Tag Archives: North Carolina

MerleFest Spotlight – Todd Albright

Todd Albright is bringing his blues to MerleFest again this year, with three separate performances across three stages.  A gifted musician and historian, Albright meshes his pre-war blues with vivid storytelling–a talent that keeps fans engaged and excited between songs.

Be sure to catch Albright over the weekend at any or all of these performances:

Friday, April 26, 2019 @ 11:35 AM – 12:00 PM @ Cabin Stage
Saturday, April 27, 2019 @ 3:25 PM – 3:55 PM @ Austin Stage
Sunday, April 28, 2019 @ 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM @ Americana Stage

If you can’t make it to MerleFest this year, check out Albright’s sound on this 2017 Live on KEXP session!

 

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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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Tank and the Bangas @ Haw River Ballroom 5/12/18

I went in blind.  Meaning, the only exposure I had to the New Orleans-based band, Tank and the Bangas, prior to their SOLD OUT show at Haw River Ballroom in Saxapahaw, NC, was a 20-minute snapshot through the lens of NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert Series.  I was the fish, and I was hooked.

When I found out that a few days after this discovery, Tarriona “Tank” Ball and her Bangas would descend on that utopia along the banks of the Haw River, I made the conscious decision to stay above ground, avoiding the YouTube rabbit holes.  I wanted my virgin live experience to be pure.  I wanted every moment to feel new, which is in itself a lofty desire, but one I was willing to put out into the universe. I was not disappointed.

Tank – They must call her Tank because of the presence she brings when she enters the room–formidable and strong on the outside with intricate, delicate machinery on the inside.  A mix of fury and finesse, Tank shared her tornado of expressions without pause.  Within seconds on stage, the joy in her face and the swing in her hips told the crowd that it was time to have fun, and that while the carnival of emotions might take us from elation to exhaustion, all of it should be embraced. 

 

With close to three decades of life experience under her belt, Tank has stories to tell.  That night, below the glow of the word THRILLS, Tank seamlessly wove these stories together, calling upon childhood fearlessness to emerge again despite the confines of adult responsibilities.  Her authenticity and old-soul wisdom empowered and energized the crowd effortlessly.

The juxtaposition of her strength and fragility was simultaneously conflicting and comforting.  This push-pull generational struggle was embodied by the multiple personalities tucked in the pockets of her limitless vocal range.  From her wide-eyed, bright-pitched, girlish pops and squeals to her salt-of-the-earth, gritty, seasoned tones, Tank covered the spectrum of emotions easily in the first five minutes she was on stage. 

In life, people like to categorize things–place them in tidy, little boxes.  We are all guilty to some degree of this practice.  As I watched and listened, it became harder and harder to put Tank in a box.  She exudes originality, so much so that making direct comparisons to other female artists is futile.  Capturing her style in one or two words is like playing an endless game of whack-a-mole.  Just when you think you can nail her down, she’s gone.

The Bangas – Tank was joined on stage by Anjelika “Jelly” Joseph (background vocals), Norman Spence (keys), Joshua Johnson (drums), Albert Allenback (flute, alto saxophone), Merell Burkett (keys), Danny Abel (guitar) and Jonathan Johnson (bass).  Collectively known as The Bangas, this crew of artists lifted Tank to another level.  The standout element of improvisation across all instruments (voices included) made the whole show feel less like a cookie-cutter production and much more like a jam-band, gospel, funkdified tent revival–paddle fans, praising hands, crowd participation and all!

Worth noting is Ms. Joseph’s contribution to the whole live experience.  While Jelly is labeled a background singer, and has been called Tank’s “fly girl,” my impression after seeing her live is that those labels don’t quite hit the mark.  Sure, she helps keep the crowd hype, but she also shines in her own light–out from Tank’s shadow.  The tightness of her vocals with Tank’s felt genetic, like sisters who spent their lives singing together.  The love and respect between these two was palpable.  To be obvious, she’s the jelly to Tank’s peanut butter–you don’t have one without the other.

