2014 Triad Music Festival In Review

The weekend of the 16th-19th saw the end of the third annual Triad Music Festival in Winston-Salem. The festival is the vision of Liz May, owner of SoundLizzard Productions. This year’s event ran from January 16th-19th and saw the addition of several new shows across the musical spectrum. I had the joy of attending many of these shows myself.

Day 1 of the festival started Thursday night with a kick off party at The Community Arts Café’s Carolina Tap Room. The Carolina Tap Room is one of Winston’s best kept secrets. Offering 12 rotating North Carolina craft brews on tap with plans to expand to 24 in the near future. It’s in the heart of downtown and usually has live music echoing through the large space.

After consuming a few choice beverages the party moved downstairs to the Community Arts Café’s Underground Theatre. This space is arguably the best listening room in the Triad. Tonight it was hosting the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI) Winston-Salem chapter duos and trios in the round. The NSAI group is no stranger to putting on a quality show featuring great local songwriting talent, but this was unique in that it focused solely on duo and trio acts. Round 1 saw the duo of local talents Khiana Meyer & Josh Shelton and the musical group JJ Blue. It was fun to hear their contrasting style as JJ Blue was rooted in a traditional country sound while Meyer & Shelton embraced a contemporary country sound. Both groups did their songs justice. Round 2 brought the energetic country sounds of Martin Buchanen and the Borrowed Band to the stage along with a tribute act in honor of late local songwriter Allen Denny. The Allen Denny tribute act consisted of the shows host, Dan Dockery, with Mike Hayes & Jim Tedder. Watching songwriters pay tribute to a friend and fallen songwriter was one of the most moving events of the festival. All acts represented their material well.

Day 2 of the Triad Music Festival moved the excitement to The Garage for an Indie Rock Show. I was not familiar with the bands on the line-up for this show, so I went to the show not knowing what to expect. Up first was show opener Brandon Kelley. His voice reminded me of an acoustic Gavin DeGraw. It was an impressive vocal that I considered myself fortunate to have seen. Up next was the Lauren Light Band. They reminded me of Kelly Clarkson with attitude. They sat comfortably in the pocket of pop-rock and Laurens voice reaches out and commands your attention. I was impressed with their covers but became a fan because of their originals. Closing the show was local rock band Gulley. This event was extra special for the band and for the band’s followers because this show marked the release of their new album “Salem”. I felt a little like an outsider because it became apparent standing along the back wall of the Garage that I was the only person in the building who was not familiar with the band. They had a large loyal following that ate up every bit of new music the band gave to them. Song after song, Gulley delivered. By the end of the show, I was no longer a stranger in the back, I felt like part of the family.

Day 3 came early with a lunchtime songwriter acoustic show at Foothills Brewing. The event was hosted by Tim Beeman of The Less Desirables Podcast. The Less Desirables is North Carolina’s only pop culture podcast; covering an expansive array of topics, featuring movies, new music, TV, the latest sports news, technology, all washed down with a “Beer of the Week.” Each songwriter played 3-4 songs while fielding interview questions from Beeman. First up was the haunting melodies of Morgan McPherson. I was impressed with this young ladies powerful songwriting. She was followed by Doug Davis. Davis’ name had been mentioned in my writer circles, but this was my first opportunity to hear him play. Needless to say, he blew me away! Following Davis was the newcomer duo, Shiloh Hill. Shiloh Hill is Nick Wes Hofstetter and Lauren Light. While listening to their impeccable harmonies, I couldn’t help but think that their combined voices had the power to give a fairy back her wings and bring about world peace. I expect big things from Shiloh Hill in the future! Closing the evening was Drew Holgate on guitar and Trevor on cajon. He rocked the house with his original tunes and a few covers. I was impressed by his ability to command the attention of the crowd. By the time his set began, a large table of children had been seated a few tables from my own. When Drew played, I saw the children’s toes tapping and heads swaying. Overall, the lunchtime songwriter show was a huge success and I hope it finds its way into next year’s festival.

