Isabel Ritchie ’05 Moves from Abbot Cabaret to Governor’s Ball


The Strumbellas perform at iHeartRadio Fest at Rebel in Toronto on April 21, 2017.

Last Christmas, Isabel Ritchie ’05 took the stage as the violinist along with other members of The Strumbellas for the show “KROQ Almost Acoustic Christmas” put on by California-based radio station KROQ-FM. According to Ritchie, the band was so nervous to perform first at such a major event that they had to stop and restart one of the songs in their set.

“Even though we performed our set hundreds of times, we just froze and messed it up and had to restart the song. So that was pretty embarrassing, but the rest of the set was awesome and great. It was just funny in the end,” said Ritchie.

Fueling her love for the violin and viola, Ritchie played in orchestras and a metal band called “Black Spider” at Andover. Her love for performing has only grown since performing original songs at Abbot Cabaret and landing herself a part in the Canadian folk-rock pop band, The Strumbellas.

“I actually joined the band on Craigslist. I was in college, and I had been playing violin, but I wasn’t studying it. I was looking for a way to keep playing music, so I answered a Craigslist ad, and the band formed that way. There were about ten of us. It slowly whittled down to the six of us that are in the band today,” said Ritchie.

Isabel Ritchie ’05, left,  grew up in Milwaukee, Wis., where she learned to play classical and Irish music.

Isabel Ritchie ’05, left, grew up in Milwaukee, Wis., where she learned to play classical and Irish music.

Since the formation of The Strumbellas ten years ago, Ritchie and her bandmates have slowly been working their way up the music charts. The Strumbellas have performed at Bonnaroo, Governor’s Ball, and Lollapalooza. In 2017, the band, which is based in Toronto, has won a number of eminent awards such as the iHeartRadio Music Award for “Best New Rock/Alternative Rock Artist” and the Juno Award for “Single of the Year.”

“[Receiving the Juno Award] was just really surprising. We beat out people like Drake and The Weeknd and Shawn Mendes, so that was just really wild and unexpected. To get that kind of support from your peers and the Canadian music industry was just really special,” said Ritchie.

According to Ritchie, Andover imparted long-lasting lessons onto her.

“I learned independence and self-motivation. One of the great things at Andover is that they really challenge you to motivate yourself and work hard and find your own passions. I think that experience definitely helped me become self-
motivated and work hard towards things on my own,” said Ritchie.

Ritchie attributes part of The Strumbellas’s success to their songs and lyrics. Though songs like “Spirits” and “We Don’t Know” have light melodies, the lyrics speak of heavier topics.

“We just try and have fun. A lot of the songs are upbeat and dance-able and gets people singing along, but the lyrics deal with a lot of heavier issues. It’s the combination of darker or more serious lyrics, but upbeat music that you can still dance to and have fun and sing along,” said Ritchie.

The Strumbellas’s lyrical risks have built a large fanbase. Their songs have now reached thousands of people across the country.

“A lot of people have written to us and told us how much they connected with the lyrics, whether they’re suffering with depression and anxiety or loss or PTSD. A lot of people from different backgrounds going through different things in their life can really relate to the lyrics, and that’s so powerful and amazing and really fulfilling for that to happen,” said Ritchie.

Ritchie and The Strumbellas have drawn inspiration from a wide range of artists who are willing to step out of their comfort zones and try new things.

“I think The Strumbellas and I look up to all sorts of powerful and inspiring musicians who do their own thing and are successful at it. Personally, I’m a big fan of Margo Price, whose albums are really confessional. She really writes from her experience. It’s really brave in the way that she does her own thing. Generally, artists who take chances to put things up that are really personal and speak from the heart,” said Ritchie.