Since leaving Venice, Cristina Vane has forged her own path in the blues

By Bliss Bowen

Now a Nashvillian, Vane returns to SoCal for the Topanga Blues Festival
Photo by Brandon Pavan

{*Editor’s Note: Cristina Vane has cancelled her Topanga Blues Festival appearance due to illness.}

Since playing a farewell show at Surfside and relocating to Nashville in September, former Venice Boardwalk busker Cristina Vane has set up residencies at some Music City watering holes, started recording her rootsy debut album, played shows across the South, and ping-ponged back to L.A. for the NAMM convention and “American Idol” auditions — the latter rather unexpectedly, after someone invited her to try out. (She got sent home during the group round in Hollywood.)

“It was good to be pushed in an area I was unfamiliar with … and it was inspiring to see all the talent; I was in the room with unbelievable singers, and that’s never a bad thing at all,” says the multilingual Princeton grad, speaking from her Nashville kitchen. “But the biggest takeaway was I need to keep doing what I’m doing.”

That means continuing to run her career on her own terms — posting more homemade videos (#bluetip) for her 16,000 Instagram followers, working on her album, and performing live as much as possible. Last week she played Blind Willie Johnson tribute covers in Pennsylvania before running her slide guitar through originals and old-time tunes in West Virginia. This Saturday she’s bringing her National ResoRocket guitar to the Topanga Blues Festival. One of four featured, she’ll be accompanied by drummer Billy Stobo (part of the “big incestuous family” that is Venice’s music community).

“I’m just doing it at my own pace because in my opinion that’s what works. There’s a million ways to approach a musical career, and there’s no roadmap,” says Vane. “To continue to be authentic is really important.”

Refreshingly, when Vane discusses moving to Nashville for her career, she doesn’t reference label or management goals. Instead, she talks about jamming at nightly “picks” with players fluent in the roots music she loves so passionately. That’s why the vegetarian “West Coast girl at heart” is grateful for proximity to Mississippi and the Carolinas.

She likens her ongoing tour schedule to homework, “because social media only goes so far” as she organically builds up a fan base. The grunt work — driving hundreds of miles, lugging gear into strange clubs, setting up for audiences of 20 or maybe just two — makes her a stronger artist. It’s a lesson she learned while busking.

“People on the street don’t owe you anything. It’s up to you to capture their attention, to understand what’s working and what’s not in your performance,” she observes. “I need to feel every word that I’m singing.”

Cristina Vane plays during the 36th Annual Topanga Blues Festival on Saturday (May 4) at Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum. Tickets are $35 to $65 at (310) 455-3723 and