Michelle Bernanth, Mukilteo
Michelle Bernath is a singer, a little bit country and a lot of sass. She is a self-proclaimed High Maintenance Redhead, a strong woman who knows what she wants and goes after it. She is Snohomish County’s anthem queen, belting it out for both the AquaSox and the Evergreen Speedway year after year. If you haven’t heard of her, that’s because she has been on, what she likes to call a “Heartbreak Hiatus.” Life, more specifically love, knocked her down for a few years, but she is slowly getting back on track, and in true country fashion, I am confident her comeback will be fabulous.
Music has been a part Michelle’s life for as far back as she can remember. Her earliest memories of its role in her life are singing and learning the piano at age five. As she grew older, she grew as a musician, experimenting with instrument after instrument, thanks to a supportive and patient set of parents who allowed her the freedom to do so.
She worked her way through the guitar, saxophone, clarinet, and oboe, stopping short of the drums, an instrument she always wanted to play, but hasn’t for some unknown reason. I hinted it was because she’d rather date one than be one, but she shut that idea down. No dating for her. Fast forward a few years to middle school and Michelle came to the realization that she was meant to be a performer.
“One of the first solo performances I did, I was playing and signing a piece and got a standing ovation. There is nothing like that, the applause, the feeling you get from it.”
As she grew into an adult, performing became about more than just the applause. Her why changed. Singing became more about the feeling she was creating in others than the feeling they created for her. She loves nothing more than having someone connect with a song the way she has connected with the songs of so many.
“As an adult, rather than the applause, what I love when I’m singing is looking out at the people that I’m performing for and I seeing someone that I’m touching. Seeing that they understand what I’m singing, the emotion that I’m trying to put out there. It is even better when they are singing along, that to me is just totally what does it.”
Those experiences, those connections, are ones that stay with her and keep her going no matter how hard things might get.
“I had an experience at the Bothell Farmers Market a couple of years ago. I was singing Bridge over Troubled Water, which is one of my favorite songs. This lady was walking over the foot bridge and she just stopped and started staring at me. I panicked, I was like, do I have spinach in my teeth or is my zipper down, why is she looking at me? Then she started singing along and I when I was done she came over to me and told me that song has particular meaning for her for a variety of reasons. She was like, I don’t want to go into all of them, they are very personal, but that song means something major to me and I’m so glad I heard you sing it today. I wasn’t going to get out of bed and come today, because I just didn’t feel like it, but I’m glad I did.”
With experiences like these, what happened, what went wrong? It was something Michelle calls her “Heartbreak Hiatus.” That heartbreak was certainly over love, but I get the feeling it had more to do with her love for music then her love for the man who was stupid enough to let someone like her walk away.
Theirs was a relationship that revolved around music. They met because of music. They attended live shows together. More importantly though, they worked together to build a music studio.
“We put this place together. I helped him conceptualize it. I helped him build it. I put so many hours of sweat and blood and energy and money into it [and], as we are putting the drywall up, covered from head to toe in crap, I would think to myself, this is the recording booth, this is where I am going to get in and sing and make my record.”
While deep down Michelle knew theirs wasn’t a relationship that would last for forever, she clearly felt deeply that his man was put into her life to help her take her music to the next level. Being with him and building that studio together, it was going to be that push she needed. It was going to force her into that studio and finally make the record she needed. Then, in the blink of an eye. It was all gone. He was gone and so was the studio.
It took awhile to move on, but Michelle got back up and tried again. She found another studio, another producer, and scheduled a session. It ended in disaster, the two just didn’t click, and she wasn’t her usual prepared self. She just couldn’t seem to do the one thing she had working so long and hard for. Not only that she wasn’t looking for, or accepting, gigs anymore. She didn’t even want to do karaoke with her friends anymore.
“I can’t even tell you why it hit me so hard, or why it hit that part of my life so hard. The rest of me was fine, but this one little piece, I just couldn’t do it. The thing of it is, I had music a whole lot longer and before I had him, but then all of a sudden everything about music reminded me of him.”
All of this, what Michelle was going through, were things that I knew nothing about despite communicating with her here and there and following along with her on Facebook. Then, I don’t know, I saw something that stuck with me, and when it came time to put together my New Years Brunch and a guest list full of women I knew would be able to understand and be supportive, be the first ones to hear my own very personal and difficult story.
It was a morning that many of those who attended won’t forget, not because of what I shared, but because of what my doing so allowed them to share, and in Michelle’s case, think about.
“After the brunch at your house, a lot of things that I heard from all of the women that day really caused me to stop and think. One of the things I really thought about hard was, why are you letting this person control the thing that has defined you your entire life.
I am getting there though. I am starting to remember who I am and that my existence, and music’s existence in my life, was a lot bigger and a lot longer than that tiny little blip that he was in it. If I hadn’t come to your event on January first, I don’t think I would have forced myself to have the realization.”
I’m happy to report that in the few months that have passed since that brunch, Michelle is getting herself back out there, cleaning out all the things that have been holding her back, and moving forward with her life. She is ready to work on her media kit and put together a record to send out. She is looking for gigs and, more importantly, she’s already singing at them again.
Personally, I’m hoping she gets one early enough for this mom of five to be able to go to it. Regardless of whether or not I get the chance, I am grateful for whatever role my brunch played in helping Michelle or anyone else who attended. Us women really do need to stick together. We also need to realize that, in being brave and facing our pasts, our struggles, our pain, and our fears, that we give others the courage to do so as well even if it is only in their own head. Just a little PSA from your SnoCo Gal.
Follow along with Michelle on Facebook HERE and on Instagram @high_maintenance_redhead
Photos by After Midnight Photography of Everett
Michelle will be performing live at the Vintage & Made Fair in Downtown Arlington on May 20th (I’ll be there with a booth too!)
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