For as long as singer-songwriter Sage Escalante can remember, she’s always loved to sing.
“I started singing basically since I could talk,” Escalante said. “My mom put me in Kinder music class when I was 1—it was for like babies to do music.”
By 5, Escalante was taking piano lessons. At 10, she started to get more serious about pursuing music, taking professional voice lessons.
But it was at age 12 when Escalante’s life took a turn—in more ways than one.
She was diagnosed with cancer, and as a gift, her grandparents gave her a ukulele to learn. She taught herself how to play the instrument in the hospital and started writing her first song.
“It was a very portable instrument; I could bring it with me everywhere,” Escalante said. “My very first song that I ever wrote was about how much I hated being at the hospital. It was really just a funny, stupid, like dissing on the hospital, but it spoke the truth about my situation.”
After writing her first tune, Escalante said she wrote song after song.
“I’ve just been writing songs ever since,” Escalante said. “It’s one of my favorite things to do. I’ve been to multiple music schools growing up, being in bands and trying out different styles of music.”
The hospital where she was staying also had a music therapist and recording studio that Escalante could access.
“The music therapist would come to my room every day, and we would record songs and write and all that stuff,” Escalante said. “It’s definitely influenced a lot—I don’t know if I would be writing songs if I hadn’t gone through that and had something crazy to write about.”
After she finished 15 rounds of chemo, six weeks of radiation and eight surgeries, Escalante said she was grateful for the doctors, nurses and surgeons who helped her along the way.
“They have a lot of really great resources at the hospital, and they knew that I was going to pursue music,” Escalante said.
Seven years later, Escalante, who graduated from Dana Hills High in 2022, completed her first year of college at Belmont University in the heart of Nashville, where she studies music. She has nine songs out, seven on an album released in 2021 called Youth.
When writing a song, Escalante starts with the instrument first, playing around with different sounds, chord progressions and melodies.
“Once I find something that I’m vibing with, I’ll just play it over and over again and then usually I’ll have a basis of an idea,” she said.
Though Escalante added that she’s been trained in musical theater, rock and roll, country and pop, and loves all kinds of music, she particularly loves country and folk.
“I am in love with the banjo and fiddle, just like pure country sounds, like the harmonica; love that,” Escalante said. “So, I’m really excited to do more producing in country music; I’ve done a lot of pop in the past. But I think country music is what I’m supposed to do.”
While back home for the summer, Escalante will perform at the next Summer Jams concert on Friday, July 21, opening for Americana band Kareeta.
“Coming back home is definitely weird after your first year of college from being so far away,” Escalante said. “I have always loved performing here growing up, but when Anthony Small gave me the opportunity to open for Kareeta band, it just was so cool to have somebody give me that opportunity.”
Summer Jams is an outdoor live music series that Music Preserves Foundation—of which Small is the executive director—hosts in partnership with the Ocean Institute. It features performances from local artists and a pre-concert discussion with the musicians on the cultural history of their genres.
Through high school, Escalante performed in Music Preserves’ backstage experience, where she had the opportunity to meet bands after concerts and ask questions of the artists.
“That was really insightful,” Escalante said. “That was when I started doing gigs, too, so I think that was perfect timing for me to see that.”
Escalante added that while many might not view Dana Point as a vibrant music scene, she said “it definitely is once you get your foot in the door”—from performing at local restaurants to the farmers market to Dana Point ArtFest.
“Lots of great opportunities in Dana Point,” Escalante said.
Escalante will open for Kareeta on Friday. Tickets are $35 and will feature live music, a discussion of the country and Americana genres, food trucks, and beer from Delahunt Brewing Co. and Station Craft Brewery + Kitchen.
Proceeds for the event will support Music Preserves and the Ocean Institute.
The final Summer Jams concert of the summer is scheduled for Aug. 4, featuring a pre-concert conversation on rock and roll. Mojave Ghost will open for Marc Ford.