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MerleFest Day #1 – Thursday’s Must-Sees!

Last year Ashley Heath & Her Heathens won the MerleFest band competition, and tonight they will be rocking the Cabin Stage at 8:00PM!  Get yourself a dose of Ashley’s soulful, bluesy pipes, backed by the sweet, funky grooves of her Heathens.  From right up the road in Asheville, this foursome will make you scrunch up your face and nod your head in that way we all do when something real stanky and good hits our eardrums and travels way down to camp out in our bellies–be ready to feel all the feels!

If you can’t make it out tonight, Ashley Heath & her Heathens will be back on Friday to grace the Americana stage at 1:30PM.  Don’t miss it!

Nothing quite gets my heart racing like a group of talented artists gathered around a single microphone, playing traditional acoustic instruments and releasing angelic harmonies that weave together so intricately, much like the colorful quilt fabrics laid carefully on the lawn, ready for an afternoon of outdoor music. Festival favorite  Chatham County Line returns to MerleFest yet again for what will surely be a breathtaking performance on the main Watson Stage today at 3:00PM.  These southern gentlemen will then head over to the Autograph Tent at 5:00PM for a bit of fan interaction, so don’t miss your chance to tell them how much their music means to you!

No doubt Dave, John, Chandler and Greg will be singing some of their popular hits alongside new music off of their most recent LP, Sharing the Covers.   If you can’t make it out today, the boys will be hanging around all weekend for performances on the Walker Center Stage – Friday at 2:00PM and Saturday at 10:30PM for the infamous Late Night Jam!  Note, the Late Night Jam requires an additional ticket (purchase here).

It looks like a beautiful, first day of MerleFest 2019! Enjoy the great outdoors and awesome music!

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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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Review – Farm Aid 2014

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Since 1985, Farm Aid has been working to raise awareness about the hardships that accompany family farming in the US. Though efforts are year-round, the annual Farm Aid Concert marks the culmination of hard work, dedication, and commitment from non-profit organizers, farmers, musicians, volunteers and more. This star-studded event is not only a celebration of music, but more importantly a grassroots movement for those in attendance to get involved in the cause.

Now in its 29th year, Farm Aid continues to work toward its mission by promoting food from family farms, growing the Good Food movement, helping farmers thrive, and taking local, regional and national action to promote fair policies. To date, Farm Aid has raised over $45 million to support a strong family farm system of agriculture that is built to withstand the test of time and challenge the heavy-hand of government and corporate power that limits so many small family farmers.

This year, Farm Aid chose to focus the attention on the unique struggles of North Carolina farmers. Organizers spent months gathering the facts and stories from family farmers like Kay Doby and Craig Watts who face the hardships of contract poultry, NC’s only African-American dairy farmers Dorthay and Phillip Barker who have experienced blatant discrimination, and The Vollmer family who bravely moved away from traditional tobacco farming to organic production. While these are just a few of the countless stories from across the state, they represent a nationwide struggle that Farm Aid has been trying to dissolve for nearly three decades.

Farm Aid’s board of directors—Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, Neil Young, and Dave Matthews—serve not only as the musical voices behind the cause, but also work to educate their fans year after year at the Farm Aid Concerts. Last month, Nelson, Mellencamp, Young, and Matthews took to Raleigh’s Walnut Creek Amphitheater stage, along with acts like Jack White, Gary Clark Jr., Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Jamey Johnson, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, and Durham-based Delta Rae, to share their talents and thoughts with a sold-out crowd.

Though scattered thunderstorms threatened the event throughout the day, the late summer weather managed to cooperate for organizers and concert-goers alike. When the gates opened at noon, fans, farmers and supporters found themselves at a venue that had been transformed into an interactive, family-friendly “Homegrown Village,” offering local fare, agricultural workshops, panel discussions, and educational exhibits from more than 35 local and national food and farm groups.

