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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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Mountain Jam Interview: Scott Avett

photo by Lucky Soul Photography (c)

Note: I was given the opportunity to write a short article for The Daily Reflector (Greenville, NC). While it’s hard to fit a 15 minute interview into a 600-800 word piece, I did my best and sent it on to the editor. Here it is: Mixer article.

However, here is the interview in its entirety, because it deserves to be shared!

Prior to tearing up the stage with a rowdy, boot stompin’ performance at this year’s Mountain Jam festival, Scott Avett (of The Avett Brothers) sat down with me to talk about the festival experience, staying “green” on tour, giving back, their next album, and surprisingly his love for John Oates. Scott began by talking fondly about his time at East Carolina University in Greenville, NC:

Scott: Greenville is really special to me. I learned a lot in Greenville…the hard way.

Me: You still have some connections there in the art department, right?

Scott: Yeah, I still go work in the printing department and still keep in touch with some of the professors.

Me: Well that’s nice. I am sure they appreciate that.

Scott: Yeah, me too, because with the painting and everything, that is still very much a part of what I do and I could use the inspiration.

Me: So in the last Crackerfarm video of you in the ECU print shop, what were those funny hats?

Scott: (laughs) Those were just pirate hats that somebody brought in and we just threw them on!

Me: That’s funny. So this is your second year at Mountain Jam?

Scott: It is, it is, yeah. It seems like no time passed at all.

Me: In planning your tour, what makes you decide to come back to the same festival year after year? Is it the feel of the festival or timing?

Scott: Timing is good. And you know, festivals are good because they add a lot of variety to the schedule. So, anything from stage, feel, to demographics. We really have been to a lot of places and it’s odd how different the festivals are. Sometimes that [demographic] reaction can sort of spawn an energy that’s good that you want to go recreate or take it to the next step.

(Side note: We were nicely interrupted by a massage therapist who was going around telling all of the artists about the free massage tent. Scott laughed and said, “Oh man, y’all must have heard about me…must of heard about how bad of shape I’m in.” He graciously thanked (of course) her and we continued on…)

Me: What was your first impression of Mountain Jam last year?

Scott: You know this is a raw festival. I think its placement and its area is so rich in history with Dylan and Levon Helm and everything. So that bodes well for it and adds to the energy. There’s no doubt about it. But last year our experience was very raw, very ruckus and fun…dusty…sweaty!

Me: That’s good! It’s a little different from playing somewhere like Bojangles Coliseum.

Scott: Yeah, well this time of year the festivals can get that way, and they are good. It’s good for us! I definitely prefer them at this point. I’ve gone through stages where the theaters are where you want to be in the presentation of what you are doing, but I am a little more fly by night right now in the way I feel a show should be. So these festivals are a little better and a little more spontaneous.

Me: Do you guys get to enjoy the other artists or is it all business?

Scott: No, but we have friends that will be here that we will perform with and interact with and get to see, but (leaning forward and looking out the tent) I see a band over there playing and that’s about as close as I’ll get.

Me: Grace Potter and Nicole Atkins will be here tomorrow, but you wont get to see them?

Scott: No, but Nicole will be around today (with a sheepish grin)

Me: Oh, so maybe we will get a little special treat for later!?

Scott: Yeah, maybe.

(Side note: Sadly Nicole’s guitarist was ill and she didn’t arrive in time to play with The Avett Brothers. I think all parties involved were sad!)

photo by Lucky Soul Photography (c)

Me: So, I have been to a few festivals and they all seem to have a different feel. The feeling I get from Mountain Jam is geared towards educating the audience about environmental issues, and not necessarily picking artists because of their “environmental” message, but probably picking artists who feel that is important. Is that important to you and the rest of the band when you come to a music festival?

Scott: Yes, it is. It is important to keep “it” (being environmentally minded) right before you instead of getting too worldly to where it’s overwhelming. You know, you are going through the day and you could recycle one bottle, so it’s just one little step at a time. I think it’s important not to get too caught up with the “big picture” as this one fell swooping.

