MUSIC BOX: Songstresses Touch Down

By on August 2, 2017

Songwriter’s Alley hosts accomplished pair of singer-songwriters, Satsang in Village Commons, KHOL calls for bands.

Mandy Rowden

JACKSON HOLE, WY – Two award-winning songwriters are converging on Songwriter’s Alley concert series and open stage this Sunday, and its time to get inside their heads. Mandy Rowden of Austin, Texas, is a 2017 Great American Song Contest Finalist and her album These Bad Habits was voted No. 2 Album of the Year in the Austin Chronicle’s Music Poll.

The Littlest Birds, a.k.a. Sharon Martinson, is originally from Casper and has been based out of Laramie while traveling coast to coast and abroad. Martinson was recently awarded the 2017 Wyoming Arts Council Performance Fellowship Award and is about to release her fourth studio album, Phoenix Rising.

PJH sat down with Rowden and Martinson for the nitty gritty.

PJH: Has your recent label deal with Howlin’ Dog Records helped you elevate your career?

Mandy Rowden: I’m still in the beginning stages with Howlin’ Dog and will be making this new record with them in September. They’re a really great team and I’m pumped to see where it goes.

PJH: You had some trailer issues while on tour recently. What happened? Would you consider it character building or a cuss-fest or both?

Rowden: Who says a cuss-fest can’t be character building? A blowout in Flagstaff, Arizona, put us behind a day and we had to have the entire undercarriage of the trailer rebuilt, and the heat wave in Phoenix melted our Y-harness so that the running lights never worked properly again. After a Saturday night post-show debacle on the side of an L.A. freeway taping bike lights to the back of the trailer so we wouldn’t get smashed into, I guess you can say we built some character… we certainly cussed plenty. 

PJH: You took the band out on the road for a solid run. How was it compared to performing solo?

Rowden: The shows were more energetic and I couldn’t have maneuvered all the mechanical problems without them, so it was a great experience to try the team out on the road and I can’t wait to do it again. It’s definitely more of a logistical mess with five people as opposed to one, but I’m lucky to get to play with such great people, not just great musicians. Solo tours keep me lighter on my feet and there’s a great bonus to not sharing the money with anybody else, but nothing compares with getting to play with the band night after night. 

PJH: Hi Sharon. How will the Performing Arts Fellowship allow you to evolve with your music?

Sharon Martinson: As a Wyoming native who left and has come back to the state, it means a lot to me to be able to represent a slice of Wyoming’s vast talent. I’ve been doing more solo shows in the last few years, and this grant will allow me to visit many small towns around the state and share my new sound. The Littlest Birds has evolved a lot since I started it in 2010, and since I came back to Wyoming, it has continued to do so. I’m excited to share my latest music, and having both the privilege and responsibility to the people of Wyoming will motivate me to promote what I think is the root of my musical expression, and that is to share music with others. 

PJH: What have you been doing this summer, music or otherwise?

Martinson: I got back in March from my winter fieldwork in Panama, and it felt like spring blew by and summer hit early. I took the month of April “off” to resettle into Wyoming life, and to get some logistics work done on the new album. I was back East in New England for 3 weeks and played some great shows back there, and then was home for just a few days and played a tour back in California for the rest of June.

I’ve also been working on another project that has now been sponsored by the Wyoming Arts Council and the Wyoming Arts Alliance called “Play It Forward.” My goal is visit every single state in the coming two years, and to perform music for people who don’t usually get to go to live shows. I’ll also pair a concert with a local band that has a strong female presence.

PJH: What’s the latest with your forthcoming album Phoenix Rising?

Martinson: I’m really excited about it. I recorded it in San Francisco in an analog studio, hand-delivered the tapes to Chicago to be mastered, and then got vinyl pressed. Everything about this album has been an art project, and I want this album to be seen as a gift. I used a huge, old letterpress at Dartmouth College that is in the basement of a library to hand press every album cover, using art that I designed with a colleague, and old typeface for the font. Instead of typical liner notes, I found thousands of old USGS topographic maps of Wyoming, and hand-cut each one and found an old typewriter font to use for the lyrics and stories behind the song. It will be offered for sale January 1, 2018.