In the Skills Tent, participants learned how to make flower crowns and the best way to save seeds from their backyard harvest. On the Farm Yard Stage, farmers and musicians paired up to discuss important issues like farmer’s market dynamics, concentrated animal feeding operations, and the threat of international fish imports on local fishers. Hands-on demonstrations gave non-farmers opportunities to roll up their sleeves and learn more about the trade.

Farm Aid is likely the only concert where farmers are treated like VIPs. Farmers who registered were invited to pre-concert events, granted early-entry, and given special placards to wear while on-site. The farmers were not only drawn to the event to enjoy the music, but also to network, share ideas, and work toward finding viable solutions to support the family farmer.

Each year Farm Aid stacks the line-up with some of the top names in the music industry. Raleigh’s Farm Aid was no different. Performances that led up to the headliners proved entertaining, but the crowd’s energy really started picking up momentum when Willie Nelson’s son Lukas Nelson took the stage, and it continued to mount until Willie himself closed out the evening with a stage full of friends.

In between Nelsons, Austin-based rocker Gary Clark Jr. drew standing ovations with an impressive 7-song set which included his hit “Ain’t Messin’ ‘Round.” The Nashville-by-way-of-Detroit enigma Jack White followed and the crowd collectively went insane the moment he stepped on stage. Donning a new, slicked-back coif and long jaw-line sideburns, White rocked out a 10-song set with favorites like “Lazzaretto,” “We’re Going to Be Friends,” and “Seven Nation Army.” White and his band matched the static electric energy that was projected on the big screen behind them, and were clearly one of the evening’s crowd-favorites.

Matthews, along with longtime musical partner and guitar extraordinaire Tim Reynolds, played a more subdued acoustic set that kept the crowd standing, swaying and smiling, as if transported back to more carefree times. Matthews and Reynolds performed classic ballads like “Crush,” “Oh,” and “Dancing Nancies,” along with more message-driven anthems like “Don’t Drink the Water” “Bartender,” and “Ants Marching.”

Mellencamp kept the crowd happy with popular hits that date back before the beginning of Farm Aid. The engaged audience sang along to songs like “Jack and Diane,” “Pink Houses,” “Small Town,” and “Crumblin’ Down.” Mellencamp shared stories between songs, adding in a layer of self-deprecating humor that softened his admitted rough edges.

Young found his way to the stage just after 9 p.m. Staying true to form, he filled the space between songs with sermon, calling out N.C. Senator Richard Burr for his anti-farming voting record and educating the audience about better food choices. His song choices were obvious and deliberate with hits like “Heart of Gold,” “Pocahontas,” “Mother Earth,” and “Who’s Gonna Stand Up and Save the Earth.” After being joined on stage by Lukas and Micah Nelson, Young closed with a rowdy “Rockin’ in the Free World.”

It only seemed fitting that Farm Aid founder Willie Nelson, who opened the day-long event, would also close out his 29th Farm Aid Concert. Sporting his trademark, tattered and torn Martin N-20 guitar Trigger and long braids, Nelson performed originals and covers while surrounded by his band, family and special guests. Just over 80 years-old, Nelson continued to delight fans with favorites like “On the Road Again” and country classics like “Mama Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys.” His performance solidified the fact that his gift lies not in the smoothness of voice or nimble finger-picking, but in his down-home charm and ability to connect with everyday people.

This year’s Farm Aid delivered not only an amazing musical experience to fans, but it also gave North Carolina farmers a stronger voice. Concert goers of all ages were called to act in the best interest of the family farmer, both at the dinner table and in the voting booth. While Farm Aid founders and organizers openly wish they did not have to plan this event year after year, their vision remains steady and focused on changing the structure that currently drives agricultural policy in the U.S.

Young may have described the current situation best when he stated, “We love Farm Aid, but we don’t love that we are doing Farm Aid. It’s not a celebration. It’s a mission to change what’s going on.” As Farm Aid organizers move on to begin planning next year’s event, farmers and their supporters will continue to work so that family farms are better equipped to survive and thrive well into the future.

