What do you think of when you hear the words “Blue Ridge?” We think of sweet tea and boiled peanuts. Swollen rivers. Rhododendron tunnels. Humid summers. Greens so green they almost glow. Black bears roaming. The patter of rain falling. Swirls of neon orange and hot pink decorating the late evening sky.
And, of course, we think of the foot stompin’, hair raisin’, soulful front porch pickin’ that was born right here in these hills.
That’s where Dave Stallard comes in.
A freelance writer, blogger, and music-finder, Dave has been with us for the last decade of our 20-year-existence, and we can’t imagine this magazine without him. His witty writing and entertaining interviews have introduced big name artists and up-and-coming musicians to our readers’ musical world.
But what about the man behind the scenes? Where did his love of music come from? Does he boogie when he jams? What are some of his favorite artists and interviews? We asked Dave that, and then some, in honor of the man who’s been providing you with free tunes for over ten years. Thanks Dave!
BRO: How long have you been writing our Trail Mix department/compiling the monthly Trail Mix playlist?DS: I have spent the last ten years or so, in some form or fashion, writing about music for BRO. Trail Mix began in 2009, as I was driving home from work and wondering why, after the magazine had spent so much time covering so many great artists, we didn’t have some sort of online playlist. In the past, the magazine had put out a great compilation disc, and it just seemed natural that a monthly playlist would work.
BRO: How was the process of acquiring songs, music, or blog ideas different back then (if it was at all)?
DS: Not much has changed regarding the process of gathering songs for Trail Mix over the last six years. I am constantly looking, reaching out to artists, getting recommendations from friends, and watching social media. I can say, though, that the process has gotten easier, now that Trail Mix has established itself with our listeners and publicists around the country. We are featuring a lot more songs now than back when I started, when it was a struggle to just come up with ten tracks. Now, on a big month, we offer upwards of 30 tunes.
BRO: Who are some of the top artists you’ve interviewed?
DS: I have been fortunate enough to chat with many artists that I admire and respect. Patterson Hood, Tim O’Brien, and Warren Haynes are some biggies that come to mind.
BRO: Who have been some of your favorite interviews?
DS: Getting to chat with Del McCoury was a big treat. The man is a legend in the music world, and I was pretty nervous while dialing the phone. Del proved to be incredibly gracious and thanked me repeatedly for taking the time to talk to him. I also interviewed Rick Miller, of Southern Culture On The Skids, a few years ago. That was a big thrill for me, simply because SCOTS has been one of my favorite bands for over twenty years.
BRO: What new music have you discovered through Trail Mix that now ranks among your favorite artists or tracks?
DS: Goodness. How much time do you have? Each and every month, there are artists that I have never heard before that blow me away. I am lucky in that there are regularly records waiting on me in my mailbox. Much of the time, these records are from artists new to me. A couple names that come to mind are Chris Smither and Andrew Duhon. I had never listened to either of these guys, but now, thanks to discs I got because of Trail Mix, I can’t imagine a musical world without them.
BRO: Why music? Where does your passion come from?
DS: As long as I can remember, I have loved music. I can remember getting my first cassette tapes as a kid – Queen’s The Game and Village People’s Cruisin’. As a kid, I can remember sitting in my room and spinning records or listening to tapes. To this day, specific songs or albums rekindle almost tangible memories. Now, as an adult, I satisfy my musical obsessions with Trail Mix and concert/festival promotions. It’s a serious habit. I might even have a problem. My wife thinks so!
BRO: What do you think makes music from the “Blue Ridge” so unique?
DS: Though we give the region one name, it is home to a disparate variety of music. You have the bluegrass of Appalachia, the Piedmont blues of North Carolina, the blues of the Deep South, and so much more. And, of course, because musicians draw from so many different well springs, those different influences get blended up to create new and exciting sounds. Our region is a musical hotbed, and it is exciting to consider what is going to come next.
BRO: When you sit down to listen to an album for the first time, what’s your standard operating procedure? Special room? Special drink? Your favorite recliner and best pair of headphones?
