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Over the Rainbow: Nora Collins' Musical Journey

I was wandering around Summerfest when a sweet and twangy version of “over the rainbow” floated over my way and began pulling me to one of the side stages along the waterfront. I was envisioning Dorothy in a straw hat and a pair of overalls as I approached the stage. But instead of a red slippered Dorothy, I saw the red nail polish wearing Nora Collins.

And while she puts a great twist on any cover song she does. Her forte lies in the country genre. And it’s here that she really shines. Nora was named the 2014 “Singer/Songwriter of the Year” at the 34th annual WAMI Awards. In 2012, Nora was nominated for three 88NINE Radio Milwaukee Awards. I was hearing her for the first time at Summerfest, and I decided to ask her a bit about her creative process and her music. Listen to Nora's song "Harley" in the music player while you read what she has to say:


Q: What inspires you to create music?

All sorts of different things inspire me to create music and it can be so random. For instance, I was inspired to write “Harley” after seeing a speed limit sign that said 45. I don’t really need anything specific in order to be creative. For me, inspiration comes when it comes and I roll with it.


Q: How’d you learn to play? Did you study music formally or do you just pull the noise out of the ether?

I took guitar lessons when I was in 4th grade for one summer and absolutely hated it. Then when I was 14 I was bored one summer day and decided to pick the guitar up and see what I could remember. I taught myself how to play guitar again by writing a song.


Q: Would you say country music is your blood?

Even though I’m from Wisconsin I’ve always had a natural twang to my voice but I never necessarily had the desire to be a country musician. My songs and my voice developed into the country genre. I believe that no matter what genre of music it’s all about finding your own path and creating your own musical journey.


Q: How do you think your sound will evolve over time? For example, do you see yourself working more with a full band? Are there any interesting collaborations you’ve been a part of?

Over time, I would love to work more with a full band for my music. A cool collaboration I was part of was writing the title track of my current album, “Only The Beginning” with the incredible Willy Porter. Writing with Willy was a great learning experience for me. I’ve been doing a lot more co-writing and it’s been fun sharing ideas with other writers. I’ve always thought it would be cool to sing the hook of a rap song.


Nora Collins @ Port Fish Day

Q: I see that you’ve got a couple regular gigs and a pretty busy schedule playing around the area this summer. Tell me about some of your favorite gigs


I do play out a lot. Over the past three years I’ve played over 200 shows a year and I am on track to do that for a fourth year in a row. Since I do play out so often, I’ve been able to grow as a musician and performer. It has definitely sharpened my instincts on stage.

My favorite experiences have been opening for Josh Turner at the Washington County Fair last summer and opening for some national acts like Lee DeWyze, Sixpence None The Richer and Cas Haley at Shank Hall.  

I’m very excited to be opening for Country Music Legend and New Country Music Hall of Fame Inductee, Ronnie Milsap at the Historic Pabst Theatre on September 11th!



Q: I’ve always appreciated country music because I can relate to the stories. Is it important to you that the audience can relate to your songs? Are these your stories or are they written for the audience?

It is important to me that the audience can relate to my songs and enjoy listening to them. Some of my songs are my stories but most of my songs are stories about other people and situations.


Q: Favorite Song to play right now? Favorite Cover Song?

My favorite song that I wrote that I love to perform is Harley because living in Milwaukee, a lot of people can relate to riding on a Harley. My favorite cover song to perform is Jolene by Dolly Parton. It’s a country classic and I’ve received a lot of compliments of how I make the song my own.



Q: What kind of music are you listening to when you’re cooking dinner?

Well, my mom usually cooks dinner...but I love listening to Bruno Mars, Miranda Lambert and Randy Houser.


Q: What can you tell me about upcoming tours / projects / albums that you’re working on right now?

I’m currently writing songs for my next album. I don’t have a formal tour,  but I would love to be touring someday. I play out as often as I can. Here’s a list of some of my upcoming performances:

July 26 - Milwaukee Emergency Center for Animals Fundraiser

July 27 - Summer Sunday Concert

August 1, 6, 7 - Wisconsin State Fair

August 14 - Zoo A La Carte

Septermber 11 - Opening for Ronnie Milsap @ Pabst Theatre.


You can check out Nora's website for more information Here.

HYFIN Program Director | Radio Milwaukee