It was a sunny beautiful day on the interstate between Muskogee and Fort Smith, Arkansas late last month. Susan Gibson couldn't have been happier. She was in her vehicle with two dogs traveling to a gig singing songs and playing guitar at a joint called R. Landry's New Orleans Café.
Gibson will be bringing her joyful sound and original compositions back the other direction for a 7 p.m. performance Sunday at The Depot, 200 S. Jones Ave. A song the musician wrote for her 2005 album "Outer Space" titled "Happiest When I'm Moving" is still applicable today.
"I like everything I'm doing now," Gibson said. "I love that I'll be in Ft. Smith for a little bit and hopefully make a few friends at my show and then I'll be off to the next town. I love the luxury of being able to travel around and play my own songs. That's what I've always done. I started out playing coffee shops and open mics and then got into a band called The Groobees. It was really a privilege to play the songs that we'd written."
After The Groobees' personnel parted ways Gibson launched a solo career that's become a lifestyle. For over a dozen years she has schlepped her own equipment around in a van accompanied by multiple canines building a reputation for heartfelt songwriting and an inimitable vocal style.
"I feel really lucky," she said. "There may be compromises in my job but they never make me not want to do it. I've been writing long enough that I get invited to teach writing workshops."
Gibson has become a participant in non-profit organization "Soldier Songs and Voices." At no charge they tutor armed forces veterans in songwriting, provide free musical instruments and mentoring as a form of post-conflict care.
"We get veterans together and songwriters tell them what we know about the writing process," she said. "I tell them how I get started and get out of corners that I've painted myself into. It turns out to be this powerful process for giving people their voice back when they may feel they don't have a right to their own story."
Gibson's discography includes six studio albums and one live performance disc. Her newest release "The Hard Stuff" dropped last month. Gibson jokes that her list of greatest hits only has one song. But it's monumental. She wrote the Country Music Association's 1999 Single of the Year, "Wide Open Spaces" released by the Dixie Chicks. Gibson penned the lyrics in a notebook while still an undergraduate. She was home visiting her folks who gently scolded her for staying out until 4 a.m. The notebook with her ode to youthful independence was later mailed to Gibson by her mom and the masterpiece song began its journey to fame from there.
"I love that song and how predictive it was," she said. "I wrote that when I was 22 and the Chicks covered it five years later. I need to hear that more as a 47-year-old woman than I ever did when I was a 22-year-old girl. That was something I needed to say as a girl and something I need to hear as a woman. I do not have to have it all figured out. I can try and fail and try and fail as long as I end up at try. It's a song that I got to weave into the tapestry of our culture."
Gibson's popularity as a live performer is undoubtedly because she's discovered the key.
"What I've learned is that it's not about me," she said. "You write these songs about yourself, book yourself into the gig, invite your friends to come see you and pay ten dollars to get in to listen to your songs. Then buy a CD to listen to me sing about myself. It's not about me, I am there to provide a service entertaining and fully connect me with you, our stories and experiences. It's about how much I can be engaged with the audience."
Gibson is excited about returning here in no small part because she'll be sharing the stage with OKC's K.C. Clifford.
"It will be two women taking Norman by storm," she said.