View photos from Farm Aid 2014 here

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FloydFest Releases Initial 2014 Line-up

logo-floydfest13As a special pre-holiday treat, FloydFest organizers have released the initial 2014 festival line-up to the public, which looks absolutely amazing–see for yourself below.  Though not first on the list, my eyes immediately gravitated towards the words MS. LAURYN HILL.  I’ve been waiting for this lovely soulful songstress to return to the festival circuit for a long time.  It will be great to see her grace the FloydFest 13 stage!

In addition to a stellar initial line-up, the 2014 FloydFest celebration will now be FIVE FULL DAYS!  Music and festivities are slated to begin mid-day on Wednesday, July 23rd and continue through Sunday evening, July 27th.  Five-day multiday tickets will be available for purchase.

The theme for next year’s festival is FloydFest 13 – Revolutionary. FloydFest’s Facebook page has already been blowing up with “revolutionary” posts from excited fans.  Their page will feature “Weekly Revolution” entries to keep fans engaged and the excitement growing.  This week’s “Weekly Revolution” reads as follows:

Every day is a Revolution.. a literal circle around the sun, and as well an opportunity for reinvention, discovery, action, awareness, appreciation–the individual ingredients that together, over time, combine, combust and spark positive revolution…We find music festivals Revolutionary. The past decade has seen a resurgence of the outdoor music festival nearly to the point of “mainstreaming,” taking both perception and experience well beyond the stereotypical “Woodstock” experience. We find it Revolutionary that the outdoor music festival has become the preferred live music experience, and we bear firsthand witness to resulting effects of contagious positivity.

Also, in line with its ‘Revolutionary’ theme, FloydFest has established some new changes to this year’s festival based on the recommendations of fans and festival-goers from previous years.  Capacity for the event will be cut by 1300 multi-day tickets, a move geared to embrace and sustain FloydFest’s status as a boutique music festival that sells out each year well in advance of gates opening.

Tickets are on sale now, so be sure to snag yours early as this festival is sure to sell out quickly.  The 2014 FloydFest line-up will include:

Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite ~ Ms. Lauryn Hill ~ Ray LaMontagne ~ Thievery Corporation (Full Band) ~ Ziggy Marley ~ Michael Franti & Spearhead ~ Buddy Guy ~ Robert Randolph & the Family Band ~ Lettuce  ~ JJ Grey & Mofro ~ Conspirator ~ Donna the Buffalo ~ The Duhks ~ Campbell Brothers ~ The Lee Boys ~ Hackensaw Boys ~ The London Souls ~ Jonathan Boogie Long ~The Deadmen ~ 2013 On the Rise Winner: Paper Bird ~ 2013 On the Rise Winner Runner Up: Crystal Bright & the Silver Hands ~ Tauk ~ Dirty Drummer ~ and many, many more TBA.

 For more information visit www.floydfest.com, contact Mandy Gresham at mandy@darbycommunications.com or call 1-888-VA-FESTS.

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Interview – Time Sawyer

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“Saturday morning was come, and all the summer world was bright and fresh, and brimming with life. There was a song in every heart; and if the heart was young, the music issued at the lips. There was cheer in every face and a spring in every step. The locust-trees were in bloom, and the fragrance of the blossoms filled the air. Cardiff Hill, beyond the village and above, it was green with vegetation, and it lay just far enough away to seem a Delectable Land, dreamy, reposeful, and inviting.

Mark Twain, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

There is something intriguing about the process of naming a band. While some musicians choose to use their surnames, others find inspiration in art, literature, or everyday events. Such is true for the up-and-coming band out of Elkin, North Carolina named Time Sawyer. This folk-rock band, which consists of Sam Tayloe (vocals, guitar), Kurt Layell (lead guitar), Houston Norris (banjo), and Clay Stirewalt (drums), came together a few years ago to make “real music” with a grassroots feel matched with high energy. It was out of this common mission that they started to lay a foundation and grow a loyal fan base. Beyond bringing their own music to the people, Time Sawyer founded Reevestock Music Festival. Now in its third year, Reevestock not only boasts a great line-up for a smaller, more intimate festival, but also remains true to its local roots by benefiting the restoration of Elkin’s last theater, The Reeves.

