Held at the beautiful Spirit of The Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak, Florida, Magnolia Fest will be celebrating it's 19th year this October 15-18th. Magnolia Fest consistently features some of the world’s finest performers in Americana, Roots Rock, Acoustic Blues, Singer/Songwriter, Bluegrass & Newgrass, Cajun/Zydeco, New & Traditional Folk and American Roots music. As part of a series leading up to the festival, I will be speaking with some of the artists who will be performing this October. To start things off, Grant Nielsen, of the Jacksonville based JacksonVegas, graciously spoke about the festival, his involvement in the community, music and more.
This is the 19th year for Magnolia Fest. What makes the festival special and keeps you coming back?
I think this will be our fourth year playing the festival. We feel so lucky to even be invited. Beyond it being one of the prettiest concert venues I’ve ever been to anywhere in the world, it’s almost like clockwork how the season changes the Thursday of Mag Fest. It doesn’t matter what’s going on in the climate, the temperature drops ten degrees and everyone is just so excited to get out. It’s a really magical moment. My wife and I have taken our child for the last few years; it’s just a great time to be outside, listen to music and have fun with family. We love it.
Is the festival very family oriented?
Very. It’s not a kid forward kind of thing, but they have a kids’ area where parents will know their kids are safe and everyone is very nice. There is rock n’ roll, but it’s not a raging party; it tends to be more of a “well, I’m going to listen to Bela Fleck play quietly for an hour kind” of thing. At nighttime the kids lessen and the adults can let their hair down a bit. The artists are incredible and everyone has a good time.
When people think of a music city, they think Austin, Nashville and Asheville, but Florida and Jacksonville seem to have an emerging vibrant scene as well.
Ten years ago I don’t know if I would have said that, but over the last few years, in the Jacksonville area specifically, there have been big shifts. We were down to one club in the city and Judy Van Zant came forward and invested in the regional music scene, created more venue spaces and purchased some of the festivals. Over the last few years we’ve seen many venues, with additional owners, popping up in the region-evidence of our thriving local music scene.
Unlike some of the struggling larger festivals, where you might try and see 75 acts in one weekend, for the smaller festivals [like Mag Fest] it’s all about taking our time and choosing say, the best forty acts we can find, and being successful with that. Mag Fest exists in this perfect middle ground where we’re not too big or not too small. We draw from 4000-6000 people every year which is just right.
What drew you to and keeps you in Jacksonville?
In 2008 my wife and I made the conscious decision [to settle there]. I’d toured all over the country and world, and we were ready for something else. We looked at Jacksonville and said we don’t live in a great place today, but if we get organized, get involved in the community and help people, in ten years this might be a really great place, so we decided to double down on Jacksonville. Community activism was why we stayed; it was a bit of a gamble, but it looks like it's paying off.
Raised in Montana where she fell in love with country music, Stephanie Quayle has followed her heart pursuing a passion she has had since a young age. Recently, she released her infectious new perfect-for-summer single, “That’s What I’m Talking About.” Stephanie kindly took the time to talk about new music, what’s ahead and feeling like anything is possible.
What drew you to country music and wanting to pursue it professionally?
Growing up in Montana, I spent week days with my mom and weekends with my dad. I was in the barn all the time before and after school; cleaning the stall, doing whatever, you name it. We had AM country radio playing twenty-four hours a day so the music was engrained in me at an early age. What drew me to country music were the stories, where from listening to the first couple lines of a song, you’re in and want to see what happens. I equate country songs with three minute movies; you get to go through a whole wild ride with the artist in one song.
I knew that I was going to do music since I was sixteen or seventeen, before that I didn’t know it was possible. When I was sixteen, I raised enough money to go to an exchange program in Switzerland for my junior year of high school….which was my way of running away legally (laughing)! I auditioned to be the singer for a band there which became my first real taste of knowing that this is something that I can do. I fell in love with the whole process; from writing to rehearsals to performing and recording. I knew this would be my life. I didn’t know how it would happen, but I think that when you have passion and determination you’ll find your way even if you have to take a few side steps.
It has been five years since Jonathan Tyler and his band (formerly known as The Northern Lights) released the well received Pardon Me. On August 7th, Tyler's long awaited, and eagerly anticipated, new album, Holy Smokes was released in partnership with Thirty Tigers. Brimming with a funky, bluesy, rocky vibe, the album is Tyler sonically unfiltered and lyrically personal. In advance of the release, Tyler kindly took the time to talk about the album, it's varied and personal nature, and more.
We last spoke prior to the tour with Butch Walker. Now that is has concluded, how did it go?
It was very cool. His fans were very welcoming. There were nights where it felt tough though; playing acoustic for forty-five minutes for an audience, where most of the people had never heard of me, could be brutal, but I think they were pretty cool to me. I remember New York, it felt good, but because of the size of the room I didn’t feel like I connected with the audience as much as some of the other places. It was still a really good show……and sometimes my interpretation of how things are going and how the show is really going is based upon things happening in my own head as opposed to things that are really happening, if you know what I mean.
Yep, I can totally relate that.
So, the record. Holy Smokes, what an appropriate title. It is a mighty fine album. Is that why you named it that, because you knew that’s what people would say when they listened?
(Laughing) Well, I think anything that’s good poetry has several interpretations. The record has multiple aspects for me. I felt like Holy Smokes is how it felt to finally get the record finished and out, because making a record is such a process. On top of that, I also like the spiritual reference, the holy part. It sticks out in a visual way for me too. It’s one of those things that I felt like you don’t really forget. I like it.
It’s definitely memorable, as is the record, it has such an atmosphere, it swallows you up, in a good way.
