Maiah Wynne

Maiah Wynne and her band. Content Exchange

Maiah Wynne, a singer-songwriter from Missoula, snagged the very first entry in NPR's 2019 Tiny Desk Contest earlier this week.

In a feature on the 20-something Hellgate High School graduate's song, "Mama," NPR's Clara Maurer writes, "the song opens with the sliding twang of Wynne's Merlin dulcimer, which immediately contrasts with the brightness of her voice and the raw distortion of Brooks Berg's oil can guitar. The song is a fresh take on music that echoes back to the sounds of Appalachian folk tunes."

The annual contest is open until April 14. Last year's competition drew almost 5,000 entries, and is judged by "All Songs Considered" host Bob Boilen, along with a panel of DJs and professional musicians.

Wynne, who now lives in Portland, said that the members of her band were all going to be traveling a lot this year, and might not be in town when the contest opened up. So they shot the video early, and thought they might as well enter it as soon as they could.

They also knew that last year, NPR did a write-up on the entry.

"So we kind of just went for it, and they emailed us two hours later to say that we were the first entry and they wanted to do a feature on us, which is super-exciting," she said in a phone interview.

The tune features Wynne on the dulcimer, Aliephant on an African drum called a djembe, Lauren McShane of the Portland Cello Project, and Toria Beck on bass.

Wynne said she wrote the song when she was a teenager addressing the untrustworthy people in her life.

"It almost feels like the perspective of the daughter in P.J. Harvey's 'Down by the Water,'" she wrote in an email.


Wynne dove into music early, and won third place in the First Night Spotlight high school music competition. After graduation, she did some moving around, including a year in Butte, and then bounced over to Portland to pursue music.

Last year, she won second place in Sound Off!, a battle of the bands organized by the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle. Besides winning some gear, she was featured in a "Live on KEXP" segment.

She also went on tour with the Portland Cello Project, a classical ensemble that plays covers of jazz, hip-hop, pop and more.

Late next month, Wynne will release a single of her song, "Fearless Girl," that she worked on with the ensemble and guitarist Alex Lifeson of Rush. The release will hit streaming services and include a music video.

"Those are dream collaborations for me," she said.

Separately, she and Lifeson, along with Canadian singer Andy Curran (Coney Hatch) are working on a four-track EP tentatively titled, "Middle of Nowhere," that will likely be released in the fall.

"That EP is going to be super-cool. It's going to be different from anything else I've done," she said.

She and her Tiny Desk band are planning a tour through Montana next fall.

"I miss all those towns, and very, very much want to come back," she said.

They're working on dates in Great Falls, Missoula, Butte and Bozeman; and have confirmed shows in Belt (Nov. 22-23) and Gardiner (Nov. 12-14). Check her website,, for her new single releases and more information.

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