Orlando folk hero Terri Binion comes full circle with her personal tragedy on new release

By : Billy Manes
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Terri Binion is smiling a lot more these days. Some of it comes from staying busy, downsizing, songwriting and performing. Some of it, though, is just spiritual self-preservation.

“Sometimes I forget events that have happened over the last four years,” she says, driving to her photo shoot for this story. Her spiritual adviser has told her that this is normal in cases of trauma, that sometimes things don’t stick or that, maybe, just maybe, your mind and heart are full at a certain point, a breaking point, a tipping point. Maybe you just remember the things you need to remember in order to keep moving forward. Or maybe it’s a clean slate and a new beginning.

If it sounds flaky, it isn’t. There is nothing more reassuring than Terri Binion’s voice, on stage or in a car.

If you’re not familiar with the sweet-as-honey dulcet tones of the veteran Orlando songwriter, they’ve effectively been ubiquitous in Central Florida (and everywhere, really; she speaks of making a trek to Berlin in the near future) for decades. Her last album, Fool, was released in 2002. Much has transpired since then. It has been, as her new album The Day After the Night Before’s lead track suggests, a “Long Way Back.”

“I think that, first of all being the studio with people that you love is truly rewarding,” she says. “And it was the one place where I could drop all of my worries for a while; all of my pains just sort of slipped away.”

Binion’s story is a terrifying one, but also one of absolute love in an area where love has long been denied. It’s in that dynamic that her musical truth resides. When her wife Tracy Irwin – the couple married in California in 2008 – left for contract work on a Cirque du Soleil production at the soon-to-be-demolished Amway Arena in Orlando on May 3, 2011, everything seemed up to par for a married couple: A cheek was raised, the bed was a mess, cleaning was considered, niceties were exchanged. But, in an incredibly unfortunate series of events, an unlicensed, untrained worker made a mistake and Tracy was killed that day. She was crushed by a stack of lighting trusses, police reports say.

The way back from that tragedy has been fraught with legal battles and family squabbles, all set against the backdrop of marriage equality, which, for those who never had it in the state of Florida (at least until 2015), still carries a sting.

After some time set aside for grieving, Binion made her baby steps back to the craft she loves. She released a song and a video called “Goin’ to California” (which is intentionally not included on her album) as a sort of celebration for her web of support within the Orlando community. That song, naturally, is about the optimism of marrying the woman she loved, Irwin, and was always intended to stand alone. “Long Way Back,” which leads the album, sets a darker tone.

“Everyone I know has something to say/ And it goes in one ear and out the other/ While I appreciate that, the no good reason why/ Someone killed my baby and it’s just all wrong,” Binion sings.

The Day After the Night Before doesn’t weigh as heavily throughout, though, and for good reason. Many of its songs were in process before the tragedy, some dating back to 2004. It just made sense to create a veritable pastiche of the journey leaving interpretation to the listener, Binion says.

“I’m not saying that it’s not seamless,” she says. “This is what I want to do when I make a record. I do want to take people on a journey.”

That journey travels from “Tiny Little Landmines” to “Grace in Mid City” (a nod to New Orleans) to a “Green Velvet Coat,” finally ending on “My Satellite.” It is, apparently, a long way back. But it isn’t all tears; some is just sweetness.

“I don’t think of it as dark,” she says. “I don’t know if I’ve ever considered that. I think that I’ve wished that, ‘Boy, why can’t I write a pop song?’ I don’t tend to think of the songs as dark, and I look at them detached from me. They are about losing someone; being detached and losing someone.”

They’re also about staying stable and appreciating life, though. On this record, Binion worked with longtime co-producer David Schweizer (another Orlando legend) and other notables like Jeff Nolan, Anthony Cole, Justin Beckler and Jessy Lynn Martens. Her manager and dear friend Steven Foxbury is running the show; you may remember him from pop hits of yore like the Charmed theme (which he performed with his Atlantic Records act My Friend Steve) many moons ago. All of these people she “truly loves.”

But this is a nod to her true love, Irwin, without a doubt. And that kind of love is always in question politically, even in these days of full marriage equality.

“Absolutely it is. I expect that there’s going to be times along the way where there is still just as much hate being thrust toward one another,” she says. “There will be loopholes, and people will suffer and people will feel like they’re being treated unfairly. … As a whole consciousness, I think that there is a shift more toward love, though. I know that that is hard for some people to see and to feel. I think that you have to create the world around you, you have to create the world that you want.”

What: Terri Binion’s The Day After the Night Before CD release party and performance
When: Friday, March 18, 8 p.m.
Where: Will’s Pub, 1042 N. Mills Ave.

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