Valerie June
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Valerie June

Memphis, Tennessee, United States | SELF

Memphis, Tennessee, United States | SELF
Band Folk


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This band has not uploaded any videos



"Folk Alliance 2011 Highlights from Hearth Music"

Valerie June: My good friend, Erin Dochartaigh, recommended Valerie June to me, and I'm glad she did! Valerie June has a totally unique take on American roots music, and a perspective so refreshingly different that it's no wonder she gets a bit tired of all the genre classifications that folkies keep foisting on her. During her set at Folk Alliance, she confessed "I'm not a blues musician. I'm not a folk musician and I'm not a country musician. I just play what I feel."But she is a blues musician, she is a folk musician, and she is a country musician. Valerie June clearly loves American folk music, and if we could open our minds a bit more and accept that music was meant to inspire rather than define, then she'd fit in fine with all these genres. It's not that she's copying or even drawing inspiration from these traditions, but rather that she's tapping into the rough simplicity of the music. Lyrics that say what they mean. Guitar chords that clatter across the floor. A cracked, fragile voice that speaks to a softer side of the blues. There's no mojo working here, this is the front porch picking of Mississipi John Hurt, music that drew people in, wrapped them in love and carried them home, rather than shoving them all over a sweaty dance floor.

But whatever the case, I find her music completely intriguing and don't pretend to really understand what she's doing. I just love her beautiful voice, her weird restructuring of folk music tropes, and her sweet Southern drawl. - NO DEPRESSION

"Fundraising sites help creative types tap online donors to sponsor projects"

Singer-songwriter Valerie June used the online fundraising service to raise money to cover costs for a professionally produced album. "Seventy percent of it was from people I'd never met," June said.

For five years, the guitar strumming and soulful lyrics of Valerie June had mostly been relegated to the streets and bars of Memphis.

Her meager musician's salary paid the rent, but her longtime dream of making a professional album was reduced to a few rough "bedroom recordings."

So when music producer Craig Street, who produced Nora Jones' Grammy Award-winning album Come Away with Me, offered to make a record with June, the local singer was on fire to find the money to fund it.

For the $15,000 in recording costs it was going to take, June turned to

Through the online pledge system that connects creative projects with people willing to donate to them, June raised her album's cost in 60 days.

"Seventy percent of it was from people I'd never met," said June, who plans to release her debut album, Manifest, in May.

Creative types without a trust fund to dip into or a wealthy aunt to lean on are increasingly turning to the online fundraiser, where people pitch their ideas through short videos.

It has allowed a number of people in Memphis to find the capital they need for all kinds of projects from children's books to documentary films.

"We reached our goal in eight hours after posting it live," said Ashle Bailey, art director and curator for Odessa.

The historic building on Broad Avenue, which has housed an art studio and music venue for emerging artists for the last six months, was in need of $600 in repairs. Through Kickstarter, its owners raised $1,630.

"We're not a nonprofit, we don't have sponsorship, and we don't have tons of money," said Bailey, a recent graduate of the Memphis College of Art.

The site works by filtering out projects that don't have a clear direction.

Creators can set any fundraising goal and have up to 90 days to conclude their campaign.

Unlike a charity, depending on the level of donation, donors are offered a gift in return.

In the case of Odessa, all donors received a print from a well-known graphic artist.

But on Kickstarter it's all or nothing.

If the deadline passes without reaching the set goal, the project receives no money, and none of the donor's credit cards is charged.

If their fundraising goal is surpassed, the projects earns its goal money plus anything extra, minus a 5 percent Kickstarter fee.

Independent Memphis filmmaker Chris McCoy has long depended on one or two wealthy backers to make his low-budget films, he said.

Through the online fundraiser, McCoy raised more than $6,000 for his documentary about the Antenna, a Memphis club for underground music in the 1980s.

"It's really changed the balance of power," McCoy said. "With Kickstarter you go directly to the audience and say, 'Would this be something you're interested in seeing?'"

Kickstarter isn't the only online platform connecting people with the resources to make their dreams happen.

Among others are the socially minded 33needs (, 8-Bit Funding ( for game developers and Inkpop (, which connects rising teen stars with talent spotters.

Since 2009, Kickstarter has been launching international projects.

Regionally, it has directed funds to a Lebanese food truck owner in Asheville, N.C., and a jewelry maker in Fayetteville, Ark., and funded the trailer for an animated television series by a man in Nashville.

But not everyone locally has found success on Kickstarter.

The independent Midtown movie store Black Lodge Video ran a Kickstarter campaign in July to raise $2,000 for a machine to resurface its aging DVDS.

The effort fell significantly short with only a $25 pledge.

A friend with a small independent record label, who had tremendous success on Kickstarter, turned the owners of the shop onto the site.

Free movie rentals were offered to donors -- with free rentals for life for a $2,000 donation -- but the shop owners soon found their cause wasn't gaining traction among donors.