DS: More often than not, the first time I hear a new record is in my car. My drive to work takes about fifteen minutes, so I often toss in those new discs for the ride. When one hooks me, that record might become my ride to work soundtrack for three weeks. Looking back at the question, though, a special room, complete with recliner, headphones, and drink sounds so much better.
BRO: What have you learned in working with musicians and interviewing artists over the years?
DS: The overwhelming majority of musicians that I have interviewed over the years have been kind and humble people, very much appreciative of the time and attention I am giving their work.
BRO: Can you name 5-10 “highlights” of the music industry over the past 20 years that you think were game-changers?
1) The resurgence of the music festival in the Southeast. Our region, over the last ten to fifteen years, has seen the rise of some of the country’s best music festivals. The Festy, Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion, Floyd Fest, and Red Wing Roots Music Festival are four festivals just here in Virginia that should be on every festival fan’s calendar.
2) Spotify. This digital music provider is somewhat controversial, but it is an amazing way to discover new music. I use it regularly, and for a variety of different purposes — searching out bands for Trail Mix, listening to bands that I might book for a show, or just diving into a record that I don’t own. Of course, with Spotify, the goal is to get out there and buy that music that the service provides for free so the artist sees his just reward.
3) Classic theaters that have been renovated and now host live music. If you haven’t yet been, check out the Jefferson Theater or Paramount Theater in Charlottesville or the Tennessee Theater in Knoxville. These beautiful old buildings fell into disrepair, only to return to their original grandeur and rival music rooms around the world.
4) Home recording technology. As technology advances, more and more artists are able to create professional sounding music from the comforts of home. For evidence, check out Looking Glass, from Chris Pandolfi. This is a stunning record and it was recorded by Chris in his home. Sonically, it stands up to records produced and recorded in big studios.
5) The digital medium. Though audiophiles complain about the quality of the music, there can be no denying that being able to carry your entire music catalog on a device the size of your wallet has been an incredible innovation.
BRO: Do you dance to the music you listen to?
DS: I’m known to boogie down when the music is on, especially while cooking or cleaning the kitchen. Plus, with a seven year old boy and four year old girl in the house, living room dance parties aren’t uncommon.
BRO: Do you have different playlists for different activities?
DS: I am not too particular about matching my music to my activities. Instead, I often end up getting into a genre and spending a lot of time therein. Lately, I have been listening to a lot of blues and jazz, guys like Muddy Waters, Hound Dog Taylor, Son Seals, John Coltrane, and Charlie Parker. I recently finished binging on singer/songwriters, eighties tunes, and old country. I see diving into Elliot Smith soon, too, as he has recently come across my radar.
BRO: Name five things music-related that our readers should do in the 2015 year.
1) Pick up an instrument. Any instrument. You are never too old to learn. I started playing the guitar at age 36. I know a few chords and am not really any good, but I love playing with my son, who is much better than I.
2) Go see an artist you have never heard of. Get out on a limb and give a new musician a chance. More often than not, you will be pleasantly surprised.
3) Shop at a local record store. The staff will be more knowledgeable and interested in your purchase than at a big box. And, most likely, if they don’t have what you want, they will get it for you quickly.
4) Share with a friend a song you love. Personal recommendations go a long with me. If one of my friends digs a track or an artist and they share that with me, I will go check it out.
5) Take a musical vacation. If you live in Virginia, for example, take a cruise along The Crooked Road. Virginia’s music highway is rich with historical venues and incredible music.
BRO: Where do you think the future of music will go? Back to the roots or into more techno-age gadgetry?
DS: I don’t know how much farther, technologically speaking, we can go. With the rise of the digital medium and the ability to take music with you via a phone or iPod, I wonder if we have reached a technological apex. If anything, I think the future of music will revisit the past and witness the rebirth of vinyl, which is experiencing a serious comeback. More and more artists are releasing records on vinyl and older recordings are being regularly rereleased. I think music fans are longing for music they can touch and hold, instead of just bits of digital code transferred over a wire.
While you’re at it, head over to this month’s Trail Mix playlist and download March’s free tunes today! Click here to start jammin’ now.