Tomorrow’s Country Today
Kewadin Casinos ~ Sault Ste. Marie
Country 104.3 & Rapids Lounge Presents:
July 12 & 13
“You have no idea who we are, but we’re about to be great friends.” And with that inviting proclamation, Levon’s Michael David Hall has opened many a performance. Making friends through the music is part of what it’s all about for this soulful country/rock trio, whose cross-generational sonic appeal draws from past and present, with a harmony-driven style built around compelling lyrics and memorable melodies: music with a timeless quality.
And, they are impacting country radio now with their debut single, “Ms. Marianne,” from their recently-release debut self-titled EP. “Ms. Marianne” was co-written by lead singer Hall, James Dean Hicks and Jamie Houston.
Levon consists of three best friends: Northbrook, Illinois, native Michael David Hall (on guitar and lead vocals, with a soaring five-octave range); Sumter, South Carolina’s Jake Singleton (on harmonies, bass, and percussion); and Camden, Tennessee, native Ryan Holladay (on guitar, mandolin and harmonies).
A few of the trio’s musical roots are suggested by their name, an homage to the talents of The Band’s Levon Helm, as well as Elton John and his song, “Levon.” All in their twenties, Levon’s members nonetheless share a collective musical passion for the 1970s and the artist/songwriter generation whose lyrics and melodies have remained relevant long after their time on the charts.“We wanted people to hear our name and kind of know where we were coming from,” Hall says.
August 9 & 10
With the fuel of both Southern rock and country music influences pumping through his veins, it’s no surprise that CJ Solar is a natural at fusing the two worlds. Combine that with Delta blues, compliments of a childhood spent in Cajun country, and you’ve got one badass up-and-comer, with the pure musical talent and vocal chops to back him up. Already turning heads throughout Nashville, Baton Rouge and beyond, having been named one of the “New Artists You Need To Know” by Rolling Stone Country, Solar says the driving force behind his untimely success isn’t fame nor fortune – it’s just a diehard infatuation with the music he grew up on.
Solar’s five-song Get Away With It was released in April on Sea Gayle Records. He co-produced the EP with Brent Anderson and co-wrote all of the songs with the likes of Bob DiPiero, Rick Huckaby, Michael Hardy, Jake Mitchell, Travis Denning, Chris Stevens, Westin Davis, Derek Sutherland and Andrew DeRoberts. The first single, “Airplane,” hit #15 and was one of the highest charting singles from an independent artist. The hard driving “American Girls” is his latest single hitting radio now.
Get Away With It follows Solar’s critically-acclaimed debut 2016 EP, Hard One to Turn Down. Critics at The Daily Country wrote, “Solar injects a hefty (and welcome) dose of Southern rock into his country, which melds perfectly with his gravelly vocals.” Country Music Rocks was “immediately captivated by all five songs and hoped that [the EP] obtains the recognition it deserves.” The Rowdy found it “exactly what country fans are looking to savor.” And The Shotgun Seat welcomed Hard One to Turn Down as “the perfect pairing of country storytelling and rocking rhythms, married by his dynamic vocals” and named him one of their “17 to Watch in 17.”
The EP’s debut single, “Tallboy,” has garnered over two million streams on Spotify and the music video hit #1 on the fan-voted CMT 12 Pack Countdown after spending 13 weeks in the countdown. The followup single, “Just Another Day in the Country,” was one of the fastest rising and highest charting debut singles for a independent artist.
June 2018 was an epic month for CJ, as he celebrated his first #1 country single as a songwriter with Morgan Wallen’s “Up Down” smash hit featuring Florida Georgia Line. CJ co-wrote Jerrod Niemann’s Top 30 single “Blue Bandana” and The Regulars” on Neimann’s latest album as well as “Between You & Me” on Justin Moore’s current album. He also had writing credits on two Texas artists, “Damn Good Goodbye” on Mike Ryan’s new album and Kyle Park’s single, “What the Heaven,” which hit #1 on the Texas chart in February.
When not out touring the country headlining his own shows and opening for such artists as The Cadillac Three, Old Dominion and others, he continues to write and record. A road warrior at heart, CJ recently received news that Lynyrd Skynyrd asked him to open select dates on their “Last of the Street Survivors Farewell Tour” with 38 Special and Hank Williams, Jr.
“I just want to write songs that say something that really means something. I want to ride around in a van, tour the country, and play songs with my buds. Everything I do in music, I want to do it for the love of the music and the sake of the song,” he adds.
Tommy Steele Band
September 13 & 14
With a distinctive and immediately identifiable sound, Tommy Steele is a blend of influences that brings together the edgy musicianship and rocked-out passion of early Allman Brothers Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd, with the raw, sparse, lyrical sense of Springsteen.
The Michigan native opened for Big & Rich at his hometown Pontiac Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan and performed at 3 CMA Music Festival’s in Nashville. He’s toured the country and shared stages with megastars Leann Rimes, Gretchen Wilson, Little Big town, Big & Rich, Blackberry smoke, Dwight Yoakam, and more, he’s also entertained at venues ranging from intimate nightclubs to large festivals.
