Wisconsin Music Ventures hosted their “Originally Wisconsin” live music series at Story Hill FireHouse Tuesday evening, featuring singer-songwriter Ali J and apocalyptic folk-comedy rockers Anson Obvious and the Uncomfortable Moments.

Ali J hails from Waukesha. She broke into the music scene primarily through performing at open mics.

“I used to work at Sprizzo Gallery Caffe and there was a weekly open mic there. I started working in the kitchen, making my way up to cook and then server, until eventually I started hosting the open mic. I was so shy then, but people kept encouraging me to play and I started writing more of my own songs. Gregg Wandsneider was really encouraging; he got me some gigs at other local places in Waukesha. You just build connections through that community and the word gets around, so people start inviting you to play…it’s so nice to have those friendships.”

Tuesday found her playing slower and sadder material on acoustic guitar – both old and new. Many of her songs touch on love and heartbreak. She reflects on how it feels to breathe fresh air into songs she wrote long ago.

“Sometimes you’ve got to give them a little break, or even a longer break; sometimes it takes a few years to complete a song, or maybe love it and hate it and then come back to it. Today I played “Battle Song” which I don’t play very often because it doesn’t fit super well into my set, but it felt timely right now. That was one of the first songs I wrote, and I ended up reorganizing the chords.”

She hasn’t recorded anything yet but is gearing up to, potentially this fall or winter.

“I’m using my gig money to fund some recording sessions, and I’m excited for that,” J said. “I’m thinking I’m going to do an EP; there’s probably four to six songs that I’m really proud of and have been playing for the past few years now. I think it’s time to make them accessible for my friends and listeners.”

She’s known for participating in Dressember every year, where she wears a dress or tie every day in December in order to raise awareness about human trafficking while fundraising to help fight it. She explained, “I learned about it in college and couldn’t shake the darkness that it brought to my heart, so I wanted to do something about it. I’ve been doing it for seven or eight years now and it gives me purpose, especially in winter. It’s a very tangible way to act on a justice issue.”

Ali J performs at Summerfest on the Second Floor Stage this Thursday at 4:30 and then Cactus Club on July 7th.

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