In June 2012, a Georgia Southern University graduate appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman, and she made him laugh.
And this week, she’s coming home to Statesboro to perform at the Emma Kelly Theater as part of her “Exodus of Venus” tour.
Elizabeth Cook will perform, along with special guest Darrin Bradbury, on Feb. 1. The show begins at 7:30 p.m.
Cook is a country music singer, who made her debut at the Grand Ole Opry on March 17, 2000. She describes herself as the “daughter of a hillbilly singer married to a moonshiner who played his upright bass while in a prison band.” Her music and her style have been described as sharp and surprising, and she is an unapologetic traditionalist.
Raised in Florida, Cook’s parents were both performers prior to their marriage, and continued to perform after they were wed. Her father served eight years for running moonshine, and learned the welding trade while incarcerated. Cook began performing with her parents at the age of four.
Cook says she was destined to become a country singer, and hadn’t planned on attending college. But the lunch ladies at her high school gave her a $500 scholarship, and she ended up graduating from Georgia Southern in 1996 with dual degrees in Accounting and Computer Information Systems.
While she was in Statesboro, Cook worked as a teller at Farmers and Merchants Bank. Long-time FMB employee Trish Tootle, now serving as senior vice president, remembers her fondly.
“She was bubbly and vivacious and had the ability to make anybody feel better,” Tootle said. “We knew she would go far and had the talent to go with it. We knew she would succeed.”
Tootle said she hopes to get a few minutes with Cook while she’s in town.
“I’d love to have just five minutes with her. She might not remember me, but we all know who she is,” she said, laughing.
After graduation from GSU, Cook took a job at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Nashville. She was unhappy in the position, and attended an interview with a publishing company looking for a traditional female country singer to cover material from their catalogue. She was hired on the spot.
Cook has since written, recorded and toured, with growing success. The release of her 2007 album, “Balls,” was met with glowing press reviews, and the single “Sometimes It Takes Balls To Be A Woman,” has had significant play. She has also been a regular guest artist on the Grand Ole Opry. She has performed at the Opry more than 400 times, the most performances by any non-member.
Cook was first invited as a guest on Letterman’s show in 2011, during which she discussed her Sirius radio show, “Elizabeth Cook’s Apron Strings,” on the Outlaw Country channel. The visit led to more appearances. The third time she appeared on the show, she performed “If I Had My Way,” written by Blind Willie Johnson. She was accompanied by members of the Georgia Southern University marching band.
In 2016, Cook released her sixth studio album, “Exodus of Venus,” for which she is currently touring. It’s her first album in six years, and the lyrics are her darkest and deepest yet. Reviews by americansongwriter.com call it her “most riveting and intensely personal work.”
When asked what it means for her to come back to the Boro, Cook responds in her typically bubbly fashion.
“It means I have to be really careful where I park,” she said. “But I’m proud to return as a more functioning adult and pick up where I left off with some of my ol’ Statesboro crew.”
Cook said you can expect a lot of honesty in her show.
“This is a solo acoustic show where I will sing and play songs I have written, as well as some by others, and I’ll tell stories that are mostly true,” she said, smiling.
Cook said Exodus comes after a tumultuous time in her life. In the years leading up to the album’s release, she faced the loss of her father, brother, mother-in-law and brother-in-law, the dissolution of her marriage and the burning of her family’s farm. She wound up canceling her tour to go to rehab to be treated for drug addiction and an eating disorder. She said she didn’t have either.
“I wasn’t doing any of that. I wasn’t addicted to anything. I was just skinny from being stressed out,” she said. She was diagnosed with a pre-bipolar personality disorder and a precursor to manic depression due to a chemical imbalance in her brain, for which she now takes medication.
0Exodus reflects this dark period in Cook’s life.
“Exodus came out in 2016 after a rough patch that seemed to last longer than Erk Russell’s winning streak. I just couldn't recover from one blow before the next one came so it took me a long time to get that album in the oven and out,” she said. “It rests on the theory that the book of Exodus was actually tied to an astrological event when Venus passed too close to the earth's atmosphere, and the fallout mirrors a struggling and intense romantic relationship.”
Cook says she often has thoughts that get stuck in her head, and those turn into inspirations for songs.
“I have thoughts that will sorta ping and sound like music. If I can keep riffing on that for a few lines, sometimes a song will form. I usually have no idea what it’s about until it’s over,” she said.
Her inspiration comes, she says, from people, relationships and nature.
Cook said she’s already at work on her next album.
“I am in the throes of mixing it all up. Some of it is on paper, but some of it is still in my head, so there is a lot of pressure I put on myself in this moment to see it through. Much like the songs, I won’t know much about it until it’s over. I can come up with preconceived concepts and all that, but it’s just a decoy really,” she said.
Tickets to see Elizabeth Cook, along with special guest Darrin Bradbury, are $20. Go online at www.averittcenterforthearts.org, or call (912) 212-2787 to purchase.