Songwriter’s Alley featuring Mandy Rowden and Sharon Martinson, a.k.a. The Littlest Birds, 7 to 10 p.m. Sunday, August 6 at the Silver Dollar Showroom; open mic 9 to 10 p.m., free.

Satsang (left) and The Littlest Birds a.k.a. Sharon Martinson

He sat, he sang

Rock bottom can surely show you the positive light and that’s exactly how Satsang frontman Drew McManus turned over a new leaf. Fueled by a difficult upbringing before finding peace in the Beartooth Mountains of Montana, the singer-songwriter produces lyrics of change, growth, awareness and imperfection. Folksiness is but an element for the Red Lodge-based trio, often delivering tunes with soul and hip-hop undertones and a conscious sharing of truths.

“I grew up in an environment where aggression, violence, abuse, and addiction were always present,” McManus said. “It made me a lot of things—angry, sad and ashamed. I hated my story and I was a slave to addiction. I tried for so long to hide from the reality of my story and the reality of how beautiful life could be. [An intense spiritual experience] changed my entire outlook on everything. I began to realize that had everything not happened to me exactly like it did, I would not be exactly who/where/what I am right now.”

Concert on the Commons presents Satsang, 5 p.m. Sunday, August 6 at the Village Commons in Teton Village, free, all-ages. JacksonHole.com.

Support local radio waves

Jackson Hole Community Radio 89.1 FM recently announced Sudanese pop/prog rock artist Sinkane for its summer membership drive and appreciation show on September 26 at the Pink Garter.

Sinkane is also the leader of The Atomic Bomb Band, which plays the music of William Onyeabor. In that project, he has worked with David Byrne, Damon Albarn, Alexis Taylor (Hot Chip), Money Mark (Beastie Boys) and many more.

KHOL is also putting out a call to local bands and musicians to earn the opening slot for the appreciation show. Thanks to a grant from the Community Foundation of JH, the station has upgraded its in-studio performance space and is asking local acts from Teton County to show support by performing in-studio August 1 to 7 for the membership drive. Acts will encourage supporters to donate as their vote for said act to open the show. The act with the most donations earns the opening slot. Interested acts must sign-up via zach@jhcr.org or 733-4030.

Positive vibes endure

The spirit of music icon Bob Marley and his messages of positivity— “life is worth much more than gold”—lives on through The Wailers. Among the band’s musicians are some of the remaining members of the original Bob Marley and The Wailers band. They capture the essence of Marley who forever changed the musical landscape with uplifting, layered reggae arrangements.

On The Wailers’s website, guitarist Donald Kinsey remembers the days of playing with Marley: “What I could feel from the music was a positive energy. It was a different message in the music, and it was a different rhythm.”

Today, audiences at a Wailers show are privy to the flavors of these different vibrations, but also to reggae’s modern sensibilities. Young and exuberant players like drummer Aston Barrett, Jr. inject energy into the outfit.

Get irie with the legendary eight-piece band Tuesday at the Pink Garter. – Robyn Vincent

The Wailers with Lifted, doors at 8, show at 9 p.m. Tuesday, August 8, $23-25. Pinkgartertheatre.com

Planet Picks:

Wednesday

Vinyl Night (The Rose);

Screen Door Porch (Mangy Moose)

Thursday

The Motet with Sneaky Pete & the Secret Weapons (Victor City Park);

Salsa Night (The Rose)

Friday

Railsplitters (Silver Dollar);

Rebecca Ryan (Jackson Lake Lodge)

Saturday

Reckless Kelly (Pink Garter);

Jackson Six (Silver Dollar)

Sunday

Satsang (Village Commons)

Monday

The Minor Keys (Jackson Lake Lodge); Open Mic (Pinky G’s)

Tuesday

The Wailers (Pink Garter);

Open Mic (Virginian)

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About Aaron Davis

Aaron Davis is a decade-long writer of Music Box, a singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, member of Screen Door Porch and Boondocks, founder/host of Songwriter’s Alley, and co-founder of The WYOmericana Caravan.

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