Me: Do you guys have rules on the tour bus for living “green”?

Scott: We all know that [being green] is the best way, but sometimes survival just can’t…if you let your principles get in the way of your product, your quality, your life, it might…it might be…suicide (chuckles).

Me: So is it difficult to take what you do at home out on the road?

Scott: Oh absolutely! It has gotta change, because those are very different lives.

Me: So, do you have recycling bins on the bus?

Scott: Yeah, we do recycle as much as we can. But, for example, if you fill the front lounge area with water bottles everybody’s agitated and angry because there are water bottles everywhere, so you have to be smart about it. Right, Dane? (Scott laughs and looks over to Dane who is sitting in the corner). Dane is our tour manager. He has to keep up with us, so he’s definitely aggravated (as he chuckles). No, but honestly, we all try to stay really aware about that kind of stuff.

Me: Beyond the little things you do to stay “green” in your personal life, you all played two very cool shows last year that really helped out local farms in Portland, OR and the CFSA in NC. Those types of shows are obviously very important to The Avett Brothers. Do you have to search out those opportunities or are they typically just presented to you?

Scott: Yes, those are very important to us, and they typically come to us more so these days because there is more money generated with more fans. We don’t typically have to go searching for it, but if there is a specific cause we want to help with, we will go after it.

Me: You have done a lot with the tornado relief efforts recently. How have those experiences been for you all?

Scott: That is really the least we can do, and definitely have not done enough. There’s nothing that is going to change the terrible nature of that except for time. We are so lucky to be able to do something that we enjoy, and we don’t deserve it anymore than anybody else. To truly want to help people…to honestly want to do that, it can’t be taxed, not in the literal sense of the word taxed, but to order or direct someone to help people is not real, it’s not honest, and it’s not sustainable. If we are fortunate enough to have such an enjoyable life, these opportunities, and these great moments, we need to remember how grateful we should be without someone ordering us or demanding that we share that. We need to share that. The moment we stop doing that, than it’s all poisoned. We remind each other of that and try to keep that presence about us now that we are moving. The wheels are turning…there is a backlog now. There’s no turning back. There’s no stopping. So we have to just share, if it’s good feelings or a couple of bucks, it just has to be done.

Me: I think that you have a great influence on your fan base, who you really make feel like family. That feeling really spreads.

Scott: Well, we all are [family]. When people refer to us as “family oriented people” or “family matters”, to look at it thoroughly and in detail, it’s not about my brother and my dad and my mom and daughter. It’s beyond that, and it’s a much bigger unit, the family. It’s the world.

photo by Lucky Soul Photography (c)

Me: From your perspective can you feel how powerful that is? Do you feel how much influence you have on making people happy and how that is passed on to others? If you go on and read the boards, it’s pretty amazing!

Scott: (big laugh) Well, I don’t read the boards, but I am told. But it has to be one step at a time. If I harness that as a big picture like you are saying, it’s dangerous for me. So, one day at a time and I will take your word for it. I am glad to hear that, and I hear it from other people. That is terrific. I just try to keep it in perspective. If there is something we can do today, that is great. If not, hopefully tomorrow there will be. There is always something it is just a matter of if you have the energy to go out and seek it.

Me: Does that ever feel like a burden?

Scott: (emphatically) No. No. We are not ministers or part of the Red Cross or anything, so we’re not burdened by that type of service. Even though it might end up translating into that eventually, indirectly. We get a lot of enjoyment out of it. Hopefully, it’s just in harmony with all of that.

Me: How did you all get paired up with John Oates for your Vermont show last night?

Scott: We worshiped Hall and Oates when we were kids. I mean I worshiped him! I mean that was as big as Bob Dylan any day of the week to me. Not to a lot of people, but their music when I was 8 years old was forming who I am right now. So he just asked if we wanted to do something. So we said let’s do it! He asked if we wanted to do one of our songs or their songs and we said neither, let’s just do a Bob Dylan tune!

