Friday, July 21, 2006

the everybodyfields.

Johnson City, Tenn. has long been a place where a person could, without much trying, find enough Appalachian Music to make content the twangiest of hillbilly hearts. Venues like the Down Home, and festivals like the Blue Plum and, just down the road a piece, the Covered Bridge all welcome world-class Appalachian musicians and bands. Many of those very musical masters make their homes in the gentle foothills of upper East Tennessee. It is safe to say that Johnson City is a bastion of Appalachian music.

Out of this place comes the everybodyfields, a unique bluegrass/folk outfit that is busily gathering loyal fans with each new stop and record sold. If you have ever wondered where Appalachian music goes when even its most progressive branches start to seem tired and worn out, the everybodyfields is a good place to start looking. The listener enjoys a unique duality in the everybodyfields. With each lingering note, haunting harmony, or crushing crescendo they are both old time, and entirely fresh. Rather than being simply progressive for the sake of modernizing an older sounding music, ala New Grass Revival or Acoustic Syndicate, the everybodyfields maintain the earthy twang that is the most recognizable feature of real Appalachian music. Still they explore themes to which the modern listener can relate personally, all wrapped in a lyrical slideshow of sepia-toned imagery.

Sam Quinn and Jill Andrews anchor the everybodyfields, trading off vocals and sharing harmonies. Aside from the lead pair, there have been other incarnations of their fabulous line-up, which always features a guitar, bass, dobro or lap steel guitar, sometimes fiddle, and even lately a swinging country electric guitar. The mix is immediately recognizable to the ear as southern Appalachian string country music. It is at times slightly honky-tonk, but it draws listeners in for closer inspection, rather than sending them out in search of booze and fast women. It’s more of a swing than a line dance, more aching melancholic sorrow than cry-in-your-beer lonesome.

On Wednesday the everybodyfields brought their current line-up through Knoxville in the midst of a summertime crisscrossing of the nation. They made two stops. First, they played a live appearance on WDVX’s Blue Plate Special, a live noontime radio show broadcast from the stage in their Gay Street studio. For seasoned everybodyfielders, it was a fantastic preview of what the group can do with different instruments. For most in Knoxville familiar with the group, word that they had added electric guitar raised eyebrows. Judging from the whoops and hollers at their second show later that night at Barley’s Taproom and Pizzeria, most agree the new line-up is fantastic.

The everybodyfields are an odd gathering of differences. Sam, the chief songwriter for the everybodyfields, is a skinny half-bearded character, complete in awkward Napoleon Dynamite-looking attire. To his left stands Jill, a vision fit for the swankiest debutante ball. The newest members of the group are Megan McCormick on lead and lap steel guitars, an Alaskan that sports a mohawk and adds chilling country tones to Quinn’s ballads. Finally Emma O’Donnell on fiddle very unassumingly brings a powerful punch to each tune, adding volume and depth to their sound.

There was a time when seeing a performance of the everybodyfields meant adhering to one rule: Be quiet. The group, formerly a trio, played a shy, hushed show that at times was barely audible above clanking beer bottles and the occasional kackle from the audience. That’s no longer the case. The more dynamic line-up has given the everybodyfields a welcome thrust of volume that keeps the entire room focused on the stage, on the four little people up front offering up a big sound.

The everybodyfields held a full room in the palms of their hands Wednesday night at Barley’s. The hippie girls were swing dancing in front of the stage while the drunk guys hollered and yelped every time the songs mentioned Tennessee. Some tapped their feet and bobbed their heads, while others snapped their fingers, grooved their shoulders and mouthed their favorite lyrics. The opening chords to favorites like “T.V.A.” and “Nubbins” generated rousing applause and beer-swilled singalongs. At certain moments, as if they had the crowd under a spell, the band could silence the audience with a particularly aching harmony that cut swiftly through the room, demanding everyone’s attention. As the chord would drift off and give way to a new progression, the room exploded again in applause.

Appalachian music, particularly bluegrass, is a musical form that lends itself to improvisation and interpretation. Since its invention halfway through the last century, those that have played it have sought out new directions for bluegrass mountain music. The everybodyfields offer something new for fans of Appalachian music that sounds eerily like the old. Buy their recordings for sure, but see them live and it’s likely the everybodyfields will put a smile on your face so wide it could very well compromise the God-given placement of your ears.

Update: the everybodyfields are playing in Johnson City tonight (07/22/06), at the legendary Down Home Eclectic Music Room. If you're anywhere near, go! Take cash, no cards.


cechols said...


I'm pleasantly surprised to see a post about The Everybody Fields. Not that they don't absolutely deserve the press, but just because I somehow thought they'd be too obscure for anybody else to have heard of. What was I thinking?

My brother introduced me to TEF quite a while ago. They play in JC at a coffee house he's a regular at, and Ben's become good friends with them. He gave me their CD.

I love their delicate, sometimes haunting melodies. And the fact that they sing about where we grew up is even more endearing.

Thanks for sharing this, man. I feel a little ashamed that you beat me to it. Heh.

Our Goblin Market said...

This was a great post and give me yet another band to get into.


Anonymous said...

I've heard of this band, but I've never heard their music. Yeah, definitely a fan now. I love their sound. It's an understatement to say it's better than most of the crap you hear on commercial radio. Awesome post, John.


J. Michael Mason said...

Thanks for the post. I found a couple of their albums on iTunes and I'm hooked!

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