Summerfest Performer Nora Collins Talks About Her Milwaukee Roots

We sat down with her to learn about her musical journey, and what it’s like being a Milwaukeean in the great big world of Nashville country musicianship.

Nora Collins is a rising name in the country music industry, a hardworking artist and a Wisconsin gal. Hailing from Brookfield, the 25-year-old has returned for her ninth Summerfest, but is playing on a bigger stage that what she’s been accustomed to. Last night, she played at the U.S. Cellular Connection Stage at 6 p.m. 

How did you start out in the realm of music?

I always loved to sing, my mom jokes that I sang before I could talk. I grew up singing in church, and it was our music director at church who heard something in my voice and said, “…if she loves to sing maybe you should get her some voice lessons.” So I started taking voice lessons when I was in 4th grade from a musical theater, classical kind of coach, and she heard a little twang in my voice back then. She was trying to get it out of me because it’s not good for musical theater and classical music. But it wouldn’t go anywhere, so she just helped me develop it more. But I didn’t realize that country music was something that I was going to pursue, I just loved to sing and it was a natural twang. But I started writing songs when I was 14, summer—I was going into high school—and I was super bored. I just had a guitar laying around in my room from when I had previously taken a summer of guitar lessons when I was younger. I knew four chords and so I taught myself how to play guitar, again, by writing my first song; I wrote about 10 songs and kept them to myself until I worked up enough courage to play for my mom. And she was impressed and said: “Those have structure and they make sense. Your uncle has a home studio, why don’t you go out there and lay them down?” So I went out there and my uncle helped me, and he was impressed as well. He’s a great piano player so he added piano to it and another uncle added guitar to these songs, so it kind of became a family project, and before I knew it I had my first CD. One of those first songs made the top 16 in the nation in CMT Music City Madness contest.

Do you have any musical inspirations from Milwaukee talent or anything from the Wisconsin area?

I listened to all genres of music growing up. My parents are fans of everything, so I heard a lot of different music. Shania Twain was one of my first concerts, so I fell in love with country music early on. As far a local people go that influenced me, I’m not sure I have an answer for that but there is a great music community here in Milwaukee and I think that’s something that a lot of people outside of Wisconsin don’t realize. And, I mean, we have  the world’s largest music festival so we must have something very cool going on.

What do you think makes Milwaukee special?

Well what’s special about Milwaukee to me is that it’s my hometown and so it’s always really fun to come home and play shows, especially Summerfest because I’ve played here since I was 16 so this is my ninth Summerfest. I used to play over at the Tiki Hut stage along the lake twice a day, every day of the festival and I did that for a couple years. So it’s special to come home and get to do this and play with my national band. It’s also cool getting to see people who have seen me play at Potbelly Sandwich Works or the Tiki Hut and they still want to come see me, it means a lot to me.

Was there ever a moment that made you think that this is what you want to do?

I knew it was for real and I could pursue this when I signed my deal in Nashville. Because then I was like, “Okay I’m not just some girl that likes to play and sing. I am capable and I can write a song, and I can play guitar and sing and someone in Nashville, the pinnacle of country music, thinks that I’m worthy of being a part of that community. That was a moment where I thought I have a chance to fulfill a dream.