I recently caught up with Time Sawyer’s Sam Tayloe to learn a bit more about the band’s name, their story, songwriting, and how they are building a music empire in their rural hometown.

Evolution of a Fan: Can you give me a brief explanation of where the band name “Time Sawyer” came from?


ST: Kurt and I started the band in 2010 and we were looking for something to connect where we are from to where we are headed.

“Time Sawyer” let us do that by pulling from the character Tom Sawyer to represent the rural area that we came from (Elkin, NC) while also being used as a grassroots character, in touch with [his] craft.

We chose “Time” because, in songwriting, I don’t think there is anything you can write about that doesn’t have time involved. Truly in life I don’t think you can either. But in songwriting, you can be writing about how much you love how great something is and you want time to stop dead in its tracks, keeping you in the moment, or, you could be doing all you possibly can to escape from some hard times, relationship or otherwise, so you want time to move along. It just seemed to fit with time being such a constant with anything you are involved in.

EOAF: How did the current band come to be? How did you all meet?


ST: The current band is the only band, which has been really neat. Kurt and I started working together a bit earlier after being introduced by a mutual friend. It just kinda worked out that we got to add some really great supporting pieces without much work, as Houston was my best friend in high school and Clay, Kurt’s. We also have a 5th member that we love as an original–Mr. Bob Barone plays pedal steel with us anytime we can have him.

EOAF: It looks like you guys have turned out a lot of albums in a short amount of time. Who is the primary songwriter and what is the process like for the band? Is it a collaborative effort, or does the primary songwriter just come with the song and arrangements?


ST: Yeah, we try to keep our nose on the grindstone. Kurt and I are the primary songwriters. It’s been really fun to watch the operation grow as it has. Kurt is writing some amazing songs right now, and I’m really excited to work on this new record we are planning for later this year. Collectively we have written about 20 so far for it. When we write songs, usually Kurt or I will finish one entirely, show the other, get feedback, then bring it to the band to help with what else we should add to it, and form a direction for the song. Houston and Clay really bring a lot to helping with songs when they get to them. Recently however, Kurt and I have written some together, or had a song that was half way done but needed or chorus or bridge, etc and we would help the other. It really seems to be working well as we grow.

EOAF: What do you think makes a “real” song? 


ST: I think that is a very loaded question (haha). Real can be a lot of things, but I think genuine is the only thing that has to be constant. I feel like–and hope others see it the same way–being honest and genuine is something you can see/feel. There are times that you get duped, but those situations can be turned into genuine songs themselves.

EOAF: From where do you pull your musical inspiration (other artists, personal experiences, observing others)?

ST: Most of what gives us the fuel to write is our own experiences. I have begun some now to write a few “story” type songs where I don’t have to completely use all me, but usually am still personally connected to the song. Other musicians help to give us ideas as well. Kurt and I both have a few of the same favorite artist that help to inspire for sure.


EOAF: Talk a little bit about how the idea for Reevestock came about. I know you are in your third year and that it continues to grow. How did you come to decide to put on this festival, and why is it important to you/band?


ST: Reevestock is a festival that is really 3-fold. I started thinking about bringing some more music and activities to our hometown than I had when I lived there as a kid. Some of my favorite events to attend are music festivals so I figured I’d look into that option. After some research, it seemed like a feasible option. Choosing The Reeves Theater became more of a symbol than anything. The whole event is a benefit for The Reeves, but it’s also an event with purpose to benefit the whole town of Elkin and our musical needs. Maybe need is a bit far, but I’ll leave it. We do continue to grow and that really helps me to feel like we’re doing this right. We will continue to grow, have fun, and help benefit as many people as we can.

EOAF: What are you most excited about for this year’s Reevestock?

ST: All of it. Most (kinda) of the work is already done, so I’m eager to get the music going! It’s really a fun time.

