Lily Meola (Photo: Vivian Kim, provided by Lily Meola)

A rising star in the music world will be at the Providence Performing Arts Center next week. That’s when singer-songwriter Lily Meola, fresh off receiving a golden buzzer on America’s Got Talent, opens for Ray LaMontagne as part of his MONOVISION Tour.

Although she didn’t win the million-dollar prize on the popular talent show, Meola certainly got a huge boost in her career. The Hawaii native thrilled millions of viewers with an emotional rendition of her original song “Daydream,” which she dedicated to her mother, who passed away in 2020.

But unlike some who begin their music careers on reality shows like AGT, the 28-year-old singer is not new to the music industry. She’s performed for over a decade and has worked with legendary artists including Jackson Browne, Andra Day, Steven Tyler and Willie Nelson, who she recorded a duet with in 2013.

I spoke to Meola earlier this week to learn more about her music and her long association with Nelson. She debuted on America’s Got Talent in August.

“It came a little unexpected and unplanned,” she explained. “I’m not a very competitive person, so it went a little bit against the grain for me, but obviously, I’m so thankful that I did it. It was emotional, it brought up a lot of deep feelings … I did not mean to cry on national TV, but honestly, it was so amazing to be able to connect with so many people. I get messages daily that my music is touching people. It was all I could ever hope for.”

Meola has been performing in front of audiences since she was a child. “It all came about very naturally,” she explained. “I was about 11 years old and was doing little gigs at the local café and local bars, where my mom would invite her friends. We were family friends with the Nelsons and occasionally Annie, Willie’s wife, would drag Willie to my little cafe gigs. One night, he sat in and sang ‘Crazy’ with me. At the end of the night, he handed me a little napkin and it had a few song titles written on it, and he said ‘if you’d like to record any of these let me know.’”

Before long, a recording session was arranged by noted Canadian Producer Bob Rock, who Meola was working with at the time. “He was the first person to take an interest in my voice. I kind of grew up in his studio in Maui,” she explained.

She later recorded a session with Nelson at another studio, but disaster ensued. A recording fluke caused the audio files to be unreadable, all the material was lost. Needless to say, it was a major disappointment. “We worked all day, recorded all these songs, and all the files were unusable, I’ve never even heard them,” said Meola. “Thankfully, a couple of years later, Willie reached out and asked me to be on his (Grammy-nominated) Duets album.” Nelson later took Meola on the road, “the kindest human and family I’ve ever been involved with,” she said.

Meola has put her career on hold more than once, including recently to care for her mother who was battling cancer. But she’s back this year with a new album and the tour with LaMontagne. There’s a chill island vibe on the EP Daydream, a nice collection of originals released last March, with songs including the hits “Daydream,” and “Sunshine.”  She also sings a sweet breezy cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop.”

She hadn’t really planned on it, but Meola began writing songs a few years ago. “I had never written anything and I didn’t think writing was something I could do, so I was singing songs that other people wrote. Leslie Dipiero, a publisher in Nashville, reached out and said ‘I want you to come to Nashville and write.’ I was living in Maui and Nashville was far away and I didn’t think it was possible for me to write a song. But with much convincing, I flew to Nashville and was put into a crash course on writing. I dove into it, I was in sessions every day for three weeks and fell madly in love with it.”

In the midst of writing, Meola was taking care of her mother, and a record deal fell apart. “I had to deal with life stuff, music is my passion, but I couldn’t focus on that as much, it just wasn’t the right time,” she explained. “I spent a couple of years writing heavily, but I never got to put any of my material out. At one point I realized my mom would have been upset with me if I didn’t put my music out there, she was my biggest cheerleader.”

So I put out “Daydream” and some other singles behind it. I kind of pushed through even though it was a little uncomfortable for me at the time. I guess my mom was the inspiration behind it,” added Meola.

She’s enjoying the tour with LaMontagne thus far .. and winning over fans. “It’s honestly been really sweet. The crowd is so quiet and polite,” quite different from festival and bar crowds. “I structured this tour to be more of an intimate performance, I just have two out of my five band members, we focus really heavily on harmonies, it’s really nice because you can actually hear it. Sometimes it’s a little weird to have silence in the room.”

Tickets are still available for Lily Meola and Ray LaMontagne.

 Click here to buy tickets to the PPAC show.

Click here to learn more about Lily Meola.

Ken Abrams

Lifestyle Editor Ken Abrams writes about music, the arts and more for What'sUpNewp. He is also a contributor to Providence Monthly, SO RI, Hey Rhody and The Bay magazines.
Ken DJ's "The Kingston Coffeehouse," a roots/folk/rock radio show every Tuesday, 6-9 PM on WRIU 90.3 FM. He is a former educator in the Scituate, RI school system where he taught Social Studies for over 30 years.
Ken is presently on the board of the Rhode Island Folk Festival and Newport Live (formerly Common Fence Music), a non-profit that brings diverse musical acts to the Newport area.