Dreamy Draw Music Festival defines American music | Culture

todayNovember 13, 2023 3

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Geographically situated between the folk history of California’s Laurel Canyon and the country soul of Texas, Arizona has a particular place in the world of American music. Although it is home to the 5th largest city in the United States, the state has wild west roots stronger than the bullet that shot Wyatt Earp in the O.K. Corral, and that cowboy culture was on display last weekend at the Dreamy Draw Music Festival

The Senators 

While it described itself as a country festival, Dreamy Draw performers ranged from Americana to bluegrass to indie rock. The event opened on Nov. 3 with a set from The Senators, an Arizona-based folk-rock band led by frontman Jesse Teer and lead guitarist Quinn Scully. The band has been releasing music since 2012, but Scully joined in 2019 after seeing the old lineup perform at The Orpheum Theater.

As attendees poured into the Scottsdale Civic Center, they were welcomed by Teer’s light yet carrying voice and Scully’s jangling guitar. The two were also joined by a backing band consisting of a stand-up bass player and drummer. 

Families with small children swayed from their spots in the shade while listening to “Wild Wide Open,” a song that invokes the expansiveness of Arizona’s desert. Teer and Scully were in agreement that their home state has a notable impact on The Senators’ music.

“What this festival is doing is bringing this idea of Western music or Southwestern or country music, and there are a lot of different angles,” Teer said. “We try to land somewhere in the middle, but I think there’s something really special about the Sonoran desert … I think there is a whole regional zone that we can tap into, and what this festival maybe does is have a conversation about where that music is and where it’s moving.”

Dreamy Draw featured bands and artists from across the country, with the Los Angeles-based indie-rock headliners Lord Huron or the North Carolina folk duo Watchhouse. Yet, the festival kept a local feel by featuring Arizona artists The Senators, Taylor Glasheen and Evan Honer.

Teer noted the geography of Arizona helps place it as a midpoint between different cultural hubs. 

“I think we’re in a good melting pot between places like Austin, places like LA and places like Denver, where we carve out a little niche,” Teer said.

Outside of The Senators, Scully is an NAU public relations graduate who performs with other bands and artists. 

Scully said his experience working with and around other musicians has impacted the music he makes.

“I work in music, so I see different music just about every night of the week, jazz, hardcore, straight-up rock, so I feel like I’m gathering it from all around me,” Scully said. “I’ve been lucky to play in enough bands that I also know what music makes me feel good. I just want to play music that makes me feel good.”

Scully said The Senators are planning to release new music starting in December and spanning through March. The band will continue to perform throughout Arizona, with its next show opening for The Sidewinders at Phoenix’s Valley Bar on Nov. 11.

“Our live performances will probably mirror the recordings a little bit more,” Scully said. “I think we’ll probably be a little bit more keen to leave some of these mistakes on there ‘cause a lot of the time those become your favorite moments.”

Nat Myers

At the larger Bronco stage, Kentucky blues musician Nat Myers performed a mix of original music and covers of classic guitarists. 

Between songs, Myers told anecdotes about each song’s inspiration, his journeys on tour and his time growing up in Kentucky.  

“I write a lot of poetry, “ Myers said. “Blues I sort of look at as poetry, like Langston Hughes might’ve. It offers its empowerment and restrictions within the form, and operating with a narrative within a blues format is something that I’ve always been interested in doing and approaching because, to me, it’s just the deepest music I’ve ever heard.” 

His lyrics draw from complex topics, like farmers struggling with water depletion and anti-Asian discrimination in the COVID-19 era, to the more simple life joys of getting drunk off “Hobo Wine.”

During his performance, Myers told stories about his time on the road. He had just come back from a tour in Australia and was preparing to leave for a European tour.

“I’ve seen a lot of the country, I’ve done a lot of traveling, but most of the things I’ve seen it’s only been outside the window, or it’s been in passing,” Myers said. “[On tour], I get the opportunity to actually be in these places. I can see how people get jaded or forget what city they’re in, but at the same time, it’s also the chance to meet people here and be able to play a song about where I was from.” 

Stephen Wilson Jr. and Hailey Whitters

The country vibes intensified later in the day when Stephen Wilson Jr. took the Bronco stage, and Hailey Whitters followed at the center Stampede stage. Wilson Jr’s grunge-style guitar and powerful raspy voice brought the angst of rural Southern poverty to Scottsdale, particularly with his song “Holler from the Holler,” which had the now large and vibrant crowd hollering back to him.  