EOAF: What does The Reeves Theater mean to you personally? Do you have childhood memories of going there to hear music/plays/movies? If so, would you share a few?


ST: Honestly, I don’t have any memories of the Reeves as a kid. I believe I was taken by my mom to see the Lion King and a few other movies there, but I have no recollection of it. As I said before, it helps to serve as a symbol of just keeping music alive.

EOAF: What do you think is special or unique about Yadkin Valley music. Why is its preservation so important?

ST: I think music is special. No matter what people go through, people find music to connect with. Our area is rich in bluegrass heritage and is really known for that. Besides our bluegrass though, we don’t have much of a musical touch, so that is what I’m looking to change.

EOAF: On your webpage, whoever writes the blog entries often says “Hootie Hoooo” or calls your fans “Owlets”…This made me laugh when I read it. Where did that come from? What’s the significance of the owl references?


ST: Kurt brought the owl into the Time Sawyer world and we’ve had a wooden figurine of one since our very early shows. Since then we have made it our power animal, ha. We started “hooting” at fans on Facebook post a while back, but Kurt’s brother, Justin Layell actually coined “Owlets” for us while writing for us on tour this past spring.

EOAF: How do your songs typically evolve from studio to stage?

ST: We build and play songs for a while before the studio, even play lots of them live, so most of what you hear on a record as been tested. We do find different ways to add some zest or change a song up here or there after we have played them for a long time post-record. It’s always fun to throw in a surprise.

EOAF: What is one or a few of your favorite things about performing live shows in different venues (coffee houses, house shows, clubs, festivals). How does the audience affect your performance?

ST: All of those places bring so much to the table if you’re willing to take what is given. House shows offer you a very intimate and open-eared crowd. Those are really fun because of that. Jody Mace puts on Common Chord House Concerts, in Charlotte, NC. It’s a really great group. Festivals and venues give you that crowd interaction that may talk through some of [your set], but also give you that “let’s dance” vibe, too. You can take something good from any show. We want to make friends that become our fans. We are really close with our growing fan base.

EOAF: Finally, what do you want to leave behind as your musical legacy? What do you think fans/listeners will remember about Time Sawyer in the future?


ST: We want to make sure people remember Time Sawyer first, but we are making large strides to do that. We feel very confident in our growth and what our music stands for. That being said, I think we’d like to be remembered for our honesty and ability to connect with fans. Being genuine like we talked about. Being remembered as the most badass band of all-time works, too.

owl

Time Sawyer will be performing at Reevestock along with The Dirty Guv’nahs, The David Mayfield Parade, Joe Pug, A Great Disaster, Owen Poteat, Luke Mears, and The Jon Linker Band. The festival runs from Friday, August 2nd (at The Liberty) through Saturday, August 3rd (at Elkin’s Hidden Amphitheater). Single and two-day tickets are still available, so get out there and check out some amazing musicians, all while supporting the restoration of a historical landmark that captures the essence of the good old days in a small country town. Does it get any better than that!?

“In the common walks of life, with what delightful emotions does the youthful mind look forward to some anticipated scene of festivity!”

Mark Twain, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

**Thank you to Sam Tayloe for his time and enthusiasm, and Jody Mace for constantly spreading the word about great music!**

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Spring Music Festival Spotlight – MerleFest 2013

Racn - 2002

MerleFest, April 25-28, 2013 @ Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro NC

MerleFest is a family friendly music festival that was founded in 1988 in memory of Eddy Merle Watson — son of American music legend Doc Watson.  For over 25 years, the festival has maintained its original purpose–to raise funds for Wilkes Community College while celebrating “traditional plus” music. Today, MerleFest is considered one of the top music festivals in the country, drawing more than 75,000 festival goers and some of the biggest names in traditional bluegrass, country, Americana, folk, rock and more.  This year’s festival will feature over 90 musicians on 14 stages over the course of four days, so festival goers are encouraged to download the MerleFest app before they arrive to ensure the ultimate festival experience!

