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MerleFest Day #4 – Sunday Funday, may it last…

The day has come, the sun will shine, and you’ll be fine…day #4–the final day. I hope that you still have a hefty appetite, because today is going to be the most deliciously delightful Avett sandwich you ever did set your sights on! Hearty, earthy, made in NC good ol’ native son bread stuffed full of all of the grooviest meats and fixins you could imagine. Let’s start building our Sunday Sandwich…

Last night’s late jam may have zapped your stores, so give yourself the gift of sleeping in a bit. Just make sure you head over to the Creekside Stage by 12:30 for your first slice of Avett–Jim Avett that is. Sunday “mornings” with Jim (and family sometimes) have become a MerleFest tradition. Jim will be sharing some of his new songs off of his latest release, “Take it from Me,” as well as some of his greatest stories. The space between songs is a real treat for those who love some good ol’ advice and life-lessons from a good ol’ country gentleman.

When I first took a listen to Maybe April, I couldn’t help but pick up on an Edie Brickell meets Jewel vibe, and I was digging that throwback sound with a modern country spin. This Nashville-based trio will wow you with killer three-part harmonies and unapologetic songwriting. Imagine them the mango jalapeño jam of your sandwich–an initial sweetness matched by a delayed punch in the senses–unexpected, yet appreciated. Head over to the Americana Stage at 1:45PM for a little taste.

At 2:40PM The Steep Canyon Rangers will hit the Watson Stage to present the The North Carolina Songbook–a tribute set to the Tar Heel State’s thick and comforting musical heritage.These seasoned festival vets know how to fill you up with so much amazing music, your hunger will be satisfied. This is a Doc-approved set that will celebrate the state and be talked about for years to come.

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And of course, it goes without saying, you’ll need to top that sandwich off with another slice of Avett to really get the full sensory experience. The boys are back to close things down and send you all home on a high note. They take the Watson Stage at 4:30PM, so don’t ruin your appetite too early–save room for our favorites–The Avett Brothers!

https://youtu.be/ugkLFwqslp8

We hope you leave fat and happy. Bon Appetite!


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MerleFest Day #3 – Keep on keepin’ on

Friday came and went like the summer that I spent…wait, I’ll save that for Sunday. Friday proved to be a formidable festival day with rain and sun and endless opportunities to sink into the sights and sounds of MerleFest. With things in full-swing, it’s time to plan out your must-sees for today (Saturday), and let’s just say it’s near impossible to keep this list to three, but I’m going to try. Let’s see what today holds…

Yesterday we had a modern-day Smothers Brothers and today MerleFest brings you the Brother Brothers–another folky duo, but this time in the form of identical twins These two bearded bros are going to ease you into the busiest day of the festival with the most calming, delicate, beautiful blood harmonies you ever did hear. These genes don’t lie folks! So grab yourself an afternoon snack and park it over at the Traditional Stage at 12:30PM. Remember, you need to pace yourself today, and David and Adam will be the ones to set your chi straight for the rest of the day.

I’ve said it once and I will say it again, you need to have some Molly Tuttle in your life. Not only is she a two-time IBMA Guitar Player of the Year, she’s also got a laundry list of other major industry awards only two years after releasing her debut EP, and at the ripe old age of–get this–25! I can give you 25 reasons to head over to the Watson Stage at 1:15PM today, but really you should only need one–she’s a genius picker and will successfully drop the jaws of those who catch her performance. I bet you’ll even catch her second performance at the Creekside Stage at 2:45PM just to see what other tricks she pulls out of her guitar case.

Where do I begin with Keb’ Mo’? My love for this man and his music dates back at least 20 years. When I saw he was gracing MerleFest with his presence, I knew all of the festivarians were in for such a special treat. An award-winning singer, songwriter, guitarist, and contemporary blues artist, Keb’ Mo’ has established himself as a true pioneer in modern American roots music by blending soulful blues with relatable and common, yet equally empowering and endearing songwriting. His 1994 debut album was the soundtrack to my college days, and he has continued to deliver his signature sound over the past two decades. Now he brings his sound to MerleFest and will post up on the Watson Stage at 5:30PM. Though he’s up against some heavy-hitters to close out the day, rest assured that giddy chatter about his set will spread across the campus like a juicy secret.

I’ll say there are so many others that deserve attention here–really all of the performers deserve a captive audience. I’m confident that Brandi will close out the night with her powerful pipes and raw emotion that leave fans begging for more.

Y’all have an amazing day ahead of you! Enjoy every note that floats your way!