The Show – While I expected similar feelings to those I felt watching that Tiny Desk Concert, what I could have never predicted was the myriad of places the band would take me throughout the set.  As a kid growing up with the rise of hip-hop in the 80s and 90s, I was transported back to my days of parachute pants and one-strap overalls.  It felt as if I was witnessing a modern-day resurrection of Native Tongues, but with a new twist–spoken word and smooth, soulful jazz peppered with hip-hop, rock, punk, and Broadway theatrics.  Welcome to Bangaville.

Spoken word erupted in the 1950s in the US, and has evolved over decades of war, oppression and  social injustice, as a means to bring words to life—give them depth and dimension that is often denied in printed poetry.  This art, achieved through an intense and syncopated delivery that demands attention, is the centerpiece of Tank’s brilliance.  And while she certainly can and has commanded a crowd as a solo artist, the richness offered by The Bangas, expands the ripple effect far beyond the confines of a one-woman show.

At one point in the show, Tank asked, “Did you think I went through all that I went through to stay the same?”  Profound statements like this were sprinkled throughout the set, making it almost impossible not to stop and reflect.  In between the fun, silly moments, a message of hope and the importance of self-acceptance embraced the audience without warning or apology.

The set itself was solid, including fan-favorites Walmart, Boxes and Squares, Oh Heart, and their newest hit Smoke Netflix Chill.  The band took us all back in time with a rambunctious cover of Nirvana’s 1991 hit Smells Like Teen Spirit and a slowed-down soulful rendition of Outkast’s 2003 jam Roses

Following the set, and a brief moment off-stage, Tank and the Bangas reemerged to encore with Rollercoaster–a perfect way to end what was in itself an evening of ups, downs, twists, turns, and as my three-year old son would describe it, “tummy tickles.”  As the house lights came up, I looked back on the sold out crowd– a sea of faces lit up like the 4th of July, ready to get back in line and take another ride.

 

To learn more about Tank and the Bangas visit: http://www.tankandthebangas.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Album Review – Mipso’s “Old Time Reverie”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Interview – Paleface

Photo by Sooz White

Photo by Sooz White

In a world where musical authenticity is constantly being called to question, anti-folk icon, Paleface, is as real as they get. After nearly three decades of writing and performing music, Paleface remains true to his craft and continues to create art that is raw, fresh, and inspired.

Paleface’s music career is much like a collection of short stories, woven together with unpredictable highs and lows—each chapter marked with different shades of joy, sorrow, chaos and control. Throughout it all Paleface has managed to come out on the other side with tales to tell.

Paleface got his start playing music at NYC clubs in the late 80s, rubbing shoulders with creative minds like Daniel Johnston and Beck. While being managed by the legendary Danny Fields, Paleface signed a major-label record deal, began putting out albums, and touring with bands like Crash Test Dummies and The Breeders. Everything appeared to be falling into place, but by the late 90s Paleface’s partying lifestyle caught up with him, nearly taking his life and forcing him to reevaluate his direction.

By 2000, a sober Paleface found himself among a new crop of imaginative musicians in NYC, many calling themselves “anti-folk.” Artists like Kimya Dawson, Regina Spektor, and Langhorne Slim shared the stage with Paleface, and he soon became an integral part of the anti-folk scene.

“Anti-folk didn’t stand for anything,” Paleface said. “It was whatever you can do to make art you should share it, get on stage, do it. If people like it, great, if they don’t, that’s OK, too. Nobody was gonna crucify you ‘cause you were bad or not what they wanted. In that anti-folk scene nobody would care ‘cause anything goes.”

It was during this period in his career when Paleface struck up a friendship with Scott and Seth Avett (The Avett Brothers). This instant artistic connection ultimately drew him, and girlfriend/drummer Monica “Mo” Samalot, away from New York in 2008 to start a new life in Concord.