In true MerleFest fashion, festival organizers have gone above and beyond to congregate the best of the best at WCC.  This year’s lineup features rising musicians like The Black Lillies, Pokey LaFarge, and Delta Rae alongside industry vets like Jim Lauderdale, Jerry Douglas, and headliners The Charlie Daniels Band, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and Warren Haynes & Gov’t Mule. Additionally, local favorites, The Avett Brothers, have signed-on to closeout the festival on Sunday afternoon, but not before their talented father, Jim Avett, takes the Creekside Stage to perform a special family gospel set.  In addition to this year’s stacked lineup, Sam Bush will host an all-star tribute jam on Saturday night to honor the life and music of the festival’s founding father Doc Watson, who sadly passed away last year.

While it is true that MerleFest mainly involves relaxing and enjoying the company of old and new friends while taking in amazing live performances, there are also several opportunities for fans to get involved and play some music themselves.  Musically inclined fans can join others to pick, sing, and learn at Jam Camp, Pickin’ Place, and The Songwriters’ Coffeehouse.  Young festival goers may enjoy spending some time in the Little Pickers Family Area, while fans of all ages can venture out into the WCC campus woods for a Nature Walk.  MerleFest also features a series of contests for musicians and songwriters, including The Merle Watson Bluegrass Banjo Championship, The Doc Watson Guitar Championship, and The Chris Austin Songwriting Contest.  The twelve finalists for the CASC will perform on the Austin Stage on Friday, April 26th at 2:00 PM, and will be judged by a panel of music industry professionals, including Jim Lauderdale.  The first place winner will receive a performance slot on the Cabin Stage that evening.  All proceeds from the CASC benefit the WCC Chris Austin Memorial Scholarship.  And, last but certainly not least is the Saturday night Midnight Jam — a fun and often rowdy festival tradition!

If you are looking for a music festival to kick off the spring season, MerleFest is for you!  Load up your car, head out to Wilkesboro, set up a tent at one of the many surrounding campsites, and be prepared to have your mind blown by some of the music industry’s best.  Multi- and single-day tickets are still available. For more information about MerleFest, musicians, and festival events, please visit  www.merlefest.org.

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Interview: Rebekah Todd

A girl and her guitar

Thus far, the height of my musical “career” was winning first place at my elementary school talent show for singing I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.  I was five.  I was a complete ham, and wanted to be a star.  My older brother told me the only reason I won was because I was cute–fair enough.  Fast-forward almost 30 years, and I’ve realized that my feverish desire for stardom is much better served in the confines of my car and home, rather than on the main stage.  Instead, the main stage should be reserved for those people who possess that innate gift of musical creativity and mastery that inspires and makes us feel alive.  It was a pleasant surprise when I recently stumbled upon one of those people right here in eastern NC.

I was introduced to Rebekah Todd when she opened up for Paleface at The Tipsy Teapot in Greenville, NC a few months ago–a lone young lady on stage with just her acoustic Alvarez guitar and a mic.  She did a quick mic check, and politely introduced herself to the audience.  I watched and waited, thinking how brave she was to get up there and sing by herself.  I was envious and impressed before even hearing her voice.  And then she sang.  A boisterous yet angelic, soulful, bluesy voice filled the room, and I was floored.  Who had been hiding this homegrown gem, and why hadn’t I heard of her before?  She quickly captivated the crowd with original songs like  Jordan, Citizen, Gallows, Little by Little, and Walked Right Through Me.  That evening, as her powerful voice echoed off of Tipsy’s glossy, cherry red walls,  I was happy to tag along on her musical journey.

A few weeks after the show I sat down with Todd to talk about her music and big plans for the future.

Todd grew up in the small town of Benson, NC and was surrounded by music as early as she could remember.  At eight years old, she started formal piano lessons, but soon figured out that the structure of reading music didn’t quite fit her style of learning.

“I play by ear 100%, so I don’t read music unless you have a sheet with chords.  If it’s the notes on the staff I can’t do it at all.  When I was eight, I figured that out.  I remember my teacher was teaching me the Titanic theme song.  I was reading it on the paper and I got a note wrong, so I stopped looking at the paper and listened and figured it out.  She yelled at me and told me I had to read the paper, and she was really mean so I dropped it and never went back,” she recalled.