Whitters contrasted Wilson Jr.’s intensity with nostalgic country romance songs, singing about her memories growing up with the “Boys Back Home” and being in love with a Levi-wearing Chevy driver. The latter was her second song to reach country radio, following her hit “Everything She Ain’t,” the success of which she said during her performance was thanks to the “#BlueCollarBoys” on Tiktok. Her set also included covers of classics “9 To 5” by Dolly Parton and “She’s In Love With The Boy” by Trisha Yearwood. 

Seeing Wilson Jr. and Whitters back-to-back demonstrated the broad spectrum of country music. Country is regularly defined and often mocked as being repetitive and stereotypical. Yet, at the same time, it represents a vast demographic of Americans who live in rural and Southern areas. The performers at Dreamy Draw showed that singing about your hometown does not have to fall upon common tropes, and the festival’s audience demonstrated that city folk can enjoy the genre.

Margo Price

Margo Price took the stage with the spirit of a sparkly psychedelic outlaw to “Big Iron” by Marty Robbins. Her performance was a theatrical production, with her bombastic singing, silver fringe bodysuit and magnetic stage presence. Twice during her show, Price joined her drummer sitting at her own drumset, her percussion skills invoking screams from the audience. At the end of her performance, she threw roses at the crowd, which her adoring fans lept to claim. 

Price’s music blended entrancing electric guitar, synthesizers, a Madonna-esque pop star voice and lyrics about Tennessee and going through “Hell in the Heartland.” She refers to her genre as “psychedelic country,” which is supported by the fact that both her 2023 albums, “Strays” and “Strays II,” were written during a six-day mushroom trip in California’s Topanga Canyon.  

Mighty Poplar and Watchhouse

The atmosphere continued on through Saturday, but this time with larger crowds earlier in the day.

Mighty Poplar, a bluegrass supergroup with members of Billy Strings, Punch Brothers, Leftover Salmon and Watchhouse — the last of which would perform the next Dreamy Draw set — crowded around a microphone Soggy Bottom Boys-style to perform songs off of their recently Grammy-nominated self-titled debut album. Their banjo, guitar and mandolin riffing had the audience nodding and tapping along. 

Andrew Marlin of Mighty Poplar rejoined the stage to perform with his wife, Emily Frantz, in their band Watchhouse. Marlin’s mandolin, Frantz’s violin and their combined vocal harmonies were soft but enchanting, and their enraptured audience was vocal as they requested songs and quietly sang along. The crowd erupted into howls during the chorus “The Wolves,” as Marlin and Frantz sang “I’ll go out howling at the moon tonight.”

Evan Honer

Later in the evening, Evan Honer came to the Poncho stage located near the festival’s entrance. Honer is a quickly-growing country artist who is about to embark on his first headlining tour, the “Idk Sh*t about Tours” tour.

Honer is from Phoenix and said he draws lyrical inspiration from his time in Arizona.

“I feel like the experiences that I’ve had, like walking down Mill Avenue, have shaped a lot of my songs,” Honer said. “The culture and the people I hang around … have played the biggest role.”

This was Honer’s first festival, which he said was an exciting opportunity. Honer’s energy and audience connection made his set vibrant, especially because of his dynamic with fiddle player and vocalist Julia DiGrazia. DiGrazia is a frequent collaborator with Honer, and their joint cover of Tyler Childer’s “Jersey Giant” put Honer on the map as a country artist.

“A highlight was probably the last song, ‘idk shit about cars,’ which was so much fun. I can just go as hard as I can on a guitar.” Honer said. “I was super excited to see Nolan Taylor as well, he was right before me. He’s one of my favorite artists and I got to meet him. I really respect him as a writer.” 

“Idk shit about cars” is a jaunty song with humorously self-deprecative lyrics reflecting on Honer’s personality.  The track was released earlier this year, Honer’s first release since his debut album “West on I-10.

Lord Huron

The festival ended with Lord Huron, the festival’s biggest act. The indie rock band’s lead, Ben Schneider, carried magnetic energy that closed the night off with a bang. A highlight was “The World Ender,” a track with a dark surf-rock-adjacent sound and a catchy melody. During the song, Schneider turned around as the lights changed from blue to red, and he emerged with a skeleton mask and cowboy hat. The costume solidified the band’s energy as a not-too-serious indie rock act with a western gothic feel. 

The tone shifted as Schneider removed the mask and the lights returned to normal. As the band played their slower, emotional hit “The Night We Met,” Schneider turned his microphone toward the crowd, who sang along to the haunting melody in unison. It sounded as if every audience member knew every word, as their voices carried on into the desert night. 

Lord Huron’s set closed out the first-ever Dreamy Draw Music Festival with a dramatic flair, fixing Arizona as a home to American music.

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Written by: Soft FM Radio Staff

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