After moving to North Carolina, Paleface and Samalot hit the road, touring as a high-energy folk-rock duo throughout the United States and Europe. Paleface continued to record and release albums like the self-released “A Different Story” as well as “The Show Is On The Road” and “One Big Party” on Ramseur Records. Studio and on-stage collaborations with The Avett Brothers exposed a whole new audience to Paleface’s music and it appeared that his momentum had shifted up again.

However, a health scare and setback in Europe while promoting “One Big Party” forced the pair to take time off to regroup, yet again. Unable to tour, Paleface spent time focusing on getting healthy and painting — a talent he had discovered while living in NYC.

“Painting is very meditative and relaxing in a way that music is not,” Paleface said. “It’s like a puzzle that you figure out as you go which at any moment can change or be wrecked by your next move. Music, if you change something you can immediately go back to how you had it if you don’t like the change.”

Paleface creates bright, bold, music-inspired folk-art. His canvas and drum head paintings often carry uplifting themes, much like his music, and he sells them as special one-of-a-kind merchandise at shows.

“I think of my paintings as rock-n-roll folk art, and my music, too,” Paleface said. “I like the fact that people can get this special thing that’s much better than a CD or T-shirt or even a print … 250 sold paintings later I’m still making them and getting more and more interested in it all the time.”

In reality the paintings help to supplement the often stretched-thin income of a touring independent artist. Life on the road is difficult, but Paleface has managed to stay positive after all of these years.

“[Touring] is harder work than people know,” Paleface said. “It sounds romantic and I wouldn’t trade it, but you can get tired with the miles. Great shows can always help build you up and bad shows remind you nothing is certain, but I love seeing all the friends we’ve made out there on the road and checking on the progress they’ve made in their own lives.”

Paleface has been touring through Greenville for several years, a stop that he may have missed had it not been for his connection with the Avetts.

“The first time we ever came was back in the day playing with the band Oh What a Nightmare, which at the time was The Avett Brothers’ other project, kind of a hard rock trio with Seth on drums and Scott on electric,” Paleface said. “I like Greenville a lot. The Spazzatorium was a great scene and Jeff [Blinder] who used to book there had really good taste so it was always fun to go there and play. After it closed we just kept coming back because we liked playing here.”

While the Avetts may have brought Paleface to Greenville, Samalot keeps the duo coming back. She is the driving force when it comes to the business side of things — mapping out tour routes, booking venues, handling all social media—in addition to rocking the drums and singing harmonies. Paleface and Samalot are partners in every sense of the word. On and off stage their mutual respect and love is unmistakable and they are constantly pushing each other to improve.

“(Samalot) really loves harmony so we’ve been doing a bit of that of late,” Paleface said. “She also remembers songs that I forget and if she likes it enough pushes me to bring it back and make it something. I must confess that I’ve only recorded a fraction of the songs I’ve written so it is good to have someone who remembers them.”

When it comes to songwriting, Paleface’s talent is off the charts. He is a true storyteller, creating a unique auditory experience that reaches all ages. Paleface’s ability to write songs with traditional acoustic instrumentation that ends up feeling charged and electric is unmatched and magical.

“[It’s an] obsession,” Paleface said. “I don’t need to bottle it. It just is an inextinguishable flame that burns inside.”

As he begins another new chapter in his career, Paleface is approaching his newest material from a more informed and introspective place. Though it has been challenging, he is confident that his approach will yield some of his best music to date.

“For a while, because I’ve had a rough time in the music (business), I just wanted to stand on stage and sing happy songs and I didn’t really care if it was cool or not,” Paleface said. “Lately I’ve felt a little restless with that. I’m taking my time with it so I don’t know when it will be finished, hopefully soon.”

Until then, fans can catch Paleface touring across the country. This month, Paleface will once again make a stop in Greenville to close out Spazz Fest VI at Christy’s Europub on March 22 from 7-11 p.m. Fans can expect Paleface to deliver another fun and lively performance, full of some of his best old tunes, a few new ones and plenty of audience interaction.

“I want [the audience] to feel the energy and give it back so we can both bug out to the sound vibrations,” Paleface said.