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Interview – Lindsay Craven, Merlefest’s New Artist Relations Manager

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Festival season is upon us…

For many festivarians, each year is greeted not only with new wishes for success, health and prosperity, but also with a child-like giddiness as they await the first signs of music festival lineup teasers and announcements.

Whether longing for the lush, legendary landscape of Mountain Jam, the boho-chic vibe of Coachella, the gritty soul of New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival or the harbor breeze of Newport Folk Festival–there is certainly a festival out there for any and all musical tastes.  While the overall feel, location and extra perks may entice festival goers to consider buying that multi-day festival ticket package, it really is the lineup that seals the deal.

So, what exactly goes in to putting together a stellar festival lineup?  It certainly doesn’t just appear out of thin air.  On the contrary, planning and confirming a multi-day, multi-stage music festival lineup often involves a dedicated and innovative team of people who start reaching out and booking artists over a year in advance.

A lineup for everyone…

To learn a bit more about the process, EOAF caught up with Lindsay Craven, the newest Artist Relations Manager for MerleFest–North Carolina’s premiere music festival.   Now in its 32nd year, MerleFest continues to stay true to its “traditional plus” and family friendly roots.   Craven credits the late, legendary musician and festival founder, Doc Watson, for laying the groundwork and creating a culture that celebrates all types of music, not just that of the western NC region.

“We’re very thankful to Doc, for developing that phrase [traditional plus].  And, it’s very much what Doc did.  Doc’s music wasn’t restricted to bluegrass or blues, and he loved everything.  He wanted us to share all kinds of music with people,” Craven said.

After over three decades, “traditional plus” remains the driving force for anyone in charge of booking artists and filling out the four-day festival schedule across 13 stages.  By bringing in the industry’s best in traditional Appalachian and Bluegrass music, in addition to Americana, Folk, Rock, Blues, and Gospel, MerleFest appeals to a wide, diverse audience that travels to the great Tar Heel state in late April every year.  The diversity of genre and dedication to keeping the festival family friendly really set MerleFest apart from other big festivals.

“With audiences that aren’t familiar with the festival, I think a lot of people just say we’re just a Bluegrass festival, or that we’re just old-timey country music and it’s just not the case at all. We have those things, but we have lots of others. The traditional plus motto is far from one musical genre. You’d be hard pressed to be any kind of music fan and come to MerleFest and not find something you like,” Craven said.

Though she’s worked part-time for MerleFest in some capacity for over a decade, Craven was hired into this full-time position in July 2018, and has been non-stop ever since.  Craven worked directly under previous Artist Relations Manager–Steve Johnson–learning first hand the enormous amount of work that goes into setting a lineup.

“Steve knew during last year’s festival that he was going to be moving out.  So, he did a lot of work ahead of time to help us stay on track and not start from way behind…we’re really appreciative to him for everything he did to make sure it was kind of a seamless transition, as much as it could be,” Craven said.

While Johnson did a great deal of work leading up to his departure, the business of booking artists and setting a lineup can often feel like watching the shifting sands of The Outerbanks.  The landscape can change daily, and early plans do not always stay in place.

“A lot of our headliners changed from the original plan just because of scheduling conflicts, money not working out, and things like that,” Craven said.

Though green in this particular position, Craven had to solve some significant problems in her first few months.  By all accounts, it looks as if she took the proverbial bull by the horns and accepted the challenge, because this year’s headliners are superb–The Avett Brothers, Brandi Carlile, Amos Lee, Wynonna and The Big Noise–along with heavy-hitters like Keb’Mo’, The Milk Carton Kids, and Tyler Childers.   Let us not forget the MerleFest alumni, who fans return for year after year–Sam Bush, Peter Rowan, Kruger Brothers, Scythian and more.

“[The most challenging part of booking] is competing with the amazing number of music events and venues in North Carolina now. Just trying not to overlap artists that the same audience can see in five different places within a year. It’s fantastic that there are so many music venues and there are so many music festivals. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. It’s just a huge thing to compete with when planning said festival,” Craven said.

Let the fans be heard…

Artist Relations Managers, also often called Talent Buyers, rely not only on their team to help build out a lineup, but also on the festival fan base.  Social media platforms have changed the way fans and artists can communicate directly with festival organizers.

“I pay attention to [the artists’] social media pages to see what kind of following they have. We listen to their music.  We pay attention to our own social media, too, to see what people are asking for,” Craven said.

Festival organizers often post teasers or clues leading up to the initial lineup announcements, to get the fan base excited.  At least for MerleFest, the responses that come out of those teasers become important in terms of current or future lineups.