"Music has a broader appeal," said Black Lodge co-owner Bryan Hogue. "We gave it a shot, but it just didn't work out."

-- Lindsay Melvin: 529-2445

"Memphis and Shelby County Music Commission to honor 8 women"

The Memphis and Shelby County Music Commission will put the spotlight on the role of women in the entertainment industry at a banquet at the Memphis Botanic Garden on Wednesday.

In recognition of National Women's History Month, the commission will honor eight female members of the local music community at its 3rd annual Emissaries of Memphis Music celebration. The honorees are: blues singer Barbara Blue, country singer Dani McCullough, "American Idol" contestant Lil Rounds, sound engineer and producer Dawn Hopkins, singer-songwriter Valerie June, recording artist Amy LaVere, Grammy-nominated gospel performer Sheri Jones-Moffett and musician, songwriter and engineer JoJo Jeffries.

The event is designed not just to honor the achievements of women who often toil in the shadows of their male counterparts, but also to inspire girls today to pursue careers in music.

"In order for us to inspire young people, in order for us to instill hope in them for what they want to do, we have to show them that hope," said commission executive director Johnnie Walker, a former music industry executive with stints at Def Jam Recordings and Dreamworks. "You can't expect young girls to just pull it out of their heads that, 'Hey, I'm going to be an engineer, but I've never in my life seen a woman behind that board.' You have to show them that their dreams can come true. You have to give them role models."

Walker said several local youth organizations, including the Girl Scouts and Boys & Girls Clubs of America, are sending students to the event.

Also appearing are keynote speaker Mamie Coleman, vice president of music and promotion for Fox Broadcasting Company; youth motivational mentor Ashley Durham, the reigning Miss Tennessee USA; and Shelby County Dist. Atty. Gen. Amy P. Weirich, who will deliver the welcome address. Fox 13 news anchor Melissa Scheffler will emcee.

The celebration starts at 6 p.m. Tickets are $50 per person, $25 for children accompanied by an adult. Tickets are available at the commission office at 125 N. Main St., Suite 200; by phone at 576-6850, and online at

Proceeds go to the Memphis Musicians Healthcare Fund, a program administered by the quasi-governmental organization that provides free medical care for qualified professional musicians through the Church Health Center.

"SXSW Find: Valerie June At The 18th Floor Hilton Garden Inn"

Each year at SXSW, there are certain artists that you find either by sticking around after the artist you came for, or coming to the venue early, for said artist you came for. Memphis' Valerie June is our first and best find so far this year, coming directly after Buxton at the 18th Floor At Hilton Garden Inn venue.

With a tangle of dreadlocks, a sweet Southern lilt, and obsession with kitchenware, and a musical template touching on Cat Power, Erykah Badu, and even the vintage sheen of Justin Townes Earle, June was pleasing to most every sense. Her voice alone had us enthralled, leaning against a toaster oven in the converted banquet hall venue, naturally. Her cut "Shotgun" hit the crowd square in the forehead and shut up the squawkers in her midst.


"Memphis musicians hope to make splash at Texas SXSW venue"

Tennessee singer-songwriter Valerie June performs at the 18th Floor at the Hilton Garden Inn in Austin, Texas, on Thursday night during the South by Southwest music conference. She has drawn the attention of would-be managers and producers.
The North Mississippi Allstars returned to South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, after a two-year absence, performing Thursday night.

The North Mississippi Allstars returned to South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, after a two-year absence, performing Thursday night.

AUSTIN, Texas -- A handful of Memphis acts performed this week during the 25th annual South by Southwest music conference in Austin, Texas, and each of them -- whether new artists, established veterans or those in between -- had something to prove.

The event, a four-day, nonstop parade of performances, parties and panels, drew nearly 20,000 music business movers and shakers from all over the world to watch 1,200 acts, and that's only the official tally; hundreds of thousands more filled private and side events, taking up seemingly every bit of space in the city.

To the members of still-fledgling, ragamuffin folk-pop quartet Star and Micey from Memphis, SXSW mostly meant a lot of leg work. Whether hauling their gear to a top-floor hotel bar to play their official showcase set, dealing with the grid-locked traffic of downtown Austin to make a daytime gig at the Convention Center, or even busking on various street corners amid the chaos, they did what they had to do to gain enough attention -- as well as a little extra gas money -- to have made the long trip seem worthwhile.

On the other end of the spectrum was Hill Country blues-rock perennials the North Mississippi Allstars. Back and fully committed after a two-year semi-hiatus, the band recently released a new album, Keys to the Kingdom, and was able to pick its spots at the festival. They played an early private party at the massive Stubb's outdoor venue on Thursday, reacquainting themselves with the industry, as it were, and introducing the new material with both polish and passion.

