I have the honor of going to an inclusive event this weekend in the land of Boone, NC. It’s an idea Beth Carroll came up with after realizing there’s a lack of women’s musical retreats in the area. Carroll and her partner say they were inspired to create the North Carolina festival after touring other similar events. The slogan that is being thrown about is, “For women, by women, but all souls are invited.”
Many inspiring female artists with grace the stage as well as vend their arts and healing arts of all forms. Among the performers are Joan Osborne, Meshell Ndegeocello, Rising Appalachia and local favorites, The Swayback Sisters. Beth Says, “We have a vision of inclusivity for this festival,” she said. “We were trying to highlight that on our materials, that this is a music and art festival for women and by women, but it is for everyone. We purposefully also put together a diverse line-up, racially, sexual identification, all of the ways we could think to communicate that message that we embrace diversity and want to be inclusive.”
The Swayback Sisters are an all-female, close harmony trio based out of Asheville. They are a perfect representation of old-school country soul. They dabble in Appalachian-style folk ballads, and dirty acoustic blues. They draw heavily on old school, and pay loving homage to musicians such as Memphis Minnie, Ola Belle Reed, and Bessie Smith. Their show was a bridge from the past to the future, with one foot firmly planted in the here and now. The trio switches instruments after virtually, every song. Trading back and forth from banjo, acoustic guitar and stand-up bass, the band says, “Some bands do yoga or pilate’s- we trade instruments.” The trio also has select older standards and re-vamped covers in their repertoire such as accapella versions of old Appalachian folk songs side by side with popular hits done the Swayback way. Laura Blackley says, “You can’t get nothing out of your art if it don’t sting you a little bit in the process. That’s my philosophy on writing songs. I’ve been writing songs and stories since I was 5 years old. I’ve been doing it as a job for the past 15 years. I specialize in love and murder ballads, ghost stories, and done-somebody-wrong songs. I love the blues, rock and roll, and country music and you can tell it when you listen to my records.” This songstress has toured extensively in the Southeast supporting her 3 self-released albums. While she’s not playing gigs or harvesting honey, she is hosting her show, Southern Sirens on 88.7’s WNCW. Cary Fridley combines a musical mixture of roots, folk, and soul. She brings a refreshing twist to the often mundane and repetitive styles of the present music industry. Using her savvy lyrical sense, she paints her interpretation of life onto her audience as if they were the wet canvas on which she worked. Their show was an empowering hour of female talent.
I was able to talk to Laura Blackley of The Swayback Sisters this past week about the upcoming festival.
AVJ- I caught you ladies a while back at The Grey Eagle and I fell in love with your sound. I’m happy to be talking to you!
Laura- Oh cool! The CSE benefit we did! (“The Love Offering: A Benefit for CSE– Campaign for Southern Equality) That’s great!
AVJ- First off, where did you ladies meet?
Laura- Well, Carrie and I have been in a band together for several years. We all knew who Mary Ellen was. I guess just being a part of the Asheville music scene for so long we all just knew each others work.
AVJ- Where did the name The Swayback Sisters come from?
Laura- I thought of that name a while back. I really just thought it sounded cool. It does have implications of a horse. Kinda like a horse being too old and being put out in the pasture. That’s what the music industry does to some people but now that things are changing there’s a whole new paradigm of reason that you really don’t have to adhere to that modeling anymore. I guess it’s kinda a statement or testimonial to that.
AVJ- Where do the songs that you play come from? I know you play a lot of country ballads and acoustic blues is there a collaboration when you write songs or is there a main songwriter in the group?
Laura- As far as quantity of material, right now, I’m the main songwriter but I guess it’s because I’ve been in the band the longest. Carrie and Mary Ellen write. The biggest thing is finding what’s appropriate for The Swayback’s. Carrie is well-versed in a lot of old timely songs and I like the historical element as well. I love unearthing new tunes that no one plays anymore. I kinda feel like, if more radio stations across the country started doing that it might make them interesting again. People don’t really want to hear the same 10 songs every hour, coast to coast and I like show definitely doesn’t do that.
AVJ- You host Southern Sirens on WNCW, which is fitting for this weekend. Is it hard to not promote The Swayback Sisters? It’s all just so fitting!
Laura- Oh you know I’d love to promote us. It’s kinda apples and oranges ya know? I try to keep the two persona’s separate. There’s room for everybody. It just wouldn’t be fair.
AVJ- Are you excited about the Siren Mountain Jam coming up this weekend?
Laura- Yes! Extremely excited! We had no idea. This is the first year of it and we’re excited to be going!
AVJ- Who are you excited to see this weekend?
Laura- Yeah, the lineup looks stellar. I definitely excited to see the headliners. Joan Osbourne, Michelle Ndegeocello but I’m also looking forward to checking out the more indie sets early in the day to see what’s brewing in the North Carolina scene.
AVJ- What are some of the other festivals you’ve played already this Spring/Summer?
Laura- We played LEAF (Lake Eden Arts Festival), French Broad River Festival. We’re also getting ready to do the Hendersonville Rhythm and Brews and we’re going to do Bele Chere, which it sounds like it’s going to be the last one.
Laura left me with the news that The Swayback Sisters have a new album out called “The City and The Country. It gets its name from the locations it was recorded one half in the city and one half in the country. They are out spreading their joyous sounds so catch them this Summer and pick up their new album at http://swaybacksisters.com/
Also check out Siren Mountain Jam at http://www.sirenmountainjam.com/