Music is a powerful force.? It takes us back to vital moments in our lives, gives us the backdrop of reflection, derives emotion and ultimately becomes the soundtrack of our lives.? Over centuries of musical evolution, sounds have changed and pioneers have paved the way for new ways of communicating life experience.? From classical to rap, dance to heavy metal, music is here to tell a story, interpret, commentate and record.
“Welcome to the Church of Gangstagrass”
?On Sunday, Charleston, South Carolina was introduced to the fusion sound of hip hop bluegrass when Philadelphia based Gangstagrass took the stage at the Charleston Pour House.
During the first two songs, the amped up crowd was ready to dance, but they didn’t quite know how to accept this new sound fusing the traditional Southern harmonies of bluegrass with the raw lyrical power of hip hop.? When they played “Man of Constant Sorrow” as their third selection, that all changed.
The crowd continued to dance, with a new sense of engagement with the band, waving their hands and losing themselves in the music.? Later in the set, a second roar erupted as so many realized a band they had not known, but one hour prior was responsible for the theme song to the Fox cult series, Justified (“Long Hard Times To Come”).
To our left, we heard the scream, “Raylan” from the audience and if there were any doubters before that, it was clear, Gangstagrass had captured a new fan base here in Charleston.
With the tunes “Rambling On” and “Put Your Hands Up High”, the audience hits peaks in their energy and participation and put the show in sixth gear.
Prior to the set, I spoke candidly to Dan Whitener, banjo and vocals.? We chimed in on fusion, musical pioneers, radio air play, collaborations, influences and the changing landscape of the music industry.
Supporting Local Fans
?In an unusual act of kindness, a fan of music and the local Charleston Pour House fan community purchased 10 CD’s, laid them out right in front of the stage during the first set and motioned the band to sign them.? If the audience was a bit confused, I could only imagine the band who finishing up their first set.? They obliged at the break, signing all the CD’s along with taking pictures with fans.
After a few songs and two people cautiously taking a CD each, the band announced that these signed CD’s were up for grabs courtesy of a kind stranger.
What does this sound mean?
?Combining the genres of Hip Hop and Bluegrass does pose its challenges for popular radio air play, but it also opens the door of possibility with this breakthrough sound.? Rolling Stone referred this as “Hik-Hop”, not a favorite term of the band’s, but a way to categorize.
I prefer to say the way Jean-Luc Ponty turned a violin into a jazz instrument and play accompanied by an orchestra and the Asian influence Abigail Washburn brought to the mandolin while singing in Mandarin, Ganstagrass is going to turn the music world upside with rapping to a bluegrass band.
We also spent some time thinking during the two-set performance on what the deeper and more important meanings this new music is saying to us.
In a way, this fused sound is North Meets South; Black Meets White and equality meets human existence in a sound that is filled with messages of love, pain, survival and community.
Gangstagrass rolled into Charleston for the first time and gave the local community something special.? Their Southern harmonies filled with banjo, guitar and fiddle blended with raw lyrics of meaningful hip hop, brought a level of energy that made for a memorable evening.
The spirited sounds of R&B and Blues singer, songwriter and guitarist Samantha Fish are coming to the Charleston Pour House this Saturday.? Earning the #1 Blues Album the Billboard Blues Chart, putting out her sixth and seventh studio albums in 2017, and bringing a unique rock and roll style stage show to fans around the world, Samantha has only begun to see the potential of her talents.? Shortly after checking into her hotel somewhere in the rolling mountains of Western Virginia, I spend some time on the phone talking about her tour, roots and her civic responsibility as a visible and powerful female ambassador.
With the heart pounding rock style, reminiscent of legends Pat Benatar and Joan Jett and the deep soulful voice channeling the likes of Amy Winehouse, Samantha has been winning fans since she set out to pursue her musical dreams as a teenager.? Scoring a VMA, Number 1 Billboard Album and 8 albums, Samantha has been so busy, she may not even realize the success that is right in front of her.
From shy beginnings to an evolutionary change that has resulted in a retro look, short hair and vocals that can blow through a concert hall, this small-town Kansas City area girl has come a long way.? Now based in New Orleans, Samantha is fueling off the inspiration of a city with a long history of great musicians.
CD:? You first picked up first guitar when you were 15. ?Was there a defining moment when you knew?
SF: “I started on drums and then guitar, but I couldn’t sing.? My first ever time on stage was my defining moment.? I was so shy growing up.? I was a shy kid.? I could hardly talk, but loved music.? I was forced on stage at 17 and that changed me.? I changed my plans and at that point, I wanted to be a live performer.? Every record put out feels like a turning point and every album is a defining piece of my musical legacy.”
One of Samantha’s biggest breaks occurred when she landed on the Girls with Guitars Tour running dates through the United States and Europe.? This gave her exposure to much bigger and often sold out audiences and let her spread her wings and experiment with new sounds.? It also awakened her to the power of the audience and the fan base.
CD:? With a VMA, #1 Billboard Blues Album, 7 Studio Albums and 1 Live Album since 2011, are you where you want to be at this point?
SF: “You have to get out of your head a little bit and see the progress sometimes.? Being on the road, you don’t often have time to stop and see what is around you.? I need to slow down and see what I have accomplished.? I am blessed.? You get stuck in the day to day sometimes.”
