Boots & Bows – Emi Riemer

Sidewalk Stages’ Youngest Busker Sings, Plays Fiddle

By Barry Courter – Staff Writer – Chattanooga Times Free Press.  Staff Photos by Erin O. Smith.

Emi Riemer busks at the Chattanooga Choo Choo Gardens.

Jeremy Riemer didn’t expect that a visit to the Red Bank Farmers Market would lead to a budding music career for his then 6-year-old daughter, but a voice from above convinced him otherwise.

That voice wasn’t divine, but the message was every bit as clear and convincing. While shopping, the two had come across fiddler August Bruce, and Riemer’s daughter Emi became transfixed. Because the market is small enough and he could see her from just about anywhere, he left her there at Bruce’s “instrument petting” booth while he shopped. A short while later, he heard a familiar voice — Emi’s — singing over the PA.

“It was pretty good too,” he says. “It sounded like a song, and she wasn’t afraid to perform.”

Bruce remembers that day: “When Emi came up, she didn’t want to leave and go anywhere else. She was obsessed.

“At the time, the movie ‘Frozen’ was big, and she made up her own ‘Frozen’ song and sang forever,” Bruce says, chuckling at the memory. “She was like the rest of the world was gone, and it was just her with that microphone.”

Now 8 years old, Emi is blessed with a big personality and a quick giggle. She fidgets as she ponders questions from a reporter, more interested in what is for lunch than talking about her budding music career. She is anything but shy and says she has no trouble getting in front of a crowd to sing or play the fiddle, which helps explain her debut at the market.

That chance meeting led to lessons from Bruce at her music store, Fiddlers Anonymous, in Red Bank, and from bluegrass star Becky Buller, who offers private lessons in Manchester, Tennessee.

With two years of performing under her belt, Emi decided to go public and is now the youngest busker who regularly performs as part of SoundCorps’ Sidewalk Stages program.

Emi Riemer, 8, Stands By Her Fiddle Case

SoundCorps is a local organization that promotes musicians and live music in a variety of ways including workshops, networking and the busking program.

“Emi is one of three that we have under 10,” says SoundCorps Executive Director Stratton Tingle.

The other two are Abi Snell, 9, and John Henry, 10.

“We also have three in their 70s among the 110 that we have overall,” says Tingle.

Tingle says the program is a great way for musicians to hone their playing skills as well as their social skills and stage presence. It’s also a way to make some money. Emi performed by herself for the first time on the north side of the Walnut Street Bridge about a month ago and did well.

“I made $90,” she says with a big smile. “I’m saving my tips for college.”

Given the number of summers she has until then, she could amass quite a nest egg.

Emi, who also plays travel soccer, plays a 100-year-old half-size fiddle during her performances. She also sings; her repertoire includes bluegrass and Americana standards like “I’ll Fly Away,” “Cripple Creek,” “Red Haired Boy” and “You Are My Sunshine.”

Emi, who will be attending Rivermont Elementary in the fall, is a huge fan of 13-year-old EmiSunshine, a singer/ songwriter from Madisonville, Tennessee, who gained national prominence through viral social media. Emi has seen EmiSunshine 22 times. The two have become friends, and the younger Emi actually wears a pair of cowgirl boots once worn by her hero on the Grand Ole Opry stage. She is also a big fan of Norah Jones, the Dixie Chicks, Gillian Welch and, of course, her teachers Buller and Bruce.

In addition to her Sidewalk Stages gigs this summer, Emi is a member of the Anonymous Fiddle Band composed of Fiddlers Anonymous members.

Bruce says EmiSunshine’s success gives Emi a good role model to follow, but Emi has always approached performing “with the fury of an adult.” She already sees a musical future for her young student.

“She will someday be famous,” Bruce predicts, “and I get to be the person who sat in when she got her start.”

Contact Barry Courter at or 423-757-6354.

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