For nearly 20 years, classical-folk instrumentalist Ronnda Cadle lived a double life. By day, she drove a stand-up fork lift, checked invoices and picked, packed and pulled orders in sweltering warehouses. By night, she was a struggling musician, playing small clubs, armed with her guitars and a gig bag filled with big dreams of seeing the world and sharing her music with appreciative audiences.
"Fork-lifting boxes used to be my career," Cadle says proudly, relaxing at a cozy coffee shop near her home in Decatur. "I started when I was 18 in Maryland, continued in Ohio and then here in Atlanta. I went in as a temp in Baltimore, and the rest is history." As of this past March, her tiresome and monotonous warehouse career is history as well.
"You can tell the world I cashed in my 401(k) and pension," she laughs, with only the slightest trace of remorse. "I was earning really good money with great benefits but I was miserable. Now I'm lucky to make gas money and sell some CDs. But you know what? I truly love it!"
Her delicate, acoustic-based, symphonic-tinged compositions are currently contained on two impressive CDs – the 2006 debut The River Runs and the recently completed After, officially released this Friday, July 13. The balance of hard work and creative play tipped in the favor of her muse when Cadle slowly decided to make music her full-time occupation, a decision that had been building a few years before she recorded her first album.
During a European tour in 2003, backing Nashville-based singer/songwriter Moe Loughran, she had a revelation that would seem a no-brainer to most people. "While I was playing in London," she says, "I realized how much I enjoyed not lifting 20,000 pounds a day." When she returned to work, the load began weighing her down like a stack of overloaded pallets. Finally one day this past March, she put in her notice. Her friends and collaborators noticed a sudden change.
"She has a very real sense of freedom about her now," says busy musician/composer Carol Statella, a member of the Atlanta Symphony Chorus and of Cadle's backing combo, the String Poets. "It's like a load has been lifted off of her, no pun intended, but now she's working harder than when she had that job, just in a more focused way."
Late last year, Cadle recalls that she was suffering from a bad case of writer's block. She visited her friend, renowned lesbian activist Joyce Tree of the Swiftwaters Campground in Dahlonega. Tree was suffering from a terminal illness with only a few days left to live. "Her strength pushed me to write a lot of the music on the new album, and her spirit still keeps me going. She's kickin' some major ass as an angel," she says. "I looked at her and her life and all that she had done. I realized that I was wasting time with basically unproductive labor when I could actually produce something of my own."
With a health scare of her own in the recent past, she is now determined to seize the day, every day. "A lot of people talk about living out their dreams but never do, and pretty soon it's too late to do anything about it," she says. "At work I would pick orders and ship them to places I knew nothing about. Now I'll be touring to some of the same places, experiencing it firsthand as a musician."
She adds that she is doubly determined to succeed – for her own satisfaction, and her pals stuck in dreary jobs at the stockroom. "On my last day at work, a co-worker gave me a digital camera," she says, getting a little misty-eyed at the memory. "So they could live vicariously through me. I'm living my dream and theirs, too!"