That evening I had two choices for Triad Music Festival entertainment, the Country Stage show at the Garage or the Main Stage show at the Hanesbrands Theatre. Being a country singer-songwriter myself, I decided to head over to the country stage to see who was bringing the boot scootin’ boogey to town. The Country Stage was co-headlined by Michael Cosner and Sean Mettler. When I got to the Garage, Michael Cosner was warming up. I knew immediately I was in for a treat. Cosner embraces the traditional country sound that I grew up with. It came as no surprise to me to learn that Cosner co-wrote many if not all of the songs on his new album with songwriter and Winston Salem native, Byron Hill. Hill is known for having penned songs for Ray Charles, Alabama, George Strait, Kenny Rogers, Don Williams, John Michael Montgomery, Joe Nichols, Randy Travis, Gary Allan, Tracy Byrd, Doc & Merle Watson, Trace Adkins, Asleep At The Wheel, Dionne Warwick, George Jones, Toby Keith, Gene Watson, Porter Wagoner, Reba McEntire, Sammy Kershaw, Ed Bruce, Gord Bamford, Joe Diffie, Brooks & Dunn, Hank Thompson, Conway Twitty, Mel McDaniel, Rhett Akins, The Oak Ridge Boys, and Colt Ford… to name a few! Add Michael Cosner to that list. There was one birthday lady in the crowd who had driven from Massachusetts just to see him play. He didn’t disappoint; dedicating a Merle Haggard tune to her, followed by a country-fied version of happy birthday. The standout song for me was Cosners “Kickin’ It Down The Road.” After seeing Cosner bring down the house, I was pumped up and ready for Sean Mettler. He did not disappoint! Sean brought his blend of rockin’ modern country to the stage. I have always been impressed with Mettler’s work. He is a 7 foot tall, larger than life, country boy and he brings that larger than life presence to the stage. His set jumped off to a rocking start, playing through many originals while sprinkling in some of your favorite country covers. He slowed things down in the middle to deliver a short acoustic set. I am always a fan of an acoustic interlude because it allows the audience member to better connect to the singer-songwriter and the song itself. After his brief acoustic set, he brought the band back onstage to close out the evening. One of the standout songs for me was “We Don’t Talk About That.” A song he penned with Winston-Salem songwriter, Martin Buchanan, for the organization Stop Soldier Suicide. This organization raises awareness of PTSD and Veteran and Soldier Suicide.

I left the show on a music high. I took that high back to the Carolina Tap Room for the Triad Music Festival After-Party; concluding my night where the weekend began and with another Carolina craft brew! On a non-music related note, I am really digging the White Zombie Ale from the Catawba Valley Brewing Company on tap at the Carolina Tap Room. Light, yet crisp, with an unexpected citrus twist! It was at the after party that I got to meet Main Stage performers, The Becca Stevens Band. The New York Times described Becca Stevens as “a best-kept secret” and called her debut indie release Tea Bye Sea “impressively absorbing.” I selfishly wanted to hear that the main stage missed the mark since I wasn’t able to attend, but the consensus at the after party was that The Becca Stevens Band and show openers Lee and Susan Terry were amazing. SoundLizzard employee Amelia Mau had this to say about the show.

“Winston-Salem front woman Becca Stevens and her band, flown in from New York City, put on a beautiful show for fans, friends and family. Set against a twinkle backdrop in the Hanesbrands Theatre, the group played for more than two hours, sharing Stevens’s original works and stunning takes on covers by Usher and The Smiths. The band is known for their instrumentation (accordion, keyboard, charango, ukulele, guitars, double bass, percussion) non-traditional vocal harmonies, tight sound, and soaring contours on their recorded works. In this impressionable live setting, they delivered a captivating performance that not only showcased their incredible musicianship but gave them an opportunity to banter and interact intimately with their audience. We look forward to hearing this lineup in Winston-Salem again. Opening for the Becca Stevens Band were Lee and Susan Terry, a beloved local duo who have played an intricate part in the Triad folk music scene for years. They carried the audience away with transcendental lyrics from Lee and soaring viola lines from Susan. The evening was a joyful celebration of the wonderful work from all of these talented musicians.” – Amelia Mau

Day 4 had me waking up at the crack of noon to catch the final event of the Triad Music Festival, the Music and Arts Marketplace at the Salem College Elberson Fine Arts Center. A new addition to the Triad Music Festival lineup, the Music and Arts Marketplace hosted sponsor, vendor, and artists tables, a gear swap, a short-film debut and a marketing seminar for artists presented by Across the Horizon, a marketing and communications firm serving Winston-Salem’s music and arts community. It was an interesting and educational way to end my weekend.

The Triad Music Festival met and exceeded my expectations at every turn. Their mission to bring attention to songwriting, songwriters and the original music talent in the Triad mirrors our own here at Songwriter Solutions. It’s what this city needs in terms of musical arts. We have an amazing pool of talent in our backyard and it is nice to see the Triad Music Festival give them a stage to showcase that talent, literally! I hope that as this catches on and proceeds into 2015, the city takes notice and really gets behind this community effort. Hats off to Liz May, all the folks at SoundLizzard Productions, the venues that showcased live original music, the sponsors that made it all possible and last but not least the songwriters and artists themselves!

Triad Music Festival Sponsors:


Chris Smith is a founder of Songwriter Solutions and a singer-songwriter out of Winston-Salem, NC. He fancies himself a student of songwriting and believes we all have something to learn from one another. He's a soldier, a musician, a singer, a songwriter, a blogger, a son, a brother, a husband, and a soon to be father! He prefers the mountains over the beach, dogs over cats, and spinach over brussel sprouts. To connect with Chris, like him on FACEBOOK, follow him on TWITTER, and subscribe to him on YOUTUBE! He can be reached via our Contact Us page.
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