This piece originally ran in Mixer Magazine.

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Album Review – Big Daddy Love’s “This Time Around”

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For Winston-Salem-based Appalachian-rock band Big Daddy Love, making an album that represents a new line-up and fresh talent meant trekking up to the magical land of Woodstock, N.Y.—a place so rich with musical history that inspiration runs in the streams and lives in the mountains.

Big Daddy Love — currently comprised of Scott Moss (vocals, guitar), Joseph Recchio (guitar, vocals), Brian Swenk (banjo), Ashley Sutton (bass, vocals), and Scotty Lewis (drums) — laid the tracks for its latest album “This Time Around” at Woodstock’s Applehead Studios earlier this year. The result is a dozen carefully crafted songs that find cohesion in hometown themes, unique and often intricate arrangements, and a keen balance across track tempo.

With Moss and Recchio as lyrical masterminds, “This Time Around” finds its niche quickly and settles in without pause. There is no time to waste, as the majority of tracks keep a high-energy pace matched by the intertwining of guitar and banjo that lend a special ferocity and fire to the album as a whole.

The album opens with “Nashville Flood,” an instant rocker with brassy horns and gospel undertones. The track swells into an ominous prediction of what happens when false dreams come crashing down. “The Colour” follows with a blues guitar intro that blends seamlessly into bluegrass banjo rolls and feels like an outlaw road trip across county lines.

“Eunice and the Bear” is a stomp clapper jam that shows the band’s storytelling side. It chronicles the life of a rambling man, his wife Eunice, and a stuffed bear head on their cabin’s wall. Lyrics paint a vivid picture of just how big a bear story can grow after years of marriage. It is a sweet and fun track with a backwoods twist.

One of the album’s longer tracks, “Kerosene,” feels like a blend of John Mellencamp and The Black Crows, low and slow blues peppered with the electric energy of guitar and a soulful church choir. Big Daddy Love steps up the backyard bonfire country vibe on “Last Night’s Dress,” a small-town boy meets girl tune that reminds listeners of the beauty and freedom of young, carefree love.

“Smoke Under the Water” is as bluegrass jam band as it gets, melding down and dirty guitar riffs with rolling, bouncy banjo and smack-you-in-the-face bass lines. There is no way to sit still during this instrumental track. “Home No More” brings in an eerie reggae-rock vibe mixed with laid back blues lyrics about being down on luck, while “Star Spangled Blues” taps into southern rock patriotism with steam engine momentum and an electric guitar solo that whines with American, feverish pride.

“Susan” downshifts to a heartfelt ballad filled with regret and unfulfilled dreams of a long lost love and untapped potential. Just when you think the pity party is going to dig deeper, “Every Other Day” slowly picks up the pieces and pace, grows a backbone and flashes its teeth. There is a revengeful quality in the supporting guitar arrangement and cool and calm, yet strong vocals.

“Silver and Pearls” is the album’s best representation of bluegrass mountain music, highlighting the speed, precision, and punch that a banjo brings to a song. The title track, “This Time Around,” brings the album to a close with beautiful acoustic instrumentation and reflective lyrics. Stripping the song down to bare bones reveals the true talent of a band that can step away from busy and thematic arrangements to successfully deliver a simple message to the listener with humility and thoughtfulness.

The melding of rock and blues throughout the album gives it a throwback quality that speaks to the band’s elevated musicianship, while still feeling fresh and current. The banjo plays an important and consistent role across the tracks, but never seems to shine in quite the same glory as the electric guitar. Though the Appalachian roots are present, the grit of good ol’ southern rock and belly fire of the blues reign supreme on “This Time Around.”

To check out “This Time Around” and keep up with Big Daddy Love’s non-stop tour schedule, visit the band’s website at bigdaddylove.com.

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Album Review – Rebekah Todd’s “Roots Bury Deep”

Photo by: Kristen Abigail

Photo by: Kristen Abigail

Deep beneath the muddied surface of the Tar River and the sifted soil of tobacco fields lays the history of our state. Layered stories from past generations have formed the foundation upon which all other stories are told.