“Since this is my first year in this particular job, I’ve really been paying attention with each announcement–what people were guessing right before we made the announcement, and then what they hope to see on the next announcement.  If we don’t have [the artists] on the docket already, I make sure I make a list of those people and consider those for going forward,” Craven said.

Painting the canvas…

Outside of fan feedback, Craven and her team search for talent through different music association awards and conferences–namely the Americana Music Awards (AMA’s) and International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) annual conference, respectively.  Additionally, there is a longtime running “wish list” that has trickled down from each former artist relations manager that now sits in Craven’s hands.

“In the beginning, it’s just kind of an open canvas.  We are just looking at our wish list and looking at the chatter from other events, saying ‘what seems to be doing well?’ and seeing if would fit for us and fit our budget,” Craven said.

As that canvas fills up, other elements–like spreading genres across multiple stages–begin to factor in to the planning equation.

“As we get closer to festival time, it gets a little more scientific in trying to see, well, [this artist] has to go on this stage so we kind of want more of this flavor of music,” Craven said.

According to Craven, MerleFest artists fall into one of three main categories, “the ones that are here every year, the headliners, and the people we have fresh and new every year.”

Communication with artists can take many forms, and this typically depends on the level of artist/band success and/or the longstanding relationship with the festival.

“We have some artists that are here year in and year out, and most of those artist we communicate directly with.  The bigger artists–The Avetts, Brandi, Amos–we talk with their agents initially, and then the tour manager for sure.  We rarely talk to them directly,” Craven said.

Much of Craven’s work involves reaching out to the agencies that have worked with MerleFest in the past to learn about up and coming artists.  They discuss budget and schedules and try to see if it will work for all parties involved.  The final MerleFest lineup boasts over 100 artists, not including those who have been invited to compete in the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest.

“It’s a big job,” Craven said.

And a big job requires a big budget in order to pull in the best artists and to ensure smooth operations from start to finish. The MerleFest budget is determined year to year by past and projected attendance. Interestingly, MerleFest is a fundraiser for Wilkes Community College, further strengthening the symbiotic relationship between the festival and college.

Though Craven’s main responsibility is to direct the booking process, the work doesn’t stop once the contracts are signed on the dotted line.   With the lineup set and about a month to go, Craven is currently busy with the artist relations portion of her job–hotel reservations, merchandise, direct communication with artists, and coordinating schedules.

A path to MerleFest…

So, how did Craven get to sit in her current position–perhaps a little luck, certainly a lot of working up through the ranks, and an immeasurable amount of drive and good old-fashioned love for the work.  A journalism major and graduate of Appalachian State University (App State), Craven always had a spark for the entertainment industry.

“I always thought I was going to be an entertainment writer.  That was my initial goal.  The funny thing is, I guess it was in middle school, I think we were doing some school project where we had to decide what we want to be and [we had to look] through these books that had all kinds of different job descriptions and what you needed to do to go to school to become that.  There wasn’t an artist relations, it was artist representative, or something along those lines, and that was what I did my school project on,” Craven said.

So, when she decided to apply to App State’s artist management program, it seemed like a good fit, until she learned she had to be a music major.

“It wasn’t an option to pursue that particular degree.  But, I kind of fell into anyway,” Craven said.

Falling into this role, sounds a bit passive, when actually her path to MerleFest has been more than just being in the right place at the right time.  During her undergrad years, Craven was proactive in getting involved in local opportunities that aligned with her interests and skills.  A simple perusal of the internship listings on App State’s website seems to have been the catalyst to pave the way.

“I started with [MerleFest] as an intern in 2007, and then came back again as an intern in 2008.  And then after I graduated, I filled in throughout the year whenever they needed extra help.  In and around credential time, or around some announcements and things like that, they need an extra body in an office to get some information from artists.  And every year I’m here for the festival working in the artist relations trailer,” Craven said.

Her MerleFest experience over the next several years, led her to the Yadkin Arts Council, where she worked as their Executive Director.

“I did all of the booking for our theater there, for the last five or six years. It’s a very, very small staff. So, due to all of the experience I gained from basically wearing all of the hats at that theater, that’s what got me to the point where I was qualified enough between what I’d learned working [at MerleFest] and what I learned working there, that they felt that I would work in this role,” Craven said.

From MerleFest to Yadkin Arts Council and back to MerleFest, Craven positioned herself to be both primed by those who came before her and primed by her own career ventures to succeed in her new role.

A bit of advice…

Somewhere, there is an eager, starry-eyed middle schooler writing a paper about the glamorous life of an Artist Relations Manager. Craven, having put in over a decade of hard work–both paid and unpaid–can offer some sage advice to those who may wish to follow in her footsteps.

