“Music is the soundtrack of your life.” – Dick Clark
Truer words could not be spoken when it comes to west side resident Chelsea Ames. As a talented singer-songwriter, Chelsea recently completed her debut album, Big Little Dream: a journey through the highs and lows of her life. From Chico to Danville, Chelsea takes an intimate look at what life in a small town is like through the lens of both a young girl chasing dreams to a mom raising her own kids.
With a wedding, career, and kids all in tow, Chelsea has definitely grown a lot since her first foray into songwriting on her brother’s guitar when she was nine years old. “Music has always been a big part of my family life growing up. My Dad plays guitar and taught my brother and me a few chords when we were kids. I played multiple instruments as a kid and then bought my first guitar in college.” Although her first song was simple in execution, it allowed Chelsea to realize that singing and songwriting were her life’s passions.
“In college, I taught myself a ton of songs with my first guitar and was always writing songs when I wasn’t at class. My roommates and I played and sang songs for fun at a lot of house parties in Chico.” It was at Chico State in 2000 that Chelsea met Mark Freudenberger. Three years later they were married and then in 2004 they welcomed their first daughter. Although thrilled with all the exciting new moves in her life, Chelsea had to leave behind the idea of recording all of the songs she had written during her college years. “Music wasn’t a priority because I couldn’t figure out how to make money doing it, we were heavily focused on our careers and raising our first baby. But my passion for music never left my side.”
For the next ten years, Chelsea was in the thick of babies, toddlers, and juggling her career in multimedia design, specifically designing learning programs. She and Mark went on to have a second daughter and then two sons, “During this time Mark was traveling 70% of the time for his career. This period of our life was exciting, and exhausting all at the same time, and quite honestly a blur because we were so busy with four young kids.”
Coming out of the parenting fog, and into some newly found independence, Chelsea was then hit with the undeniable truth that life can change on a dime. In 2018, her cousin was diagnosed with breast cancer (she is thankfully doing well now). That moment combined with the fact that Chelsea’s extended family has lost two members to cancer below the age of 40, led Chelsea to take a look at her own life and ask herself if she was doing all she wanted to be doing; “It had been 20 years since I left Chico, I still had my songs I wanted to record. I started playing my guitar more, revisited the songs I had written in college and even joined my brother at one of his gigs where I faced my fear of performing for strangers. All these moments in 2018 motivated me to focus on what I’ve always wanted to do, which was to make music, no matter how hard it was going to be with everything else we had going on.”
The name of Chelsea’s album, Big Little Dream, came from her lyrics, “It was a big little dream in a small little town.” Thankfully Chelsea didn’t throw out the song, even though she was struggling with it, and instead was hit with a burst of inspiration doing what so many parents know all too well, driving her daughter to a weekend dance class. “I think in that moment, it hit me that this was a dream of mine and I’m in a small little town again – the only difference is I’m now older, a mother of 4 kids with a career, trying to do it all.”
During the lockdown of 2020, Chelsea “continued working on my songs and tried to figure out where I could recordm but with Covid nothing was open and I didn’t know anyone with a recording studio. So Mark suggested changing the kids’ messy backpack closet into my recording studio. I now work and record in a closet…it is perfect for my music as well as my job.” Of course the whole family has been supportive from the beginning. Mark, being Chelsea’s #1 fan, serves as her manager, photographer, sound tech, and anything else she needs. The boys love to jam with her on the weekends, and Rosie, their pup, loves to cuddle up and listen while Chelsea practices.
When asked about her 5 year plan, Chelsea says, “I’m discovering my part 2 of this music journey I’m on as I go. I really want to keep getting out and play live more in town and go play at other places such as wineries, perhaps with a band or another guitar player. It would be nice to have someone else playing with me.” As the kids keep growing, and Chelsea sees even more time for herself on the horizon, she knows she’s never going to stop singing and songwriting now.
Chelsea’s first local gig was right downtown at Auburn Lounge, followed by a fundraising event for Montair Elementary at Hazy Barbecue. “I am thankful to all my friends in this town who have continued to show up and support me when I go out and play… When I play one of my songs and people share their own personal story that relates to it, it makes all the hard work of staying up late totally worth it!”
The tracks making up Big Little Dream are pure Chelsea, “…they are all stories from my life. There are sad songs, happy songs, hopeful songs, dreamy songs, and love songs.” The only song that made it on the album from her days in Chico is a track called “Movie Star”, it’s about Mark, but, “it is a rewrite from college days, an updated version of who we are now, 20 years later.” Other songs like “Calistoga” and “Little Things I Miss” serve as memorable moments preserved in her music. “Angels on our side” and “Barely 21” are in dedication to some of the family members, Chelsea’s musician grandmother and her cousin, and a close friend, who all passed too soon, but have helped guide her on this journey. “Two Little Hearts” is a sorrowful, yet hopeful song chronicling the two miscarriages that Chelsea and Mark experienced after they had their daughters, “it really is about hope after loss, moving forward and holding onto hope and the gifts (who were our two little boys) that are given to you after grief and loss.”
Chelsea describes “Fancy Shoes” best, “it is about being an exhausted working career mom who decided to make a change one day and do exactly what I was meant to do.” Even though she occasionally gets upset with herself that it took her 20 years to make this album, Chelsea also knows that she previously didn’t have the life experiences to make it the way it was meant to be done. Now, with a full album under her belt, and the opportunity to perform and connect with audiences, Chelsea knows she is in fact living her Big Little Dream!
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By Alexandra Sullivan, Resident since 2017