Tommy carries with him life lessons learned in his youth, and they give instant credence to his down-home manner and strong work ethic. With family roots in Detroit’s auto factories and Georgia’s clay soils, “blue collar” and “country strong” are descriptive terms for this entertainer.
“Family is everything to me, and fatherhood? Well, that’s the reward! I am humbled to create music with a vision but life experiences and my family are my inspirations.”
October 11 & 12
With Ben Gallaher what you see is what you get. His songs are autobiographical anthems of growing up in South Central Pennsylvania with a passion for ‘90s country, a reverence for the guitar masters, and a self-awareness that connects like super glue with his growing fan base.
Genuine in his songwriting, gifted in his self-taught musicianship, and energetic in his stage performance, Gallaher doesn’t just understand his fans: he is cut from the same cloth. Whether he is performing in a dusty roadhouse or state prison he delivers his truth in songs that reflect the dignity of simple things and a deeply-rooted respect for what matters.
He mines those concepts in his self-titled debut EP. From the first searing guitar riff, Gallaher comes across as an artist with confidence and a keen sense of what he wants to say.
His voice is as raw as unvarnished wood with a smoky texture reflective of the backwoods bars where he honed his unbridled stage craft. He commits completely to the emotional quality of each cut and his vocals are earnest and believable.
“Conway Twitty said something like ‘A good country song takes a page out of someone’s life and puts it to music,’” Gallaher recalled. “I thought about that with every song. I want someone to hear this record, relate to it, and have it make a positive impact. That’s my goal.”
From diving “head first” into life and young love with “Against the World”; the power of sticking to your purpose in “Good Guys Win”; the lament of what’s lost to time in “You Can’t Do That Anymore”; finding “Heaven in a shotgun seat” with “American Angel,”; and the self-portrait “If You’re Like Me,” Gallaher removes the artifice and focuses on the stripped-down reality of the moment. Which is a stark contrast to his elevated, otherworldly guitar playing.
Gallaher was a toddler when he started banging Campbell’s soup cans with pencils as drumsticks. He grew up in Camp Hill, PA. His family wasn’t musical, but they recognized musical talent and bought him his first guitar when he was 6 years old. He still has it.
“I fell in love with it,” Gallaher said. “I always felt that music was instilled in me; it was God’s plan. It just fit me. I didn’t have a choice. I had to play music.”
He is equally obsessive about the outdoors. He grew up hunting and fishing and eventually earned the highest rank attainable in the Boy Scouts of America, Eagle Scout. The designation was founded more than 100 years ago and only four percent of Boy Scouts are granted this honor.
He brought that passion and dedication to Nashville. After a year at his family’s alma mater Penn State, he enrolled at Belmont University to learn everything he could about the music business. He quickly formed a four-piece band, played weekend gigs up the Eastern corridor, and showed up for class on Monday morning.
“Talk about two different worlds,” he laughed. “Here I was renting a van before I could buy one. I was just so enamored by the whole road thing and how to work a crowd. You can’t learn that in a classroom, you have to do it.”
What it taught him was an appreciation for hard work, preparation, and an even deeper fondness for the foundation of the format including the icons of the ‘90s who influenced his childhood musical manna: Brooks & Dunn, Clint Black and Tim McGraw.
“The dream as a kid was to be a country music singer,” he said. “There is a point when the switch goes from that idea being a dream that is unchaseable, to thinking, ‘I could really give this thing a shot and make the move.”
Early on, he connected with some of Nashville’s top writers including many who contributed to the EP including Neil Thrasher, Ben Hayslip, Jimmy Yeary and Brett Beavers, among others. He applied his uncompromising work ethic to songwriting with co-writes four days a week for two years, jotting ideas and titles in a leather notebook, pen on paper.
“I have so much respect for all the writers in this town and I was fortunate, and lucky, and blessed to get to write with some of the very ones I grew up listening to and loving their songs,” Gallaher said.
So, when it was time to record the EP he had an astounding, 150 songs to cull through for the final five cuts. “All of the songs say something about me,” he said. “There isn’t a song on there that doesn’t represent me.”
And like Gallaher, with his debut EP, what you see is what you get.
November 8 & 9
Critics and fans from across the musical spectrum found much to fall in love with this past fall when Dillon Carmichael unleashed his brilliant debut, ‘Hell On An Angel.’ Produced by Dave Cobb—the studio guru behind country radio powerhouses like Chris Stapleton and Zac Brown Band—the album merged a sonically progressive palette with a tasteful reverence for the past and wrapped it all up with a director’s eye for detail, creating a stunning collection that was at once old-school and modern, traditional and contemporary, timeless and timely. The New York Times compared Carmichael to Randy Travis and said his rich baritone voice “moves with the heft and certainty of a tractor-trailer,” while NPR praised his “deep holler,” and Parade raved that “Carmichael defines pure country.” He landed on Artist To Watch lists from Billboard, Rolling Stone, Taste of Country, Pandora, and more, reached #2 at Country radio’s Most Added chart with his debut radio single, “Dancing Away With My Heart,” electrified festival crowds from CMA Fest to Dierks Bentley’s Seven Peaks, and earned tour dates with Aaron Lewis, Dwight Yoakam, Trace Adkins, The Cadillac Three, and A Thousand Horses among others.