That’s great, I mean, I definitely wanted it to be one of those things where people could take one song and listen to it, but then if you’re like me, I like to pop in a cd or a put on a vinyl and listen to it all the way through. So yeah, I’m glad it works that way for you too.
Previously, you mentioned that you were listening to a lot of ambient meditational music. That influence can be heard on the record, but there is also rock, blues and others as well. Was there anything else that you were listening to that influenced the record's varied sound?
J.J. Cale was a big influence on this album and ZZ Top on the tunes that are more rock. Townes van Zandt too, not necessarily his sound, but the themes in his songs. Also Ennio Morricone, who does the music for Sergio Leoni movies and Spacemen 3, who are a more spiritualized psychedelic blues band. I listen to so many bands and a lot of obscure ones, but when I go into the studio I try and be open minded about what a song needs. I don’t want to be too much like anybody, but I definitely learn things from other people.
The record definitely has a distinct sound.
What, if anything, do you want people take away from the record when they listen?
Well, I think this is just the "not from concentrate" version of what we do. There was nobody there to tell us how to be or what to do. We had experience and were able to make the decisions we wanted to make and the record we wanted to make. I’m happy those other two records came out, but this feels like the base of my sound. This is us uncut, so it feels like it’s the first one.
We wanted to be able to listen to it and be proud of it. We wanted to be able to look our friends in the eye when we handed the record to them and be proud of it. A lot of times we give them a record and say “sorry about this or that, we didn’t have the budget for it.” This is first one where there are no excuses and we’re really happy about it.
Are all of the songs fairly new or ones you had in your pocket?
All of the songs are new. There were a few riffs I had for a long time that I hadn’t found a song for, like the song with Ray Wylie Hubbard, but all of them were written since Pardon Me was put out. Some I wrote myself, others were co-writes with friends of mine.
So where do you draw from when you are writing? Is it personal experience, from those around you or something totally different?
They’re all personal songs, some are heavier and some are lighter, but they’re all personal. The easiest way for me to write is to write about myself. I want to get into writing stories with characters that aren’t necessarily real, but haven’t done that at this point.
In a piece in Rolling Stone, you mentioned that the duet with Nikki Lane, “To Love Is To Fly” is the only love song on the album. The album though does have quite a few songs that deal with love, but they seem to be more about the search for love and the good and bad aspects of relationships.
When I think of a true love song I think of something like “Someday” by George Harrison; songs like that, beautiful and uplifting. That song [with Nikki] is about two people together; it’s a love song, but still is shrouded by something dark. The other songs are more about the division between two people, falling out of love, rather than people connecting. Love is a big part of life in general, it’s everything. Relationships are where life becomes colorful.
That’s the truth.
One other song I wanted to touch on is, “Hallelujah,” which, as the opening track, seems to give a glimpse into how you feel about music and releasing this record independently.
I had just seen Cool Hand Luke for the first time, so the song started out being about an old school prison chain gang, but it’s about my life too. I studied business in college and felt like a corporate environment was not for me; then being with the label felt like the same thing. I have nothing against a corporate environment, I have a lot of friends that work in one, but it is just not for me; it’s just not a nurturing environment for creative ideas. The song is about busting free and finding salvation in this rat race. Let’s get rich on purpose seems to be so common in the everyday, and there’s nothing wrong with making and having money, but I wanted to find and do the thing that made me happy. If you don’t do what makes you happy, I’d rather be poor. I feel very satisfied and fulfilled doing what I love and chasing my dreams.
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In a few short years, Canada’s Whitney Rose has learned the guitar, written her first song, made an album and caught the attention of The Mavericks. On August 21st, the singer-songwriter will release her new record, Heartbreaker Of The Year, on Cameron House Records (via Redeye Worldwide). Infused with a decidedly old school feel, the album includes eight self-penned tracks as well as two covers that showcase Rose’s influences. Prior to the release, Rose graciously took the time to speak about her roots, as well as the album, including some stories behind the songs and more.
You grew up in Canada in a household where the music of Hank Williams, and old school pop like the Ronettes, was played. While a lot of kids listen to what their parents play, most eventually veer off and find their own style of music that they like. So, what drew you to this style of music, and what kept you there?
Good question. I think it’s the simplicity. I have always been, and still am, very much drawn to simplicity in all aspects of life. I grew up with my grandparents, who were playing Hank Williams and Kitty Wells. My mom was also in the house, but she played the popular music of day, like Whitney Houston, and I just much preferred what my grandparents were playing. I think that when music started to progress it became more complicated, and I didn’t like that. I like actual musicianship, not music being played by a computer. I can take it even further than that with say, chord progression. I like a good ole four chords, that’s enough for me. So yeah, I think my inclination towards that music is due to the simplicity of it.
Being that you were drawn to music early on, was it something that you have always wanted to pursue professionally?
I was singing my whole life, but I wasn’t gifted my first guitar until five or six years ago, and I didn’t attempt writing music until that point. I’ve been to five different universities, but never studied music. I’m a little bit of a nomad, moving around Canada and pursuing an undergraduate degree. I initially went to school for journalism, but soon found out that was not for me, and then I studied literature for most of my pathetic undergrad pursuits (laughing).
When I was gifted my first guitar, things really changed for me. I was doing a Judy Garland tribute show in Niagara Falls, and the producer took me to a Christmas party where Bob Egan, the pedal steel player from Canadian band Blue Rodeo, was providing the entertainment. A bunch of people there knew I was a singer and encouraged me to get up in between sets and sing a few songs, which I did. After that, Bob approached me and asked if he could have a recording of things I’d written. At that point, I had never even really contemplated writing my own stuff, so I told him that I didn’t have anything. He told me to write five songs and call him when I did; so that's what I did. We made a little EP together that has never seen the light of day, but from there, things really progressed. So I have Bob Egan to thank for me starting to write music.