“Work for any and every opportunity. This all came about just because I was looking at internship listings on the App State website. Look local. It doesn’t always have to be the biggest thing. You don’t have to be working stage-coach for Bonnaroo. You can start small and there are so many small festivals out there right now,” Craven said.

Opportunities are not always paid, and those are often the ones that get a foot in the door.

“[Festivals] are looking for young talent with energy to volunteer and help. And that is important. You have to be willing to volunteer. You’re not going to get paid right away or probably for a very long time. But, if you stick with it, you’re going to make connections. If you are hard-working and dependable, people are going to see that and when something comes available, they’re going to be looking to somebody that they can trust and count on,” Craven said.

Having a genuine love for and understanding of music and the festival scene and showing up year after year are important elements that have translated into a successful career trajectory for Craven.

“You don’t have to listen to every single artists on the docket, but you should at least have a desire to know and appreciate the music you’re presenting,” Craven said.

Making her mark…

Aside from booking talent, Craven has also been very focused on observing the vast number of traditions that take place each year at MerleFest. While she is excited to make her mark on the 2020 lineup, her experience with MerleFest has taught her the importance of maintaining the festival’s rich and cherished traditions. From coordinating the Veteran’s Jam and Mando-mania to planning outreach performances at 17 Wilkes county schools, Craven’s job goes beyond what the main lineup schedule indicates.

“There are lots of individual things that go into the festival that aren’t just what you’re seeing on the stages. I’ve got to learn what things happen year in and year out, so I make sure I build those in and don’t mess with any of our traditions,” Craven said.

With tradition comes a level of expectation, in particular from those artists who have made MerleFest an annual event over several years.

“We don’t want to offend any of the artists that have been with us a long time. We value them. We want to honor what they do and continue to bring new and interesting things for people to see. I am just trying to make sure I learned lessons before I get super deep into putting a schedule together. Right now, I am getting through the first festival and making sure I know as much as I can before I dive head first into throwing a ton of offers out,” Craven said.

MerleFest 2020 will be Craven’s first full run in this position, and she already planning out how her workspace will function best to match her visual mind–giant empty versions of the stage schedules plastered across her walls with an endless supply of dry erase markers and sticky notes.

“I have to see it all out in front of me. It’s easier to look at one big wall of things as opposed to 20 pages over four days,” Craven said.

One can imagine the thrill Craven will feel as she begins to fill the empty time slots for MerleFest 2020. Orchestrating such a beast of a production with so many moving parts is not for a disorganized mind. It takes creativity, imagination, and the ability to envision how the whole experience will translate into something greater than the sum of its many parts. With that creative freedom comes a heavy responsibility to also maintain the elements that make MerleFest such an amazing festival.

“I really don’t think that there’s anything more that I would add to the festival. I really feel like our goal is to not work on getting bigger, but keeping our event the best quality that it can be. If at some point an opportunity presents itself, that we could expand something or create something new, we’re never opposed to those kinds of opportunities. But, it’s not something I’m actively looking to do right now. We’re more focused on just making sure we keep it top-quality and keep all the things that people expect from it,” Craven said.

Once the dust settles from MerleFest 2019, Craven will be right back at it, standing wide-eyed in front of her blank canvas with that same child-like giddiness music fans experience when a lineup unfolds before them. It is evident that Craven’s unique journey through the MerleFest ranks has prepared her to excel in this position for years to come, and it will be exciting to watch lineups evolve across her tenure.

For more information about lineup and tickets, please visit Merlefest.org.

Are you headed to MerleFest this year?  If so, download your MerleFest ’19 app for Apple or Android to make your experience even better!

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Album Review – Mipso’s “Old Time Reverie”

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“Life moves pretty fast.  If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” – Ferris Bueller

Ferris Bueller was a man of the people–an 80’s pop culture icon created in the era of John Hughes’ brilliance.  Ferris’ words continue to find footing thirty years after audiences caught their first glimpse of the vested hero on the big screen.  He was right–life does move pretty fast.  In our current culture of instagramification it can require some serious effort to slow down, stop multitasking and take a break from all of the Facebook updates and Tweets.

Fortunately, there is a simple solution that often yields positive results–music.  Music is that powerful catalyst that forces you to look up from the glow of your iPhone.  When the sound of joyful voices melting together into a rich harmony hits your eardrum, you can no  longer ignore the goosebumps on the back of your arms and the calming breath in your chest.  Music pulls you away from all of the noise.  It frees you.

