Photo by Velvet Woosley
By Corianne Egan
Sarah Elizabeth Burkey’s voice penetrates the thick summer downtown every Saturday. Like many musicians, her acoustic songs echo through the street and set a light, country mood. However, unlike the other musicians, Burkey had to walk 325 miles to be inspired to write those songs.
“It’s easy to get in your car and drive that distance,” Burkey said. “You just zoom past everything that way. When you are walking, it’s easier to see things you have missed.”
Burkey, a local musician who performs weekly at Live on Broadway, was in need of inspiration when she started walking toward home from Louisville. Her journey in May of 2005, which took 19 days to complete walking sunup to sundown, gave her enough material to produce her second album, “When the Red Buds Bloom.”
“In the beginning, I was sore every morning,” Burkey explained. “But by the time I got to Paducah, I was feeling no pain. I don’t know if it was the conditioning, or the fact that I was finally coming home. I suspect it was a little of both.”
Since then, the 31-year-old Burkey has released a third album, “Don’t Die Yet,” based on her time in South Dakota with the International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers. She has also toured across the country and internationally, bringing her soulful country sound to new audiences.
“Music has always been a part of my life,” Burkey said. “It’s what I have always done. I learned how to play piano when I was 4, and kept moving forward after that. Sometimes I dream up songs.”
Burkey was born and raised in Kevil, and her trailer is only a stone’s throw from her father’s property she grew up on. She hopes that while her travels take her around the world, they will land her back in western Kentucky
“I had a very humble beginning,” Burkey said. “This is my home. Remembering my roots is a big deal to me.”
While she has counted herself fortunate to be able to continue working on her passion, Burkey has fallen on hard times as of late. During the record flooding this spring, her trailer in Kevil sustained water damage. Mold in the walls has caused respiratory problems for the singer. Her home may be too far gone for repairs.
“People have said I am crazy to continue my art through all of this,” Burkey said. “But music is ingrained in me. I live my life from one adventure to the next.”
Burkey’s next adventure is a two-week tour through Europe, visiting Portugal, Greece, Italy and Spain. She is also working on two separate albums, which she hopes to release in the next year. For now, however, she will continue to book appearances in the only place she has called home her entire life.
“I have had people walk up to me and tell me that my music gives them peace,” Burkey said. “It gives me peace, too. I guess that can be my purpose in life.”