Long before Olivia Farabaugh auditioned for “The Voice,” performed at the Pentagon and secured a regular radio gig, she nearly quit music.
Managing her time between school, athletics and guitar lessons was becoming too difficult for Farabaugh as an eighth-grader in Palmyra, Lebanon County. After many tears and tough conversations, she and her mom called her guitar teacher to cancel her lessons.
That teacher, the late Steve Creder, simply refused. They could meet later at night if necessary, Creder said, but Farabaugh had too much potential for him to let her give up music completely. Inspired by his confidence, she decided to keep attending lessons. They met at 8:30 p.m. every Wednesday.
“It was really cool that he believed in me enough to make the time for that,” Farabaugh says.
Now, nearly 10 years later, Farabaugh is making a career out of music. The 23-year-old singer-songwriter will perform during happy hour at Annie Bailey’s on Friday. Farabaugh will donate a portion of her tips to the Pennsylvania Wounded Warriors, as she does with every performance.
Her music is largely acoustic with some light country flair. Her original music shows her love for storytelling. In her latest project, “Memories to Melodies,” Farabaugh interviewed local people from military veterans to pageant queens and turned their experiences into songs.
Farabaugh studied guitar with Creder until her senior year of high school, when he died suddenly from a heart attack. Her lessons with him shaped not just her playing, but her songwriting, too. Farabaugh started co-writing with Creder shortly after she started the lessons as a sixth grader, including her 2014 song “Prisoner of War.”
She started performing coffee shop gigs while a junior at Palmyra Area High School. After graduating in 2013, Farabaugh attended cosmetology school, where her classmates encouraged her to try playing in bars. Since she was just 19 at the time, Farabaugh’s parents accompanied her to local restaurants such as Babe’s Grill House & Sports Lounge in Palmyra. She was hooked after the first gig.
“When I got home that night and I counted the tips, I was astonished that I could make money doing something that was so fun,” Farabaugh says.
After completing cosmetology school, Farabaugh balanced shifts at a salon with pursuing music. She attended three open casting calls for “The Voice,” but wasn’t selected to advance.
Then, in 2015, she received an email from a casting scout from the show who had come across her profile on Reverbnation, a website for artists to share music, tour dates and more. The casting scout invited Farabaugh for a private audition in New York City.
“It was this little hole in the wall right off Times Square, and it was an unmarked building with just a number,” Farabaugh says.
She later went to Los Angeles and performed for the Season 10 celebrity judges in the blind auditions — Adam Levine, Blake Shelton, Pharrell Williams and Christina Aguilera — but no one turned their chairs around to select her for their team by the end of her audition.
“I learned an incredible amount from not only the vocal coaches that we had but also the other contestants,” Farabaugh says. “We got to all hang out together in LA for three weeks as we filmed for the blinds, and being in that environment just sparked a whole new love for music that I didn’t know I could even have.”
About a year ago, Farabaugh got another email presenting an exciting opportunity: It was an invitation from a representative from the National Association for Campus Activities. Farabaugh has since performed at regional colleges through songwriting workshops, coffeehouses or other events. In February, she’ll attend a national conference in Florida, expanding her options to colleges across the country.
This past spring, she performed at the Pentagon, after someone in charge of the emotional well-being of the staff saw Farabaugh perform at Milton Hershey School. Farabaugh was performing a song from the “Memories to Melodies” project called “The Devil Don’t Want Me,” which was inspired by a 98-year-old World War II veteran. It resonated with the Pentagon employee, who recruited Farabaugh to play at an event to uplift and encourage its employees.
Lately, Farabaugh has been enjoying her first regular radio feature on Harrisburg radio station Hot 106.7. Listeners vote on which song they’d like to hear Farabaugh cover, which she performs live on air. The selections so far have been outside of her usual wheelhouse: Post Malone’s “Better Now” and Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi.” But she welcomes the challenge.
“I do love a curveball,” Farabaugh says. “I think that really keeps me on my toes.”
Farabaugh has been working to expand her network in Nashville with frequent trips to the Music City, during which she performs, co-writes and meets with mentors.
In 2019, Farabaugh hopes to release a new album, and to continue saying yes to the right opportunities as they present themselves.
“I’m just trying to take it one day at a time, and whatever comes my way, then I’ll take that avenue,” Farabaugh says. “That seems to be working pretty well.”