On their third studio album, Old Time Reverie, Mipso serves up just that–freedom.  Sitting down with this album transports the listener back to a simpler time, though not one without its own set of obstacles, as evidenced by the album opener “Marianne.”  With a happy fiddle playing peek-a-boo throughout the song, one may mistaken “Marianne” for a jovial tune.  Lyrics tell a different story, one of the forbidden love of an interracial couple in 1960s North Carolina.  Mipso sets the storytelling bar high with “Marianne,” a familiar approach for the band’s album openers–hook the listener from the get go and hold ’em ’til the end.

Down in the Water” follows with Rodenbough’s timeless, crisp vocals at the forefront.  The simplicity and tone of the song feel hymnal, even baptismal at times.  However, the beauty of the song emerges in its content and transcends church walls as Rodenbough pleads for a quiet and content mind–a very relatable request.  “Eliza,” a lover’s plea laced with three-part harmonies, brings a little folky waltz to the album and is sure to be a live fan favorite.

On “Bad Penny,” Terrell hits the ground running, taking listeners on a wild lyrical goose chase with his ever evolving gift of storytelling.   The song’s fiddle line elicits images of a Smoky Mountain family feud, even though the story unfolds in modern-day NYC.  It is in playing with these lyrical and musical contradictions that Mipso continues to grow and evolve as a group.

With Sharp on lead vocals, “Momma” tugs at the heartstrings, combining a Simonesque melody with Mipso harmonies and honesty.   “Father’s House” highlights the gospel influence that often accompanies Mipso’s bluegrass roots.  Here the band uses religious imagery to tackle feelings of isolation and uncertainty in life and death.

“Captain’s Daughter” sets sail on the high seas, telling the story of a lonely seaman who yearns to reunite with his land-bound love, Annabelle.  Rodenbough’s fiddle brings in Celtic tones, transporting the listener across the pond to a more rustic land where passion is fierce in both love and trade.

“Stranger,” a more modern love ballad for the group, pumps the brakes while breaking hearts.  “Honeybee” picks up the pieces and brings in a bit of sweet springtime sunshine.  Terrell convinces listeners that he’s singing from a very personal space, though in his songwriting prowess perhaps he’s just that good.

Everyone Knows” slithers in with a desperado darkness, fit for a Tarantino flick.  Though a bit of a departure for Mipso, it stands tall as the album’s best track.  On “Everyone Knows,” Mipso stepped out boldly into the dusty town square, pulled their pistols and walked away unscathed.   The only thing missing now is an accompanying video.  Jon Kasbe get your camera ready.

The album closes with “4 Train,” a love song set to a steady locomotive cadence.  Touching on familiar emotions that accompany love, “4 Train” shines a spotlight on each band member’s talents, book-ending the album perfectly.

Old Time Reverie offers listeners a solid collection of stories, steeped in traditional acoustic instrumentation and tight-knit harmonies at a steady rocking chair pace.  With each listen, you may find it easier and easier to pull yourself away from the hustle and bustle and take a moment to really live inside the beauty of a carefully crafted song.

Ironically, the members of Mipso weren’t even born when Ferris first delighted downtown Chicago with his famous renditions of “Danke Schoen” and “Twist and Shout.”  Yet, somehow they collectively possess his spirit, charm, and ability to captivate an audience.  On Old Time Reverie, Terrell, Sharp, Robinson and Rodenbough further reveal the old souls that live in their youthful vessels–wise beyond their years, much like Mr. Bueller.

Mipso is a four-piece folk/bluegrass band out of Chapel Hill, NC consisting of Joseph Terrell (guitar), Wood Robinson (double bass), Jacob Sharp (mandolin) and Libby Rodenbough (fiddle).

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Album Review – Justin Townes Earle’s “Absent Fathers”

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If album titles could speak of the wounded heart of an artist, Justin Townes Earle’s latest installment, “Absent Fathers,” would be screaming humbly from a Nashville rooftop. This 10-track album is the companion to Earle’s fifth studio album, “Single Mothers,” which was released last year. Earl recorded all tracks live with his four-piece touring band before settling them into their parental album positions. Taken as a pair, these albums bare the soul of a boy-turned-man and his journey to solid ground.

“Absent Fathers” softly, but unapologetically, reveals a side of Earle that longed for a stable father figure, one who could have saved him from the depths of addiction and heartache and taught him how to be a gentleman. Sadly, most fathers who leave a son at the age of two years are not typically equipped for such a noble post. Such appears the case for Earle’s father, alt-country artist Steve Earle, who has certainly faced demons of his own.

