Inda Eaton, Coming Out of COVID and Getting Back Onstage

Inda Eaton's last concert was 14 months ago at the Bay Street Theater.
Annemarie McCoy

Inda Eaton loves the open road and touring the world in concert. She is “addicted to adventure,” but this has clearly not been the year for that.Now Eaton, the wildly talented, popular singer-songwriter and midwestern transplant who calls East Hampton home, is taking it back to the stage — slowly.

A recent gig at The Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett with her pal, another local music legend, Nancy Atlas, was a big step — an artistic glimmer of hope in these undeniably shaky times.

So is live music “back?” The effusive Eaton is quick to clarify.

“It’s not ‘back,’ it’s NOW,” emphasizes Eaton. “We’re back, in a way… but we’re not ‘back.’ I do that to protect myself.”

She’s right. ‘Back’ for Eaton is the packed house with her full band and musical guests at the last concert she did at Bay Street Theater 14 months ago on March 7 — a show that almost didn’t happen.

The sold-out staged concert celebrating the release of Eaton’s eighth album, the unknowingly prophetic Shelter in Place (written and titled before the pandemic) marked the last time Bay Street was open to the public. Soon after, stages round the world, as we knew them, went dark.

To commemorate the one year anniversary of the Shelter in Place concert, this past March, Eaton edited and released it as a video-on-demand.

“It’s a beautiful mix that could be its own record,” says Eaton. “That was the last show, but ironically it brought me back to life.”

Eaton says she was so blown away by the huge response and success of the video-on-demand that she knows that there will be an encore presentation of the Shelter in Place concert. But when will that be?

“I think we are in ‘hybrid’ land — we got one foot in a live show in public, and I think we can still have a relationship to ‘I don’t want to put clothes on,’” says Eaton, with a cautious smirk.

Her ability to connect to an audience is her calling card — and even one-on-one, she always manages to corral her stream of consciousness into artfully crafted, thoughtful sentences.

I recently caught up with Eaton via Zoom from her home in Springs, where she has been sheltering in place with her wife Annemarie.

How does it feel to get back on stage again?

It feels energizing, life-affirming, to be out there with the music — with the kind of year we’ve had it’s the icing on the cake since we have not been able to gather, not had that fellowship, not had that music.

I’m going out, but with intention — I am vaccinated and fully cooked, and it feels good. I am also of the mind that this could all be taken away at any moment.

It feels like somebody coming out of frostbite — it “feels.” I feel in every direction. Not to say that I didn’t feel last year, but I think I had frostbite.

How does it work at The Stephen Talkhouse now?

The Talkhouse has done this the right way — they’ve taken every precaution and bit of information to marry that up to where the people are.

Your cousin can no longer stand there in the back — every space has to be accounted for.

People in the room wear masks — much like a restaurant, if you are eating or drinking you are not wearing a mask, but if you are moving around in any way, you do. We all have the code.

Inda Eaton (pictured) lives with her wife, Annemarie, in Springs, New York. Annemarie McCoy

How did you get through this year? How did you spend your time?

I leaned into friendship… conversations got real… friendships were growing in dog years.

I didn’t realize how much of my life does travel west and how much of my life is spent where I’m from, in Wyoming and Arizona and California. That didn’t exist except from Zoom and the phone.

My solace was getting real and growing some friendships to a deep level and finding out which community was really feeding me.

We took stock. I decided I want more of what I love and less of what’s not serving me.

What do you love?

I love my wife (married 10 years, together over 17 years). I love my family — that is an interchangeable word. I love my community, and I love my Dad. We talk every day.

The last song on Shelter in Place is a ballad you wrote called “Once,” about being afraid to tell a friend in Wyoming that you are gay. What happened?

I knew Brian for over 25 years. We were having dinner in Wyoming and he looks at my ring and says, ‘Did I miss something?’ I was taken aback, but he didn’t know I was married to Annemarie. It was a real ‘aha! moment’ — we knew each other for so long, and he didn’t know this.

Why hadn’t you told him — and what happened when you did?

I think I put him in a box, probably like he put me in a box. I had profiled him as a red Republican, and he had profiled me as a crazy, left-wing, progressive chick singer.

I said, ‘Oh yeah, I got married,’ and he got tears in his eyes, this big burly bear of a guy, and he said, “Why don’t I know that? It’s so significant!” Then we both starting balling; it was a real cry-a-thon. I think it hit us both how many years of a friendship we had both missed.

Then, sadly, two years later, he died in a motorcycle accident. I knew him for 25 years, and the last two years were spectacular.

What was it like coming out to your family in Wyoming?

It did not go well. I remember it being a holy nightmare scenario; it was horrible. I think by today’s standards I came out to them late — maybe at age 28. My brother and sister thought it was “cool,” my dad was great about it in his way.

But the women… I don’t even know now if I have recovered; I think I slathered it up with humor and kept walking. Our people come from the town that Matthew Shepard is from in Wyoming (Casper), so there’s a lot of heaviness to it.

Where are your soul and spirit these days in terms of your career?

I love where we left off with Shelter in Place… I love the element of storytelling—it’s like going to a play. It could happen as a one-woman show or trio or orchestra. I would love to pick that up. That’s where I’m going, as a storyteller with an orchestra.

And for now?

I think this summer and in the now, it’s going to take many forms. It is expressing my friendship with Nancy (Atlas) at The Talkhouse — we are having a ball, getting on stage and seeing what works and what’s coming out. I’m also working with the rhythm section of the band (Jeff Marshall on bass and Michael Guglielmo on drums), and we will add the full band in time.

I’m working with the Sag Harbor American Music Festival and mentoring with the Young Musician’s Initiative. We are all emerging again and starting to feel. I really believe that right now, the “tour” is in the neighborhood.

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