Taking her show on the road
Megan Leigh Burtner grew up on a farm in Keedysville. She probably started singing before she could talk, she said.
The 33-year-old grew up singing at church and in school. She dabbled in a couple different fields and eventually earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2017. All along, she continued to sing in one capacity or another, including with chorale groups at a couple of universities and on a choir tour in Spain.
But the 2004 Boonsboro High School graduate had no driving ambition to become a full-time musician. She just enjoyed it on the side. Nonetheless, three weeks ago, Burtner, who now goes by the stage name Megan Leigh, quit her job as a scheduling coordinator at a local dental care provider and took the leap into music as a livelihood.
On Friday, June 21, Megan Leigh and Eli Lev will kick off a Midwest Tour of the United States with a gig at Dan’s Restaurant and Tap House in Boonsboro. They will play dates for roughly three weeks, with performances in New York City; Ohio; Chicago, Ill.; Wisconsin and North Carolina before wrapping it up in Baltimore on Thursday, July 11.
Music chased her down
“A lot of people in high school, when I was deciding what to do for college, were surprised that I wasn’t deciding to major in music,” Leigh said. “I felt like I didn’t want to burn myself out with music. I wanted to do music when I wanted, on my terms.”
Though she didn’t chase music, music chased her down.
Leigh followed musicians in the Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and northern Virginia areas. She attended the shows of her favorite artists and soon got to know them. Among those artists is indie folk singer songwriter Eli Lev, who has two albums under his belt and did a Northeast tour last November.
“I started following his music on Instagram, that was fall of 2017. I was reaching out to people and getting involved more,” Leigh said.
About six months later, she was singing with him. She also sings with Baltimore-based indie rock band The Henchmen and for Appalachian soul artist Caryn.
Lev, who was born and raised in Silver Spring, Md., and has traveled extensively with his musical career, said Leigh “has it going on.”
“She has this incredible way of blending her voice with whatever happens to be around her, whatever other voices or instruments or songs. She has a way of interpreting them that makes them human and invites the listener into the world of the performance,” he said. “It’s very engaging and creates an opportunity for the listeners to become a part of the song. It’s a very cool and unique thing.”
Growing and harvesting a community of music
Leigh’s strong chorale background lends itself to the singing she is doing now.
“Really, my primary thing is singing harmony with a lot of different people. I sing a lot of back up and support and harmony,” Leigh said. “I’m just kind of jumping in with different people and trying to figure out what my sound is going to be in the process.”
The Midwest Tour will feature a number of Lev’s original songs, as well as covers, some of which the pair share as duets and some which feature Leigh on lead vocals. She sings a unique version of “Porcelain” by Carousel and puts her own stamp on Avicii’s “Wake Me Up.”
“One of the big ones we do is ‘Dreams’ by Fleetwood Mac,” Leigh said. “People can find the video for that on Eli’s YouTube channel. We made the video at the farm. It’s really cool with me, Eli and classical guitarist Alex Barnett.”
The farm Leigh references is Hebron Homestead, where she was raised and continues to live today. Her parents, John and Cindy Burtner, own the property and support Leigh in using it as a sort of incubator for her musical endeavors.
“We’ve been hosting some events there and that’s been really fun. Concerts at the farm are part of my endeavor as a musician. I want to bring music up that way,” Leigh said. “Eli and I will be there next month for a concert.”
Leigh relishes the opportunity to expand the music scene in the local area.
“I travel a lot to get to music and to perform. I really like that we have the opportunity to bring music up to the Keedysville and Boonsboro area that people could be going down the road for, and normally would have to go down the road, just to be able to hear it. I like building a stronger community of music where we are.”
“The only thing that makes sense”
Leigh transitioned a couple of years ago from work as a grant coordinator to employment that allowed more room for music in her life. She began learning to play ukulele and guitar and writing music of her own. Now that she is dedicating all her time to music, she hopes to record and release some of those songs by next year.
“It’s been quite the journey already,” she said. “Full-time music was not a goal of mine until very recently, but now it’s kind of like the only thing that makes sense,” Leigh said.
She has developed relationships with a number of musicians who are “making it work” and she’s learning from them how to make a go of the music business.
“They get to do what they are passionate about all the time and it’s just super inspiring,” she said. “Now my goal is to be able to share my own story and my own voice. It’s just kind of a matter of I don’t want to keep my voice to myself anymore. I do it for myself and I want to inspire others, too.”