn into competition more, but it's so much better if people can support each other. That's one thing I'm really happy about.”
This kindness makes its appearance throughout the entire evening. When the headliner develops issues with an acoustic guitar, Holmes immediately rushes to grab hers to offer up. She extends a hug to someone with whom she’s only had one 45-minute conversation. Rather than posing for a picture with
only her mom, she pulls someone nearby in to make them feel included. Holmes takes every effort to make people feel important and essential.
At Hendershot’s, the conversation turns to the trials of being a woman in the music industry. Julie says, “I think it's harder to get people to take you seriously. I feel like there are slightly lower expectations, specifically instrumentally,” Holmes says. “There's kind of a general consensus that boys are better than girls at guitar. I just like to try to play like a boy, like you wouldn't know the difference. Once you do fight for that chance, once you get that chance, it's really rewarding and you do stand out a little more.”
Barbe acknowledges that female artists have to work harder to be taken seriously, “Not all, but sometimes they do because we’ve had this thing established with the presentation of female pop stars as sex symbols,” he says. “I think there is a perception issue of what includes being a female artist and being a male artist. It gets back to the same thing, which is the more female artists we have presenting themselves as Julie is doing: ‘I’m an artist. I’m not a female artist. I’m here to work. I’m not here to be an appendage to someone else.’…it’s a matter of serious female artists making great art and just putting it out there as that. We can get the ball rolling in the right direction.”