About Us

Our group has been together for many years, although under different names and configurations. Our most recent evolution is Birds on a Train and includes Kristen Maher, Jessica Barlow, and Bonnie Nicholls.

With two professors and one freelance content writer in the band, we geek out over words and find pleasure in lyrics. As instrumentalists, we experiment with ways to convey sentiment with a musical line.

Kristen Maher

Guitar, keys, vocals

Kristen grew up in a rural Midwestern family that sang together. She still loves harmonies, which are one of her great pleasures in singing with Birds on a Train. The world can be a heavy place, but every now and then an interesting chord makes things right in the soul. She played piano from an early age but in college switched largely to guitar for instrumental accompaniment since guitars are easier to lug around. She began songwriting in the local band Bread and Jam and has been stretching into new genres with the Birds. She especially enjoys creating compositions around others’ poetry or lyrics and the process of collaboration.

Jessica Barlow

Viola, violin, guitar, vocals

Jessica Barlow played piano and viola as a kid, and then stopped playing both for about 20 years before she reconnected with her viola after almost selling it. She has played in a variety of string ensembles, including the City Ballet Orchestra and, currently, Stella Strings of San Diego. But her musical adventures have really taken off with the band, which has allowed her to add violin, vocals, and guitar to her repertoire. She credits former bandmate (and fellow phonologist!) Eric Baković for helping her start on this musical adventure. She is also now dabbling in writing song lyrics for the band, and is forever looking for quirky songs for the band to cover.

Bonnie Nicholls

Bass, keys, guitar, melodica, vocals

Bonnie played piano as a teen-ager and then left music behind when she headed off to college at UC Santa Barbara. Then, in her late 30s, she decided to take voice lessons, which she parlayed into small parts in community theater musicals. Finally, fate (aka Christmas caroling) led her to Kristen, who invited Bonnie to harmonize with the band. And since the Birds needed a bass player, she gave that a try. Now she plays bass, keys, melodica, and a smidge of guitar. She has also contributed several songs to the band. In 2021, she released an EP of her original songs on Spotify. Talk about spreading your wings!