CD:? Your clothing is an important part of your image:? Is it an extension of yourself or the sound?
SF: “I feel like having a whole package.? Everything needs to come together, the music, the style and the stage presence.? I always appreciated vintage style.? I didn’t know how to
dress when I was younger, so now, committing to something more iconic is important to me.? I make a statement with my music, so I should with my make-up and clothes as well.”
CD: Who is Samantha Fish beyond the stage presence and the guitar?? What is the personal side of you??
SF: “That is a complicated question. I am reserved in my personal life.? I have a few personal friends.? I am close with my family.? We are so active on tour so when we get off the road, I try to do remove myself, but being in New Orleans there is so much to do making that difficult.? Now I am working to put down roots and focus on what I want to say in my next album.? Music is my life.? I want to stay inspired.? Also, I like girl stuff like shopping and I have a cat.”
CD: What inspires your sound?
SF:? Traveling inspires me.? I spend a lot of time starring at the highway driving between shows.? When you are a traveling musician, you have a bubble you live in and that becomes your universe and that is inspiring as well.? I like to write about feelings a lot.”
CD: What is your pre-concert routine, if you have one?
SF: “Yeah, yeah, yeah definitely.? When I was a teen I started on drums and then guitar.? That is also when I started singing.? It wasn’t a natural thing for me and I took lessons for years and years.? I do these annoying abrasive vocal warmups before a show. ?It bothers everyone, but often, we have so little time before a show when we arrive at the venue, that the routine is short.”
CD: Nina Simone seems to a quite an influence on you, can you expand?
SF: “She is one of the deepest musical artists to come out of the United States.? She is deep.? Her lyrics, her fashion.? She is iconic.”
CD:? You speak so complimentary about your fans and I love that.? What do you want new fans that have never seen you live to take away from your shows?
SF” “When I was a teenager playing clubs, I remember how other artists and fans treated me.? They support me and stood by me.? Sometimes their dedication is more important than the music.? It is their kindness that keeps me going.? Music is a great connector.? We are all going through something in our lives.? If I can connect with people, then that is my job”
CD:? Have you always been an old soul?
SF: (Laughing) “Some say I am immature.? It depends how well you know me.? Growing up, I didn’t connect to people my age as much as I should have.? I grew up hanging with my dad’s drinking buddies.? Their stories were so much better and they played music and instruments too.? They were a big influence for me.”
CD:? What is Samantha Fish’s big dream?
SF: “When I started playing, I never imagined going this far.? Now that I am here, now that I got from A to B, the impossible is now possible.? You can’t settle for being content.? Once you are content you stop moving forward.? I still have that desire to go forward.”
SF: “I love rocking out” The core that got me into music in the first place is rock and roll and while I still have the energy to do it, I am going to.? I see the new album being tougher.? I will know more when I get to the studio and start playing.? I am with a newer and bigger band.? With a bigger band, it is more challenging than the trio I played with in the past.? In this new band, we are mixing horn and fiddle and this was a newer concept.? They are two spectrum instruments.? The first album in 2017 was R&B and the second Americana, so we needed to figure a way to make this all happen together.? Making the sounds fit was fun for us.? That is part of the reason I moved to New Orleans because of the wealth of musical talent.”
CD:? Being a powerful leading female vocalist in this current social climate, do you feel you have an obligation to your fans and the music industry to represent empowerment?
SF:? I have gone through phases in my life as I began to play music.? When I started, I didn’t want people to see me just as a woman.? A female playing guitar was like a gimmick or novelty.? It happens to women in all kinds of industries.? I wanted it to be about the music.? In the last couple of years, with all that is changed socially and politically, I have felt the sting in the industry.
I feel a responsibility to the female fans who are rocking out in front of us when we play.”
Music truly is the soundtrack of our lives.? It lends poetry to the moments that define us and adds drama to those who need it in their lives. If not already, Samantha Fish should be a part of your personal soundtrack. So, do yourself a favor and make it out to the Pour House tonight and let her music surround you and lead you to where you need to be, even if only for a couple of hours.
Nashville singer-songwriter Sean McConnell will release an acoustic version of his acclaimed self-titled album titled?Undone?available through Rounder Records on September 8th. The set includes one new song, a duet with Lori McKenna titled “Nothing on You” that debuted on?Rolling Stone Country?and video on?The Bluegrass Situation.
Sean McConnell performs at Charleston Pour House on Sunday, September 24th
With an impressive mix of mainstream heavyweights, pop stars and Americana stalwarts cutting his songs, his 2016 Rounder Records eponymous debut found Sean McConnell “come into his own,” says?No Depression. “The type of country artist we all want more of on the radio… a skilled songwriter turned performer.”
When asked why it deserved an acoustic revisit, McConnell doesn’t hesitate. “The main reason is I’ve just always known I wanted to have an acoustic version of these songs ready for people to hear,” he says. “It’s the kind of collection that really calls for it. I could hear it in my head the whole time, that this record had a second life in a different soundscape.”
Sean McConnell performs at The Heights Theater on Saturday 8/12. Would you be interested to preview the show? Photos and interviews available.