Despite his life’s turmoil, Earle, whose voice finds itself nestled somewhere between the muddied mumble of Dylan and the rocker rasp of Springsteen, has catapulted himself into the Americana spotlight with a blue collar mix of folk, blues and country. Much like his godfather, the late Townes Van Zandt, Earl’s vocal delivery teeters on melodic spoken word, often with an unpredictable cadence.

On “Absent Fathers,” Earle’s style translates as if he were reading straight from his personal journal — raw emotion with very little frill, yet full and layered. So layered in fact that on the opening track, “Farther From Me,” it is unclear whether Earle sings of heartbreak from a young love or from being abandoned by his father. It is one of the album’s strongest tracks, tacked down by loneliness and suffering, but unfastened by a hopeful and simple guitar arrangement.

Earle’s unique vocal pacing is most apparent on “Why” and “Least I Got The Blues,” two short tracks that maintain Earle’s wide-open narrative, but have trouble finding a strong footing when measured against the others. “Call Ya Momma” is a mellow, bluesy, rock tune that tells the tale of quarreling lovers on the brink of a forever farewell.

“Day and Night” opens with the lonely whine of pedal steel accompanied by lovely finger picking. This track displays the beauty of Earle’s songwriting with striking lyrics of the uncertainty the day brings as the night is put to rest. “Round the Bend” picks up the pace as the album’s truck-stop rocker, evoking images of Earle standing on the side of a dusty country road using the last of his pocket change to call to his jilted lover.

“When The One You Love Loses Faith” brings Earle’s blues influence to the forefront. With his head hung low, Earle sings of the familiar woes that come to anyone who has loved and lost. Gears shift back to country on “Slow Monday,” which strangely possesses shades of a Randy Newman animated tune and sums up the commonplace opinion of the most dreaded day of the week. “Someone Will Pay” is an upbeat revengeful track with a punchy guitar solo interlude.

The album’s final track, “Looking For A Place To Land,” is a somber but encouraging tune that chronicles the trials of a man eager to evolve beyond boyhood dreams and a painful past. With delicate guitar picking and heart-on-his-sleeve lyrics, Earle ends the album with a story unto which his listeners will attach their own past memories and future optimisms. It is in this unpolished openness that Earle so easily connects to his listeners. As Earle’s story evolves, he will certainly continue to find stability and safety within the Americana’s halls and heart.

Collectively, “Absent Fathers” tells just one part of Earle’s multifaceted life story. Even with a first listen to the album, it is clear that songwriting from the soul is therapeutic for Earle. He sings of his mistakes to make amends with himself and creates a bond with his audience that is rooted in honest emotion and a desire to do better. The album itself finds perfection is its simplicity, relatability and underproduction, which lends listeners a clean and uncluttered collection of songs from the emotional pages of Earle’s past.

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Album Review – Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Remedy”

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It appears that Old Crow Medicine Show has finally become a household name, though the final push to get there may not fully reflect the band’s talent and years of hard work. After 16 years of sidewalk busking, cross-country touring, superb songwriting and recording, it was pop-country star Darius Rucker’s cover of the band’s “Wagon Wheel” that brought O.C.M.S. into the mainstream fold.

Timed perfectly to ride the wave of Rucker’s “Wagon Wheel” success, the Nashville-based band just released its eighth studio album, “Remedy,” which carries a collective sound that screams O.C.M.S., while adding a couple of nuances that slightly shift the band’s course.

First, with the departure of former member Willie Watson — who left the group to pursue a solo career — comes a vocal void that is glaringly obvious to any listener who has been following the band’s trajectory. Watson’s trademark timbre always added an Appalachian authenticity to songs that frontman Ketch Secor is not quite able to reproduce, though he comes very close.

Second, on “Remedy” Secor and crew include tracks that make an obvious nod to modern country music. This direction will certainly appeal to the mainstream country music fan, and potentially secure their current spot in the limelight. However, long-time fans may find it unsettling.

Fortunately, these country tracks are scant and the meat of the album stays true to the traits that have made O.C.M.S.. great for so many years — old-timey salt-of-the-earth storytelling peppered with parody, punk-rock energy, and good old-fashioned traditional folk instrumentation.

Listener response aside, “Remedy” may be just what the doctor ordered. The album is fun and carefree with top-notch songwriting and strategic introspective moments. O.C.M.S. has always possessed the gift of storytelling through their songwriting, making it difficult to distinguish personal experience from that of a stranger, deceased soldier, leathery farmer or backwoods moonshiner. This storytelling gift has created a genuineness that has earned the band a loyal following over the years.