Soon thereafter, Todd’s father suggested she learn how to play the guitar.  She fondly remembered those early memories of her dad and his love for music.

“[My dad] was classic rock all the way.  It’s pretty cool because it really influenced me.  I am happy that I know all of these artists now because I meet people my age who say, ‘Who are the Beatles, or who is Bob Dylan?’.  He was musical and played guitar and he was the one who taught me.  He bought me this crappy Washburn guitar that was black, and when I was eight I thought it was awesome,”  she said with a chuckle.

Rebekah Todd @ Tipsy Teapot

She continued to laugh as she told me that the first song he taught her to play on the guitar was Wild Thing.  Todd and her father continued to play together at home until she started playing in different high school bands with her friends.  Over the years of playing with her dad and others, Todd pulled inspiration from a wide range of musical genres, which has shaped the music she writes and performs today.

“I went through the classic rock phase, and then I really got into people who had a soulful voice, like Lauryn Hill, who is one of my favorites.  I literally wore her CD out [The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill].  Now I am into the more bluesy sound with singers like Susan Tedeschi and the Derek Trucks Band.  I really admire artists like that,” said Todd.

Though she can cover songs ranging from Led Zeppelin to Katy Perry, Todd’s bread and butter is in songwriting.  To date she has recorded about 16 original songs, but admits that there are many more waiting the wings that need to evolve a bit before she will bring them into the studio.

“Sometimes I will be sitting and playing and [a song] will come then, and other times I will get a tune in my head and I will literally pull my cell phone out, hit video, hold it out, and sing into the video.  I used to carry around a tape recorder before cell phones.  I think that started because when I was really young my parents bought me a karaoke machine that I could put a tape in and record my singing and listen to it.  It’s funny how the steps that your parents take totally mold what you become,” Todd shared.

Songwriting for Todd is a very natural, organic, and “in-the-moment” process.  Her songs are passionate and moving because they are honest.  Like most artists, Todd finds inspiration in her life experiences and channels those emotions into her songs as well as her art.

Rebekah Todd

“One time I played with this band called Cool Hand Luke out of Tennessee and Mark came up to me and said, ‘I really like your music because you are honest with what you are going through and what you are feeling’.  Ever since he said that I took it and tried to apply it to everything I was doing.  I’ve come to find that people can relate to your stuff if you are brutally honest with your feelings because then they can say, ‘Oh yeah I feel the same way’.  With my situation now, with having a loss in the family, everyone can relate.  Sometimes it’s hard because you really have to go into your emotions and that can be painful.  It’s the same with art.  You pull it out and you put it on a canvas or put it into a song and hope that people can relate to it,” she revealed.

Having just graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts from East Carolina University, Todd is ready to hit the road and share her music with the world.  She’s completely devoted to throwing herself into writing and touring as much as she can, while maintaining a realistic outlook.  She knows that with a hopeful heart must also come a level head, and she’s willing to put in the time and work to pursue her dream.

“It’s tough as an acoustic girl to say, ‘I promise that I can bring it’.  It’s something you have to slowly prove and know the right people.  I am working on it.  It’s a weird road.  A lot of people say I should think about getting a band.  That could be cool, but I just don’t feel right with it right now.  I feel like I want to prove to myself that I can do it without the band.  I just graduated and I have all of the time in the world,” she said with a hopeful grin.

So far she’s got a great start with several club shows and festivals booked across the state, and hopes to add a small northeast tour towards the end of August.  In between shows Todd will continue to write songs and dabble in her second love, painting.  Though Todd admits to being very comfortable in the “opener” slot, I suspect she’s  going to be pushed out of her comfort zone fairly soon.  She wont be able to hide in the shadows of bigger acts for too long.  The main stage awaits her.

To learn more about Rebekah Todd’s music and upcoming shows, please visit her website.

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