It’s been a whirlwind ride for Carmichael, but the 25-year-old was born for this stuff. Growing up in the small town of Burgin, KY, he absorbed the musical life through osmosis: his father and uncles performed in a Southern Gospel Quartet, his mother sang all over the eastern part of the state, and her brothers (John Michael and Eddie Montgomery) both enjoyed massive chart success. Carmichael fell in love with country legends like Waylon Jennings and Vern Gosdin alongside the rock and roll he heard on the radio as a kid, and by the time he hit his teens, he was writing his own songs and performing live.
“I didn’t at any point consciously decide I was going to be a musician,” says Carmichael. “It just happened naturally. I found a kind of truth in country music that I couldn’t get anywhere else.”
After finishing high school, Carmichael relocated to Nashville, where he earned a publishing deal at the tender age of 18. It was his first experience living in a city, and the discovery of a whole universe of like-minded artists whose lives revolved around making music thrilled him. Carmichael began collaborating with some of country’s most talented writers, but no Nashville resident had a bigger influence than Cobb, whose stewardship helped guide ‘Hell On An Angel’ from a dream to a reality.
“Dave just immediately understood my vision,” says Carmichael. “He helped me zero in on my truth.”
It was that quest for truth that led Carmichael and Cobb to begin their studio sessions with a freshly-penned tune called “What Would Hank Do?” Written just two weeks before recording began, the song harkens back to a question that Carmichael would often ask himself before making major decisions. “He’d shoot you straight like his whiskey / Put pedal steel on everything / Write a song with three chords and the truth,” Carmichael sings. “Make you believe it when he sings / Like he’s talking straight to you / That’s what Hank would do.”
“When I got to Nashville, I wasn’t exactly sure who I was or what I wanted to say with my songs,” explains Carmichael. “I found myself jokingly asking what Hank would do, and I let that guide me because the answer always pointed towards the truth. Recording that song first put me in the zone to be honest for the rest of the album.”
The record opens with the slow-and-steady power of “Natural Disaster,” an Anthony Smith track that feels tailor-made for Carmichael’s “aged liked a fine bourbon” (CMT) vocals. The track sets the stage perfectly for an album ready to face down hard times and pain with equal parts humor and heart, and it reveals Carmichael to be just as gifted at interpreting songs as he is at writing them, delivering his lines here with the hard-earned grit and sage perspective of a veteran twice his age. The driving title track pays tribute to the mothers and sisters and lovers who stand by their men through even the roughest of patches, while the tender waltz of “Might Be A Cowboy” turns the western trope of riding off into the sunset on its head, and the shuffling “Hard On A Hangover” showcases Carmichael’s sparkling lyrical wit on top of the brilliant pedal steel work of Robby Turner (Waylon Jennings, George Jones).
“I actually wrote that song with my mom,” explains Carmichael with a laugh. “She’s not a professional songwriter or anything and we’d never collaborated before, but we were driving in the car and she hit something in the road that made us bounce, and her boyfriend looked at her and said, ‘Baby, you sure are hard on a hangover.’ My mom and I immediately made eye contact in the mirror because we both knew that was a song title, so we went back to the house and wrote the whole thing together.”
It’s a fitting musical partnership for an album that draws so much of its strength from reflecting on the meaning of family and home. From the funky “Country Women” to the soulful “Dixie Again,” ‘Hell On An Angel’ is a celebration of roots, those earthly tethers that both bind and sustain us. The songs capture vivid snapshots of the kind of men and women Carmichael grew up around: hardworking, bighearted folks taking life one day at a time, sticking together through the good times and the bad with honesty, dignity, and faith.
“Love is for making / Kids are for raising / And home is that place in your heart,” he sings on lead single “It’s Simple,” a track Rolling Stone hailed for its “swooning, cinematic sweep.” “Don’t over think it / Don’t complicate it / The secret to life ain’t that hard / It’s simple.”
December 13 & 14
Nashville-based singer/songwriter, Kylie Morgan, began writing songs in her hometown of Newcastle, OK when she was 12 years old. Morgan began making regular trips to Nashville to continue writing, ultimately making Nashville home as soon as she turned 18. With tremendous talent and a unique style, Morgan joined the SMACKSongs team to refine and release her music, under the guidance of GRAMMY Award winning songwriters, Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne. Morgan just released “Easy To Forget,” which is the first song from her forthcoming EP, produced by McAnally, due at the top of 2019.