There are several glimpses of this level of storytelling on “Remedy,” though with less historical reference than on previous albums like “Carry Me Back.” Rather, “Remedy” feels very present, as the boys hail Music City, lament loss, explore the ups and downs of prison life, and tackle pessimistic attitudes. The album’s upbeat tracks can do no wrong, while selective ballads feel overworked with pedestrian themes.

The album opener, “Brushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer,” gets things rolling with a hot prison teaser, steaming with enough vivid imagery to keep prisoner acting on their best behavior. “8 Dogs 8 Banjos” follows and explodes with a feverish fiddle and rolling banjo arrangement along with fun call-and-response lyrics, making it near impossible to sit still. This track will translate perfectly on stage, and is sure to become a fan favorite.

“Sweet Amarillo” marks the second time O.C.M.S. has taken an unfinished song by legendary musician Bob Dylan and made it their own. Here, dusty winds blow a bit farther West from Nashville, Tenn. giving the sweet cowboy ballad more of a Texan texture—of which Dylan reportedly approved. “Mean Enough World” is like a steam engine cranking through the station with a perfect combination of whiny harmonica, speedy banjo picking, and finger wagging lyrics begging for a light at the end of the tunnel.

Though the sentiment is powerful on the next two tracks, they struggle to keep up with the album’s musical caliber and therefore feel a bit out of place. “Dearly Departed Friend” fills the album’s fallen soldier quota, but falls flat and translates like a country Jimmy Buffett tune. While “Firewater” is a poignant chronicle of band member Critter Fuqua’s struggle with alcoholism, it fails to live up to its musical potential. Hopefully, both of these tracks will evolve and improve as they are road tested.

“Brave Boys” picks spirits back up in true O.C.M.S. fashion with a raucous cadence, fiddle solos and enough band hollering to reach coal miners in West Virginia. “Doc’s Day” is the perfect old-timey, playful tribute to Doc and Merle Watson, fit for front porch jam and sweet tea sipping.

More tributes follow as O.C.M.S. bows down to the bounties of their current hometown, Nashville, Tenn. “O Cumberland River” praises the southern waterway’s beauty, utility, and power as lyrics recall the devastating 2010 river flood that wreaked havoc on Music City. “Tennessee Bound” jumps right in line with a typical O.C.M.S. rambling homecoming tune, sung with pure pride and joy.

“Shit Creek” proves that O.C.M.S. still possesses the lyrical talent and musical prowess to keep fans satiated. This track turns up the fiddle speed dial just passed “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” mark and is chock full of enough river/relationship metaphors to keep listeners busy for a while. It ranks as one of the album’s best.

O.C.M.S. continues the tradition of keeping a light-hearted outlook on life with “Sweet Home,” a spirited sing-a-long about heading to the pearly gates. The album closes with “The Warden,” a stripped-down, harmony-rich ballad sung from the point of view of an observant criminal. This track is an outstanding example of an unhurried O.C.M.S. song that maintains the band’s rich storytelling abilities and traditional sound.

Overall, “Remedy” delivers what O.C.M.S. fans desire — mountain music with a good mix of fundamentals, fun and fire to keep things moving forward. The few weak spots on the album are overshadowed by the boot-stomping, hand clapping pace, strong songwriting, and consistent mingling of harmonica, fiddle and banjo across tracks. This album will certainly continue to grow the band’s fan base in different directions and motivate new fans to catch a live O.C.M.S. performance, which is where these boys really shine, much like a big ol’ full moon over that muddy Cumberland River.

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Interview: Jiggley Jones

Photo: Beauty By Grace

Photo: Beauty By Grace

To kick off the new year, Evolution of a Fan caught up with Americana singer-songwriter Jiggley Jones, out of Coatesville, PA.  Last year was a huge year for Jones, who took home the  Songwriter of the Year award at the 2013 International Music and Entertainment Association Awards (IMEA), which was held in Ashland, Kentucky.  Jones took some time to chat with us about his music, fans, and family.

Evolution of a Fan: How did your upbringing affect the type of musician you are today?  What kind of music were you exposed to at an early age?
Jiggley Jones: I only dabbled in music when I was really young, singing at church and playing the clarinet in elementary school. It wasn’t until my later teens that I started to get serious about my love for music. I think the radio was my main influence musically when young and as I got older and bought my own albums I was finally able to branch out a bit.

EOAF: What does it mean to you, to have won the 2013 IMEA Songwriter of the Year award?

JJ: Wow, “Songwriter of the Year”. This is my forte, my bread and butter, my contribution. It means everything to me to be recognized for that!!

EOAF: What is your songwriting process like?
JJ:  I do try to block out time to write because I really need to focus on the mental side of the music without distraction. I usually start with a guitar chord progression or “riff” and then I’ll “scat’ sing a vocal melody over that. I might even put in some vocal harmonies before I sit down and painstakingly work out the lyrics. Usually they will be based off of how the music is “moving” me at the time.

