Anyone who has attended one of this season’s music festivals and been lulled into the mind-numbing sameness of some performers will want to buckle up before Mayfield blasts onto the stage. Not only is his music a high-powered, joyous Americana with a dollop of rock, but Mayfield’s bouncing enthusiasm”jumping into the crowd, prodding them to join him in song”is beyond infectious. Think a Jack Black persona with first-rate Americana folk rock and you’re on the right track. Perhaps that’s why Mayfield is about the only person who may be surprised at his success, which includes recently raising double the cash he sought to fund his next album.
“I had no idea the first one would be so well received,” said Mayfield of his first album. “I’ve had lots of fans tell me that they proposed while listening to “Breathe of Love” or walked down the aisle while it was playing. I feel like it’s almost out of my hands now. I talked to [the Avett Brothers’] Seth Avett and he told me at some point, you will write something from a personal place and people will relate to it and it will become theirs, too.”
In a way, Mayfield has become part of the Avett success story, as well. It was the Avett Brothers”Scott and Seth”who “discovered” him when he was touring as the bassist for his sister Jessica Lea Mayfield. Soon Mayfield, who also wrote songs for Cadillac Sky, was sitting in with the Avetts at Bonnaroo and Merlefest. Not that the musical path has been completely smooth even for Mayfield, who was born into such a musical family and has found support among A-list musicians.
One reason Mayfield calls his group a “Parade” is that players tend to come and go. Sure everyone wants to play at such high-profile gigs as DelFest, which Mayfield and his players did after accepting a personal invitation from bluegrass great Del McCoury, but when the bar gigs roll around some players tend to drop out. But that doesn’t stem Mayfield’s enthusiasm in writing and performing his original songs not to mention an occasional cover or sitting in with Luther Dickinson or other A-list performers.
As Williams worked, trying to ensure the fan didn’t fall into the ice, the group began brotherly ribbing about the trip to the DelFest site in Cumberland, Maryland, their music, and their families. Sure, there were almost 10,000 fans lined up to see the McCoury family, Keller Williams, Railroad Earth, Leftover Salmon, and other bluegrass royalty play, but an onlooker would never know it from the casual camaraderie of the Williams and the McCoury band. The musicians were clearly as comfortable as if they were going to just jam with friends, which in a way they were.
“Bluegrass has always been a part of my show,” said Williams when asked what led him to record the just-released album Pick”with the Travelin’ McCourys. “There are different types of music that burn in my head”like jazz, electronica”but it circles back.”
Fair enough. There’s a reason that Williams is known as a one man jam band, after all. One has difficulty summoning other musicians who move quite as easily among divergent formats”bluegrass to folk to rock to reggae and beyond”and playing it all with the ease of a multi-instrumental virtuoso with the joy of a fan, both titles that he holds. Indeed, Williams’ sets at DelFest, named after the much-loved and honored bluegrass stalwart Del McCoury, ranged from some of his classic hits to bluegrass tunes to “Hot Stuff” in tribute to the recently-deceased disco queen Donna Summer.
Known individually as Brenley MacEachern and Lisa MacIsaac, the duo has won an array of awards and has ardent fans throughout their native Canada, in Europe, and beyond. Yet the two are just now making a name for themselves in the U.S. An unexpected illness forced the duo to cancel the last two dates of the U.S. tour behind their latest album The Good in Goodbye, but the pair hope to be back in American clubs soon.
“We haven’t toured in the U.S. very often in the 13 years we have been playing together,” said MacEachern citing work permits and other red tape that has kept them away. “Now we have more of a focus on the States and that’s great. Our music shouldn’t be a struggle in the States; it’s kind of got an Americana feel.”
Although that’s true, the music clearly also has international appeal as underscored by the many fans” especially from Germany”that fly to Canada, the U.S. and elsewhere, to catch Madison Violet shows. Perhaps that’s not surprising when you consider the judges, including Elton John, Wyclef Jean and Mary J. Blige, that chose Madison Violet as the 2009 Grand Prize Winners of the John Lennon Songwriting Contest. The duo are the first Canadians to win the award.
While the prize certainly bolstered the group’s confidence in their own abilities, they still see a long road ahead as they work to establish their names in the States. The joy for them is that fans are fans and seem to have similar responses to their music, wherever they play. If they can just get before a crowd, as they did on Memorial Day weekend at DelFest, chances are they’ll win converts.
Let me note that it’s probably not cool to use myself as an example, but I’m guessing that a lot of folks wonder if the musical joy they experienced as kids can be recaptured. After attending this year’s DelFest during Memorial Day in Cumberland, Md., I have to believe it can.
I had originally intended to let Del McCoury tell you about DelFest, that just wrapped up its fifth season and is busting at the seams with attendees (the area’s local newspaper reports expansion plans are underway). We’ll let you hear from Del, of course, but after reading the non-stop CMA Fest coverage, the Bonnaroo dispatches, and the excellent Kindle single “The Same Coachella Twice” by Sean Howell, I thought some personal perspective might be useful, too.
Let’s start with some background about McCoury, who was a legend before the title was handed out like flyers advertising a tent sale. McCoury was first the banjo player, then lead singer and rhythm guitarist for Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys. We could go on and on about his career, which he put on hold for more than a decade so he could be close to home and help raise his family. Highlights include a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Endowment of the Arts, membership in both the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and the Grand Ol’ Opry, and that’s just for starters. You likely get the point.
Or part of it.
The real point is that although he’s a hero to many musicians”Bruce Springsteen, Jon Fishman of Phish, Paul Stanley of KISS”he has never chased musical trends. And from what musicians tell me, McCoury never held those who did in contempt. Instead, he takes enjoyment and inspiration from all music, including that which he wouldn’t play.
The band’s 2011 album with Steve Martin Rare Bird Alert went to No. 1 on Billboard’s Bluegrass Chart and won a GRAMMY Award nomination. The band’s 2010 album Deep in the Shade stayed in Billboard’s Top 10 Bluegrass chart for eighteen weeks. Headlining gigs at MerleFest, Bonaroo and other high profile events have followed.
Now the band is set to join with Martin again when it co-headlines DelFest, named for founder and bluegrass legend Del McCoury, the annual bluegrass extravaganza on Memorial Day Weekend in Cumberland, Maryland.
Although other events with Martin will follow, the band’s main focus this year is touring behind its just-released album Nobody Knows You.
Steep Canyon Rangers guitarist and lead vocalist Woody Platt took time out of his jam-packed schedule to talk to OurStage about the past year and just where Steep Canyon Rangers is headed in the near future.
OS: It had to be great working with Steve Martin and playing all the high profile events you’ve done in the past year or so. How did you work in a new record, too?
WP: We had great success with Steve and we wanted to follow that up with a solo record from us. The exposure we got through Steve was great but we also want to work on just our own music. When we’re traveling, we are usually out ten to twelve days in a row and sound check isn’t until about 4:30 so we had some time [to write, demo and otherwise develop the album]. We worked very hard on it last year. Charles [R. Humphrey III, the bassist) and Graham [Sharp, the banjo player] are very, very serious about songwriting and very good at it, so they worked on [the new songs] all the time.