“Justified” is a prevailing theme in Molly Otis Stoddard’s life lately, especially since that’s the title of her first music release in nearly two decades, and first solo album.
The Northwoods ode to free speech and expression comes 24 years after the single “Chasing Something Called Love” hit the Top 50 for Molly and the Heymakers, her band with country-tinged music that toured Africa to Iceland via Warner/Reprise Records.
Maybe that seems like a magical life for a musician, but Molly was back home in Hayward by the late 1990s, motivated to shift careers and investments. She had divorced, bought a downtown building and began rehabbing it while living in an upper-level apartment. Basement work took four years and started with the removal of shovel after shovel of dirt.
The cool temperature beneath ground proved ideal for The Wine Cave, which Molly opened in 2006 as the area’s first wine boutique. The next year, she opened The Pavilion bar upstairs; seating extends into an outdoor courtyard during good weather.
Musicians perform on The Danger Stage, a narrow and second-story performance space that juts above the audience. It resembles a catwalk: three feet wide and eight feet above the bar. That’s where the vertigo began, but stage dimensions had nothing to do with it. At issue were twice-weekly performances that lasted until midnight.
The city drafted, adopted and began enforcing an outdoor music ordinance in 2007, then denied Molly’s request for a permit to play music after 10 p.m. at The Pavilion. “I didn’t see it coming,” she says, of the obstacle, which customer Glenn Stoddard – a civil rights attorney – considered an illegal suppression of constitutional rights.
The lawsuit they filed in 2010 turned into a three-year battle that ended in federal court. First Molly was awarded $400,000; then a federal judge upheld the decision and awarded an additional $224,000 to cover court and legal fees.
“Through it all, I kept one thought in my mind: I am justified,” Molly says, in “Justified” liner notes. “Even after losing business, reputation and livelihood, I knew in my heart that my story would win out. I knew I was justified in my strong stand for the rights of musicians and fans everywhere. I fought for what I believe in – and I won.”
Molly has since sold the business, which introduced gourmet meals recently, in addition to hosting live music and selling wines from around the world. She and her attorney got married shortly before the court verdict. They live in Bayfield but return to a Hayward-area cabin on weekends, in part because it’s too cold to swim in Lake Superior.
The getaway also gives the couple a chance to tune out the world, literally, because there is no television, cell phone or Internet access.
“I’ve fallen in love with it again,” Molly says, of Hayward, and being unplugged “is good for me.”
This autumn she returns to the recording studio with Andy Dee of the Heymakers, “my longtime collaborator and musical comrade for more than 30 years.” He lives in the Minneapolis area and finds work in many directions as a writer, producer and multi-instrumentalist who has recorded with Soul Asylum, Jonny Lang and others.
Molly sings and plays violin, mandolin and guitar with The Danger Band and as a solo artist (Molly O) who itches to travel a bit again, especially out West. “When you’re solo, you can come and go as you wish,” she notes, but “you have no one to back you” on anything from technical issues to chatter between songs.
One of Molly’s summer stints is in Big Top Chautauqua’s “From Belfast to Bluegrass,” an ensemble production where her now-rootsy Americana music is a good match because there’s “an injection of Irish” in it.
“I enjoy what I do and feel sincere about it,” she says. “I went deeply into debt to keep everything going, but I know my life has been somewhat charmed.”
For more about Molly Stoddard’s music and shows: mollyomusic.com, thedangerband.com. Molly and the Danger Band perform at the Northwoods Music and Art Festival, Ghost Lake, Hayward, Aug. 15; Tom’s Burned Down Café, Madeline Island, Aug. 16 and Sept. 20; and The Potter’s Shed, Shell Lake, Aug. 28.
Big Top Chautauqua, 32525 Ski Hill Rd., Bayfield, is an open-air, canvas tent that seats 900 for seasonal performances that end Sept. 18. Shows, with author-musician Michael Perry as host, are broadcast nationally through Tent Show Radio. “From Belfast to Bluegrass” is staged Aug. 2 and 22. Tickets are $22 (less for children). Higher-ticket acts include Keb’ Mo’ ($42-68) on Aug. 7 and Vince Gill ($72-102) on Aug. 23. bigtop.org, 715-373-5552