Kelly McCartney

Broadcaster, playwright, journalist & organizer

August 1, 2021

Hello friends,

Welcome to the inaugural issue of Sifting, shifting & lifting, where I sit down with some of the most interesting people I know and ask them the same three questions.

When I dreamed up this series I knew immediately that I wanted to feature today’s guest. Clever, curious, compassionate and deeply committed to amplifying the voices of others: Kelly McCartney doesn’t shy away from difficult, transformative social justice work (and she has fantastic taste in music).

If you know anything about Kelly, you know what I am talking about. If you don’t, well, let me introduce you.

With a style that is equal parts personal, political, and philosophical, Kelly McCartney inhabits a purposely intersectional corner of the roots music space, making her one of the format’s favourite commentators and curators.

As a journalist, Kelly has contributed to No Depression, NPR Music, Folk Alley, Stereogum, and other outlets. She also spent over four years hosting/producing the Hangin' & Sangin' podcast/radio show and now hosts Apple Music's Record Bin Radio. Her passion for music and its makers is palpable, making her the perfect tour guide for listeners looking to explore and expand their musical horizons.

When not promoting artists in a public-facing way, Kelly continues that work as executive director of the Rainey Day Fund, a grant fund which supports marginalized artists in the roots music space. She also regularly organizes benefit projects to support the social justice causes she believes deeply in, including voting rights.

Kelly, what wicked problem, or social justice issue, is engaging your head, heart, and hands right now?

Supporting and uplifting marginalized voices in roots music is a huge part of my work right now, and has been for the past six or so years because, in order to achieve actual equality, we must first build equity for many populations, including BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and disabled folx. I figured I might as well start in my own backyard, which is the Americana/roots music community. I initially began that work through the artists I covered as a music journalist and radio host, then expanded it with the Rainey Day Fund which offers micro-grants and support services to marginalized artists, some of whom have gone on to nab record deals, Grammy nominations, and other accolades. It's enormously rewarding work that also allows me to say "I told you so" a lot. And doing that is one of my favorite things in life. 

What artists or works of art have had a profound impact on the way you see the world and your place in it?

I wouldn't be who I am, in any way, without the Indigo Girls. Their inseparable art and activism forged my convictions and identity starting when I was 19 and continues to this day. They taught me (and so many others) how to move through the world in an authentic, empathetic, community-minded way, always reaching back to pull others along as any step forward was made. More recently, Brandi Carlile has also been a huge inspiration to me with her incredibly generous spirit, both in how she offers financial support whenever possible and how she shares her spotlight and uses her platform to uplift others. 

Who would you like to lift up?

I would be remiss to not lift up the Rainey Day Fund and its new Rosetta Fund offshoot which supports marginalized identity writers and other media makers in the roots music space. We get money directly into the hands of artists and creators so that they can do what they know how to do. The grants are small in amount, but huge in impact because they say, "We see you. We support you." And that means everything to someone who feels invisible. It's the simplest way I know to support BIPOC, queer, and disabled voices in this arena.

Rainey Day Fund

Friends, I am so grateful to Kelly for taking the time to answer my questions, and I have so much respect for the way she uses her privilege and her platform to address inequities in the Americana/roots music community. If you do, too, share this post or leave a comment below. Let’s show Kelly some love.

Until next time,



Join me

Every Sunday, in Sifting, shifting & lifting, I will introduce you to someone clever, curious, & compassionate. Someone who is digging deep, changing hearts and minds, and lifting others up in the process. Someone you want in your (intersectional) corner.

I also explore horrible histories and wicked problems through the work of academics, artists, and activists in the comprehensive monthly newsletter Sift. Shift. Lift. and in The Weekly, a bite-sized bulletin.

Coming up next:

  • The Weekly (August 4, 2021)

  • Sifting, shifting, and lifting with . . . Natalia Zukerman (August 8, 2021)

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