Emily's anthem

Emily Scott Robinson caught music bible Rolling Stone's eye. Her newest song could be the anthem for surviving 2020.

GREENSBORO — This was supposed to be that summer.

Opening act for a popular touring band.

Dates through the summer in nice venues.

Grimsley graduate Emily Scott Robinson, named one of Billboard Magazine "Ten to Watch" list in country music, performing her Top 25 song "The Dress" across the country.

Instead, the 33-year-old former social worker found herself rambling down another highway in her recreational vehicle home with her husband at the steering wheel, the pages of a book in front of her when the words inspired the lyrics to what could be the year's anthem.

In the book, "A Gentleman in Moscow," the narrator, a Russian aristocrat who is sentenced to house arrest in the attic of a hotel, spots a boarded up flower shop in the midst of despair, war and upheaval. He says, "Ah, but the time for flowers will come again."

It caught in her soul.

"That's what we need to hear right now," Robinson said of wanting to write about hope and resilience. "We need to be reminded that in the midst of the pain the time for flowers will come again."

The socially-conscious singer and natural storyteller was initially writing about the pandemic and hope in a difficult time, but also felt the urging to issue a call to action for social justice and systemic changes in areas such as health care and education.

"It's time to fix what is broken," Robinson said.

Robinson wasn't finished with "The Time for Flowers," when someone asked in the comment section during a live performance on Instagram if she had written any new music. After she performed the portion that was done, her fans and friends urged her to release it.

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By the time Rolling Stone named Robinson among "10 New Country and Americana Artists You Need to Know" and with one of the "10 Best Country Songs to Hear Now" in 2019, she already had a grassroots following.

The songwriter who accompanies herself on guitar realized how special her voice was while singing in her bedroom back in high school when she could hit all the notes on the Joni Mitchell song she was singing.

Robinson, with an easy smile and known for her compassion, was preparing to be a social worker. On mission trips to foreign countries she had seen great poverty and how individuals could make a difference. Offered a full scholarship to Wake Forest University, she instead enrolled at Furman University in South Carolina, where she sometimes played local coffee houses.

That song that Billboard coveted is about a night in college, when someone slipped her a date-rape drug at a bar. She never reported the rape and later finds the dress, which she thought she had thrown away, in a stack of clothes.

Rolling Stone describes "The Dress" as a "heartbreakingly honest song about sexual assault" with lyrics that "examine the guilt and confusion that an assailant leaves behind."

The vocals, Rolling Stone added, "are lovely, shot through with a light tremble that sounds like vibrato one minute and a stifled cry the next."

Robinson, who is fluent in Spanish and once worked as a translator for Legal Aid, said although all her stories aren't autobiographical, she has not regretted revealing something so personal in what has become one of her signature songs.

"People come up to me after shows or message me online and say, 'Oh my God, I thought I was the only person who felt this way — I thought I was alone but I'm not,'" Robinson said. "It makes me feel like what I'm doing is making a difference. I love that."

The exposure resulted in an uptick in ticket sales to her shows, which included a performance at the Carolina Theatre of Greensboro.

"People have been finding my music through Spotify and Rolling Stones — stumbling around and discovering me," she said with a laugh.

That has allowed her to work professionally full-time.

Robinson and her husband bought an RV home to travel the country.

Both were scared to drive it.

The RV measures 36 feet and towing a car adds another 13 feet.

"What we did was sign up for an RV driving class in Tennessee," Robinson said. "This guy in his 70s said, 'I teach old ladies to drive RVs, you'll be OK.'"

Robinson already had a busy schedule and a booking agent. Touring pre-coronavirus accounted for 85% of her income.

Some people see Robinson in the same trajectory as a number of now well-known Triad performers including Fantasia and Chris Daughtry after American Idol.

Last summer, she played the main stage at the Telluride Blue Grass Festival — something she had only previously dreamed about.

"I thought I was going to be so nervous," Robinson said of walking onto the stage before her biggest audience. "I felt so steady and I had this voice that came to me that said this is where you belong."

For her part, Robinson is just thankful for the opportunity to do what she loves — albeit COVID-19 delayed.

"I miss live shows," Robinson said. "I miss people. I miss performing. I'm realizing now it is a marathon and not a sprint."

In the downtime, she has stayed busy writing, going on that (socially-distancing) beach trip and a week in Greensboro that time wouldn't allow before.

And reading, which is how she came across that line that she could not get out of her head.

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Robinson, whose music is described at times as vulnerable, at others, defiant and absolutely free, uses the wisdom of an "elder" in her latest song.

She comes across the woman planting sunflower seeds and asks her of the use in all the despair. Among the woman's replies is, "Honey, I’ve lived long enough to learn... .”  The lyrics go on to talk about the cycles of life — Robinson uses the planting of seeds as a call to action to get involved in "fixing what is broken."

Her own part includes raising money for an equal justice initiative and Feeding America. She was to be part of a July 5 benefit for the Navaho Nation. Her own role model is singer Belinda Carlisle, who spends a lot of her time and energy rasing money for child refugees and social justice issues, and supporting younger artists.

After the urging of those who heard the incomplete version of the song early on, Robinson spent another week editing the lyrics, then recorded it in her RV. She sent the vocals to a fiddler player in Nashville, Tenn., who recorded his part. Then she sent it all to an audio engineer to mix it.

In the accompanying video she uses images related to the coronavirus, protests and memorial services. And flowers.

"My platform is a lot smaller right now," Robinson said, "but I know I want my job to be a job of service."

Contact Nancy McLaughlin at 336-373-7049 and follow @nmclaughlinNR on Twitter.

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