Eilen Jewell a headliner at annual 'new country' fest
“It was love at first listen,” singer and songwriter Eilen Jewell says of the first time she heard Hank Williams’ “There’s a Tear in My Beer.”
That song, she adds, is “pure, classic country.”
She lists Williams as well as Loretta Lynn, Fred Eaglesmith, Bob Dylan, Lucinda Williams and Billie Holiday as major influences on her music — what she calls “Americana” — a blend of blues, folk, gospel and, of course, her beloved country-western.
Jewell headlines this weekend’s fifth annual West Coast Country Music Festival at Green Springs Inn. Her appearance at 9 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 12, is part of an 11-hour marathon of guitar-fueled melodies, lightening-quick bluegrass licks and danceable rockabilly performed by perennial favorites Caleb Klauder Country Band, Petunia and the Vipers, Honey Don’t and Miss Lonely Hearts.
The celebration of classic country, bluegrass, folk and honky-tonk also features regional groups The Jimmy Pinwheel Band, Rainy and the Rattlesnakes, 33 String Drive and the New Autonomous Folksingers' Sage Meadows, Dave Hampton and Jef Fretwell.
Country-western legend Don Maddox of The Brothers Maddox and Rose fame is guest of honor.
A pre-festival bash kicks things off at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 11, with a quick two-step dance lesson followed by Halden Wofford and the Hi-Beams' blend of Texas-style honky tonk and western swing.
On Saturday, the Creekside String Fiddlers open the festival at noon. During interludes between acts on the main stage, other musicians will have their 20 minutes of fame on the side stage.
To get there, follow Highway 66 east to the Dead Indian Memorial road detour. Continue on the Hyatt Access road to the festival grounds and look for parking signs.
The festival spotlights Modern Roots Foundation’s efforts to bring weekly music instruction and stringed instruments to school-age children across Southern Oregon. Proceeds from the event help fund scholarships.
Jewell's newest, "Sundown Over Ghost Town," was released in 2015, and, she says it is an "unapologetic Western in its lyrical imagery and spirited, sometimes wistful, instrumentation.”
The album of original songs pays homage to her hometown of Boise and the southern Idaho landscape where she roamed as a child.
“I feel like the album is an attempt to describe this place,” she says, “as well as what it has meant to me all my life … the place it holds in my heart.”
Growing up in Boise, Jewell says she didn’t like country music.
Instead, she preferred listening to '50s and '60s rockabilly and hip girl groups. Her father’s collection of blues and jazz records, she says, got her through her high school years as a “malcontent.”
The so-called “country music” of the '80s and '90s, she adds, “sounded just like the mainstream, shallow pop” playing elsewhere on the radio.
When she heard Williams’ lonesome cry and Lynn’s honky-tonk homilies, she fell in love with classic country-western.
That love affair is played out on her 2010 release, “Butcher Holler,” a tribute, she says, to Lynn’s “voice and writing style.”
Her ninth album, “Down Hearted Blues,” is set for release in late September. It will be a collection of blues standards from the '20s through the '60s, essentially everything from Bessie Smith to Howling Wolf, she says.
Jewell’s show will include songs from all nine of her albums, including her first, “Boundary Country,” as well as bits from subsequent releases “Sea of Tears” and “Queen of the Minor Key.”
“We will try to squeeze it all in,” she says. “There will be something in the mix for everyone.”
Jewell began her musical career in the early 2000s. With her guitar and harmonica, she played impromptu gigs at farmers’ markets in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on the streets of Venice Beach in west Los Angeles and during open mic nights at clubs between LA and Boston.
“That was my tumbleweed phase,” she says. “I performed wherever the wind blew me.”
In Boston, she says she hooked up with a “real band, performed on a real stage, and was getting regular gigs…real gigs.
“I realized I really enjoyed playing and performing.”
She laughs at the irony.
“I took piano lessons from age 7 all the way through high school,” she recalls. “I dreaded the annual recitals with my very heart and soul. My favorite day of the year was the day after a recital. I knew I didn’t have to perform again for another 364 days.”
She adds that she still feels that with “every performance, there’s something important at stake.”