Meschiya Lake rocks back on her heels, lifts her chest, and opens her throat like an air raid siren to croon in a thrilling pre-microphone style that...can make you feel by turns as though you were shivering around a campfire in a railroad yard or drinking in a Budapest nightclub in 1938.Being the best in town is nothing new for Meschiya Lake.Even more than two decades ago at the age of nine when both the town and Lake were much smaller.Looking back, it's no surprise that when a precocious nine year old Lake hit the stage for a singing contest at a Rapid City, South Dakota, steakhouse, she already believed that she belonged."It was a serious contest. They were all grown-ups and people wanting to make it.""The other contestants thought it was cute that the kid wanted to participate. I'd always loved singing and I was always doing it around the house, so it made sense to try," Lake said.And when she won the contest, the $500 prize, and the weekly in- house singing gig that came along with it, it made sense that – in some form or another – the groundwork for a career had been laid. Even if she didn't realize it herself at the time."I loved doing it, but I didn't really know it's what I wanted to do all the time," she said. "It made my mom proud, but I really wanted to be a primatologist. I was into science from a young age, so that's really what I saw myself doing for the rest of my life.""Now, I realize that playing music and singing is something that I have to do in order to be mentally healthy. Back then, though, I was a kid and it was just something I did that was fun."For several more years singing for fun and joy continued to trump music as vocation for Lake. Eventually though got back to performing—albeit in a non-traditional outlet.It was only during her stint as a member of the Know Nothing Family Zirkus Zideshow and End of the World Circus – a ragtag troupe that blended traditional circus arts with modern sideshow varieties – that she ultimately realized exactly what she wanted to do as an adult."I remember sometimes I would look down at a ridiculous costume that I was wearing and I'd think, 'OK, this is my job!'" she said, recalling nights when she'd eat bugs, munch glass, and dance around the stage while twirling flaming nunchucks. "You just had to laugh at the ridiculousness.""But at the same time, I was fascinated by the nomadic lifestyle. I felt akin to it. I loved traveling and doing it from place to place, even with those amenities."While the show flitted from outpost to outpost, Lake, by then in her early twenties, derived particular joy in reaching the sorts of small- town, misfit youngster that she'd been while growing up in Rapid City, South Dakota— far away from the big cities and big stages that Lake and her voice would later inhabit.