by Lou Mancinelli
It was the cool hand of death that inspired local longtime actress Meghan Cary to express her experience of loss through song on the guitar. Since then, during the 16 years since her fiancé’s unexpected passing in the spring of 1995, after which she taught herself to play on her fiancé’s Martin acoustic guitar, Cary has made four albums. This fall, she is set to release her fifth.
In 1998, Billboard magazine named Cary, now an Erdenheim resident and mother of two, its “critic’s choice” for new releases. “Can the world really stand one more sensitive troubadour?” the magazine’s writer said. “If the artist in question is Cary, the answer is a resounding yes.”
Cary will perform music from her collection with her husband, Peter Farrell, keyboard, and Jocko MacNelly, bass, at the Mt. Airy House Concert Series, on the evening of Saturday, Sept. 24. (Those interested in attending should email firstname.lastname@example.org, for more information).
“It’s the best way to listen to acoustic music,” said Cary, 45, who was a premed student at Duke University (’88) before changing her major to theater. She went on to earn a master’s in fine arts from the Florida State University Asolo Conservatory in 1990. Through the years, Cary has performed in more than 50 productions in the U.S. and Europe.
“If you’re not into having a loud, inebriated person next to you,” she said, “or hearing a huge piece of ice drop at the bar during a really quiet song, [house concerts are] the place to listen.”
Two days after the passing of her fiancé, Matthew Black, Cary was scheduled to leave from the couple’s New York City apartment for Ellensville, New York, upstate in the Catskill Mountains, to rehearse for “Terra Nova.” The play focuses on an expedition to the South Pole.
After speaking with the show’s director, Cary, who was unsure at first, decided to attend rehearsal, albeit a week late. Her role as the wife of Con Scott, an explorer on an early polar expedition, in “Terra Nova,” was quite fitting. In the character’s last speech, the wife arrives at where she is supposed to meet the explorers, only fiancé to find they have perished.
It was up in the mountains in her room after rehearsal that Cary penned her first song, “The Rain Song.” She knew only three chords. One night in the home where the cast members lived, a number of the cast were hanging out. As it came to pass, Cary was asked what the music was they heard her playing. Stuff she made up, she told them. They encouraged her to play the songs. She did. And thus, her singing career was born.
After the show ran at a numerous cities through the region, Cary returned to NYC. Her fiancé was supposed to perform at O’Flaherty’s, an Irish bar on 46th Street in Midtown Manhattan, along Restaurant Row. Cary, who often sang with Black at his gigs, went to the bar the evening of the gig to inform the manager of her fiancé’s passing. “Oh, well, can you do it anyway?” the manager said to her in a thick Irish accent.
And so, Cary played the eight songs she knew, four originals and four covers filling up space with her theatrical know-how, and “engaging the audience through more than just song,” amidst loud-drinking and the sound of billiards in the background. She played three 45-minute sets, performing some of the songs three times, or mixing up the order of the previous set. Eventually, during the night, “people [at the bar] just stopped,” she said. “They sat and listened … I didn’t understand at the time how bizarre it was to play these [types of] songs in an Irish bar in mid-town.”
Cary continued to practice the guitar, write songs and perform in theater productions, as well as appear in commercials and record voice-overs for advertisements. A playwright and friend of her’s happened to know a producer Scott McClatchy, which eventually led to Cary’s recording of her debut album, “New Shoes,” in the spring of 1997.
Before that, Cary had only a tape of her recordings. Her desire to record a more legitimate album was heightened after she performed her song, “Going Home,” in front of a crowd of almost 2,500 during the closing celebration of a New York-to-Boston AIDS Ride, a bicycle fundraiser she rode in for AIDS victims and their families.
After the performance, one where Cary “heard what it sounded like when 2,500 people hold their breath at once,” a number of people asked her if Cary had an album. It was an audience member who heard her perform, who happened to have a friend at Billboard that ultimately enabled Cary’s music to be heard by the staff at the magazine.
Cary hosted her first album release party at Greenwich Village’s The Bitter End, in May, 1997, a location known for hosting the early likes of Sheryl Crow and Shawn Colvin. A coincidence, the date was three years to the day of her fiancé’s passing.
Since then, Cary has continued to perform in the world of theater and television. She has toured the U.S. by booking her own shows, and self-promoting. That is where she ultimately met her husband, Peter Farrell.
“I realized I wanted to come home,” she said. “I wanted human contact in some other form than on the stage… I wanted to fall in love again.”
That was in the spring of 2002. In 2004, she was engaged and married to Farrell. The couple eventually moved to Chestnut Hill in 2007, and most recently to Erdenheim.
In the mid-years of the decade, Cary’s career slowed a bit after the birth of her first child, Clara. Now that she is writing music again, Cary “is done writing about loss… and much more about creating life.”
Her most recent album includes songs like “Building a House,” and “Through Walking With Your Ghost.” The lyrical content of the songs differs from that of songs like “New Shoes.”
“New Shoes,” was written shortly after Black died. During a break in the “Terra Nova” rehearsal, she returned to the apartment where she had lived with her fiancé, to find a pair of new shoes he had not worn yet, and other things like his razor still there, “but he was gone.”
As her life evolves, Cary’s songs evoke her story of loss and now, revival. For more information, visit www.meghancary.com or visit Mt. Airy House Concerts on Facebook.