EOAF: What types of things/events/experiences inspire you to write?
JJ: Everything I’ve stumbled across in life inspires my lyrics. Mostly I generalize so the listener can put their own life into the song. Once in a while I get more specific but overall music means emotion.

EOAF: How does “storytelling” play a part in your  music?
JJ: I have told a few specific stories in the past but I feel the story is up to the listener to develop in their own mind.

EOAF: Why type of venue/music event do you enjoy playing the most?
JJ: I really like the coffee house or small “tight” room/bar. The sound quality is usually perfect for what I’m doing which most of the time is me with my acoustic guitar and maybe one other instrument at most.

EOAF: What do you enjoy the most about performing live?  Any specific experiences that stand out from your shows?
JJ: There’s an energy in the air that can’t be simulated in any other situation. There’s always that pressure to get it right and perform with the emotion that you need on a consistent basis. So playing live pulls out that inner you and when you’re on, you’re on. It’s always nice to get those compliments at the end of the night also.

EOAF: Which musician/band has had the most profound influence on your songwriting/performing?
JJ: Classic rock was always my go-to influence. I still listen to it today. Mix some old Neil Young with some acoustic Led Zeppelin, and throw in some Eagles and Steve Miller and there you go.

EOAF: What musicians would you have on an iTunes playlist?
JJ: Other then the ones I just mentioned I would go more current and throw in some Blackberry Smoke, Zac Brown, Dave Matthews, and maybe go real old school with Mozart.

EOAF: Is there a story behind your name?  If so, care to share?
JJ: Well it’s certainly not that interesting of a story but Jiggley is a real nickname that I’ve had for years. I was at a party one night up in New York and that name got stuck to me during the night somehow and of course that spread like wildfire. Everybody that ran in that circle of friends called me that from then on. Fast forward a handful of years and when this project started I thought I’d use my old nickname just for fun. Everybody once again seemed to like it, so it stayed.

EOAF: In our crazy technology driven world, what is the best way for you to get the word out about your music?  What seems to work best (word of mouth, social media, etc.)?
JJ: Definitely social media. Because of that I have an international fan base instead of just local and I’ve never left the country, so that pretty much sums it up.

EOAF: What kind of support have you received from the music scene in PA?
JJ: I love Pennsylvania and you’ll find just as many music lovers around here as anywhere else. The one problem with being from rural Pa is that there aren’t a lot of original venues around and you have to travel. As far as support goes, I have a lot of old friends from my local area who follow my social media sites.

EOAF: What do you think of the re-emergence of “roots”/”Americana” music in the mainstream?  Good, bad, indifferent?  Any rising acts that you really like?
JJ: Man if it weren’t for the re-surgence of Americana/roots stuff I think I’d be in big trouble as a songwriter, lol. I have to say that I do like The Lumineers and I think that they and maybe Mumford and Sons have really given Americana that “mainstream” push. I’m sure there are plenty of others I didn’t mention also.

EOAF: What was your experience like writing music for various MTV shows?  Have you watched MTV lately?  Do you think it still is an important avenue for musicians?
JJ: There are other music video choices these days which is great. MTV specially, though the innovator of the popular music video, has changed away from that format it seems. Maybe YouTube has something to do with that I don’t know. We didn’t write music specifically for MTV, they actually picked up what we had written and used pieces of it on the shows as soundtrack stuff.

EOAF: How has your work with Bright Star International changed you?  Why is this charity so near and dear to your heart?
JJ: To be honest, though I am on the Bright Star roster, I haven’t worked with them yet. I am definitely looking forward to working with them and the various charities that are involved with children. I have three youngsters myself and they mean the world to me. It kills me to think that there are kids out there that don’t have the opportunities to thrive in life. Bright Star themselves are not a charity but an organization that hooks artists up with charities. What a great idea !!

EOAF: Have you always been a Taylor guitar guy?  Tell us a bit about your guitar and how it helps you tell your story.
JJ: This is my first Taylor and I don’t think I’ll ever change from that. One day I picked up a friend’s Taylor and instantly fell in love with it. I just wish I had enough money to go out and grab up a few more of them. It’s mainly a comfort thing and that means a lot to me as I’m playing for long periods of time. The feel is great, the sound is great and the quality/workmanship is great. What more can I say.

jiggley jones video shoot2

Photo by Beauty By Grace

To learn more about Jiggley Jones and his music, please visit: http://jiggleyjones.com/wordpress/

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