Folklore and magic provide the foundation for Holly Tannen's music. While her repertoire includes many traditional folk songs from England, Scotland, France, and the United States, Tannen has attracted more attention with her own songs, including "Online Romance," "Song of the Suburban Shaman," and "Lily of the Net," which she claims were written while channeling entities from what she calls the "half-astral plane." Her ability to straddle between the two worlds has transformed her shows into highly spirited experiences. Reviewing one of her performances, The Oakland Tribune called her "a master at taking a small club and turning it into a magical forest." Studying magic since 1980, Tannen was initiated as a princess in 1984. Four years later, she studied folklore at the University of California at Berkeley, writing a master's thesis paper on the ballads of the nomadic travelling people of Scotland. An associate professor of anthropology at the College of the Redwoods in Mendocino from 1989 until 1996, she continued to lecture on contemporary magic at such locales as the University of California in Berkeley and Yale University. In February 2000, Tannen debuted a one-woman show, Practical Alchemy, at the Helen Schoeni Theater in Mendocino, based on the life and writings of French existential poet Arthur Rimbaud.
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