Me: Cool! Well, besides maybe a guest appearance from Nicole Atkins today, any other surprises for today’s set?

Scott: Well…Simon Felice is around here somewhere but I’m not sure if he will make it on stage with us. He’s a terrific guy. He recorded with us on I and Love and You.

Me: Finally, I read a quote from Bob somewhere that the new album isn’t due out until the end of next year?

Scott: Oh no, no… I don’t know when it’s due. That would be pretty late. We are well in the process of it and well passed the halfway mark. If it maintains we would finish the record this year. It’s just a matter of when and how it will come out.

Me: Well we are all looking forward to hearing it.

Scott: Thank you. Thank you very much.

We finished the interview with a hand shake, some smiles, and well wishes. A few hours later the entire mountain, sprinkled with both old and new Avett fans, had the privilege of witnessing one of the most energetic and magnetic sets of the weekend. While their set featured several songs from their I and Love and You album, we did get a few old favorites from their albums Four Thieves Gone and Emotionalism, along with a guest appearance from their dear friend Simon Felice and an encore Dylan cover to top it off. The Avett Brothers continue their tour throughout the US and Europe well into the Fall, so check them if they come anywhere near you. Trust me, you will leave as one of the family, and it’s a pretty cool family to be a part of if I do say so myself.

For more information about the band, please pay a visit to their website. I must end with a huge “thank you” to Dane Honeycutt for arranging the interview, and to the gracious Scott Avett for taking the time to chat with me.

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Lawn chairs and flip flops…looks like it’s time for a music festival!

One more for the road

With sunny skies and warm weather upon us, what better to do than to schlep a lawn chair and cooler to a giant grassy field with thousands of other music lovers and enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells (yes, smells) that meld to create the music festival experience?

Over the years I have tried my hand at a variety of music festivals including Newport Folk Festival and New Orleans Jazz Festival, along with some smaller day-long festivals like The Warp Tour, Lilith Fair, Family Values, and Lalapalooza.  One of the first things you learn as a newbie festival goer is that there is a  calculated method to a fan’s madness.  Seasoned festival attendees plan well in advance and have each day’s “must see” line-up mapped out to maximize the number of bands they will hear.  First timers may see this and begin to scribble out band names, stage names, and set times on the back their ticket stubs, which at the least will ensure that they see the bands they’ve heard of.  I fall somewhere in the middle.  I typically do just enough research on the line-up to know the main bands I NEED to see, and try to brush up on some of the not so well-known bands, so as not to miss out on the festival “gems”.  This helps me determine if it will be worth my time to haul my stuff to and from different stages (note: the less “stuff” you bring in the more freedom you have).

I haven’t been much of a repeater when it comes to music festivals because I revel in the variety and enjoy seeing how different festivals organizers make the “magic” happen.  I love the emotional thrill of a new experience that is centered around music, but has so much more to offer as well.  For example, the food village at the New Orleans Jazz Festival overloaded my olfactory and gustatory senses and kept me salivating between sets.  I think I took in more food than I did music!  Sure, The Newport Folk Festival stacks their line-ups with the music industry’s most respected and talented artists, but the festival also offers a gorgeous harbor backdrop sprinkled with tall white sails and surrounded by mansions atop lush hills.  The festival itself takes place at a historic landmark, Fort Adams, so attendees can basically take in a history lesson by exploring bastions and barracks of the old fort while music floats on in the background.

While the music draws the people in through the festival gates, the people themselves make the experience.  Often times, when I am not completely engaged in watching the band, I sit and watch the fans and their reactions to the music and overall experience.  While I enjoy capturing the band’s energy on stage, photographing a fan’s anticipation leading up to or pure joy and ecstasy during a performance is just as satisfying.  Over the last few years I have taken pictures of musicians and fan and everything in between.  Here are some of my favorites:


There are festivals of all genres popping up in every state, all centered around the theme of community and music.  Check out the festivals near you for an amazing experience of the senses.

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Filed under Festivals, Live Shows, Music