This month, local songstress Rebekah Todd adds her own stories to the thick NC bedrock with her first LP, “Roots Bury Deep.” Funded through a successful Kickstarter campaign, this 9-track album proves to be a soulful folk gem with shades of jazz and funk that paints across the canvas of genres, all while maintaining a cohesiveness that keeps the listener engaged.

With this album, Todd enlisted some of the best that Greenville has to offer. Local musicians Demetrice Everett (drums), Chris Knuckles (saxophone), Evan Roberson (trombone), William Seymour (bass), and Brandon Shamar (keys) lend their talents and create a more textured auditory landscape that enhances Todd’s traditional folk sound. The final product takes listeners on a journey from the deep, dark corners of loss and despair to the wide-open, bright spaces of love and hope.

The album opens with “Devil’s Gonna Buy,” a ghostly, Bourbon Street bender flushed out with whiney trombone and eerie background vocals fit for the dark, gritty alleyways of New Orleans. This track jumps right into “Closer To Dead,” which shines with gospel undertones as the organ and saxophone emerge in line with the supernatural opener.

The catchy radio hit “On The Run” features a punchy cadence and baseline reminiscent of Paul Simon’s “Graceland.” While the title may imply runaway-bride-syndrome, this track is all about empowerment and drive — an important message for anyone who may need a nudge in life. The stripped-down acoustic “Thinking About You” takes a softer, day-dreamy glimpse into Todd’s past, where she opens up about the gripping realization that life is quite incompatible without love.

On “Tornado,” Todd channels her heartaches into powerhouse vocals and tempts the heavens, while reminding listeners that the only way to trump adversity is to face it head-on. “Your Smiling Face” is a toe-tap-clapper with a steam engine drum line fitted with enough spunk to become a crowd favorite.

Todd’s songwriting truly gleams on “Old Days,” a track that traces Todd back through time where she bears the pain of loss, but finds comfort in reliving memories and relishing in the little signs from above. The title track “Roots Bury Deep” follows, and proves once again this songstress’ lyrical prowess as she belts “Let me take you back to the rhythm/Back to the time when you felt only love in my arms/Let me take you back to the country where your roots bury deep/And the soil is rich for all.”

The album closes with “Wishing Well,” an eight-minute magical woodland wonder that captures Todd at a vulnerable crossroad, gazing into her reflection and foreshadowing her path. The horns on this track fade in gently to compliment Todd’s vocal tones and ride the song out as an instrumental. Roberson and Knuckles trade off leads, as if improvising a conversation between Todd’s yesterdays and tomorrows. This track is a beautiful tribute to the fragile nature of life and all of the events and decisions that guide its course.

Throughout “Roots Bury Deep,” Todd’s superb songwriting ties itself closely to the earth — the soil, the roots, the elements. In a world bogged down by technology and the next new trend, Todd keeps things clean, simple and organic, focusing on the most primal of emotions.

Todd’s poignant and powerful vocals reign supreme on each track, with the force to puncture even the toughest of exteriors. However, it is clear to any listener that the backing band elevates Todd’s signature sound to an entirely new level. The horns and organ pull out a speakeasy soul from Todd’s voice that was not yet fully developed on her 2011 EP “Forget Me Not.”

Overall, “Roots Bury Deep” translates as a potent collection of Todd’s most intimate stories. The album reveals that Todd has matured not only as a songwriter, but also as a performer as she displays a renewed confidence in her music. As with any artist, it is important to evolve and grow, and with this album Todd shows that she is capable and comfortable in her own skin, all while staying grounded by her roots.

“Roots Bury Deep” will be released officially February 18, 2014, and will be available on iTunes, Bandcamp, Amazon and more. For more information about her Greenville and Raleigh album release parties, be sure to keep up with Todd on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or at www.rebekahtodd.com.

Enjoy the title track here!

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