But if any local artist epitomized the essence of the classic SXSW discovery experience it was that of roots songstress Valerie June. On Thursday evening the Tennessee native played a show at the 18th Floor of the Hilton Garden Inn, a popular venue for singer-songwriters. A fairly well-known commodity in Memphis -- thanks to her appearance in Craig Brewer's "$5 Cover" series and high-profile sets at the International Folk Alliance Festival -- she clearly hoped to achieve a transcendent moment at the festival that might give her entrée to the next level in her career.

So far, June has put out a couple self-made self-released records and one slightly larger scale CD last year (recorded with members of Old Crow Medicine show). But, she wants to move beyond a scrapping indie existence.

"I do hope to build a (professional) team and have some help," said June. "After being independent for five years, I know how hard it is. I know that I'm not an island; that I need a record label, a producer and publisher and manager -- I need all of that. I came to SXSW to set the table for that."

At a glance, June would seem blessed with all the qualities that would make for stardom. She's a young, distinctively attractive African-American woman with a singular voice (think Joanna Newsom meets Tracy Chapman) who radiates Southern charm. Translating those qualities into commercial success has been something of a challenge, however.

Musically, though, she's not an easy sell. She writes and plays songs, often on banjo and ukulele, and they're mostly dark blues, airy spirituals and homages to obscure musical figures like Little Laura Dukes and the Memphis Jug Band. And yet, it still seems remarkable that no one has tried to promote June in a meaningful way. As June noted, perhaps only half-jokingly, after singing "Workin' Woman Blues" at the Hilton: "I'm working up here. I always thought I was gonna get rich quick and not have to work."

She still may achieve that goal. Watching June control a roomful of otherwise chattering music biz types with her backwoods narratives and ancient sounding folk songs -- particular highlights included a ramble through the traditional "Old Joe Clark" and her own "Sweet Fella" -- it's clear that given the right opportunity she could flourish.

That much was evident to longtime producer and A&R man Andrew Sandoval -- late of Rhino Records -- who remarked during June's set: "She's got a voice that's distinctive, and knows how to use it. I can think of a lot of big producers that could really have a field day making a record with her that would have a lot of commercial potential."

As it turns out that kind of collaboration is in the cards. June has been in preproduction with heavyweight studio guru Craig Street. Street, best known for producing Norah Jones' 12 million-selling debut, Come Away With Me, Street has specialized in making records with roots-oriented female artists like Jones, k.d. Lang, and Meshell Ndegeocello.

After her set at the Hilton, and throughout her SXSW run, June was approached by various interested managers and industry professionals, looking to work with her.

"Coming here, meeting these people, I was able to really feel something. Like I'm progressing in my career," said June after the show. "Now I have to go back to Memphis and do my homework on these people and see if they're the right folks to work with. But this is a start ... a great start."

-- Bob Mehr: 529-2517

"SXSW 2011: Valerie June, Moonshine Roots Music"

New York, NY (Top40 Charts/, the aggregating radio Website, is re-learning the alphabet this year, South by Southwest style. This is accomplished by enrolling listeners in the 'SXSW 2011 ABC's' throughout the months of February and March; and with twenty-six exclusive spotlights of Official Showcasing Bands containing at least one female member, it's as easy as "A, B, C" for readers to engage with each group via original content provided by the WomensRadio staff, hi-res images, fairy-tale lettering and engaging video content. All-in-all, each featured performing artist or group is given the opportunity to stand out amongst thousands of other equally-impressive selections while being discovered by the targeted demographic of women leaders.

In the newly-created SXSW 2011 alphabet, the letter V stands for Valerie June, and as so eloquently stated by WomensRadio Columnist, Whitney Lewis , "Straight from the vibrant Tennessee music scene to South by Southwest, one of the largest music festivals in the country, comes Valerie June; a beautiful, earthy locked singer/songwriter with that southern hospitality and talent for creating heartbreaking ballads, folk songs, spirituals, soul-stirring blues and what she calls 'Organic Moonshine Roots Music'. After the end of an early marriage at 19, June's life as a musician flourished as she traveled up and down the west coast where she met producers Ketch Secor of Old Crow Medicine Show and Beau Stapleton, who are crafting with June her new collection of songs Valerie June & The Tennessee Express."

When asked to share a couple specifics about Valerie June's style, Ms. Lewis offered the following account:

'Drifter' showcases June's self-taught banjo/guitar skills and has an upbeat, adventurous bandwagon feel as June sings about being a gypsy. She sings 'Why should I think that heaven is my home / when I am a gypsy / and I only want to roam'. Imagine June with a full head of thick locks and southern charm on her face tapping both her boots to the beat of this song on a wooden floor in a quiet, dimly lit room. As she faces the window, the sun is barely shining on her as she performs the song with closed eyes; gently smiling as she embraces her gypsy inclinations and soaks in the solitude.

'On My Way Back Home' is a piece praising country life; a life close to June's heart. June sings, 'I never really wanted to be in the city / I always wanted to be in the country / and I sure will go back there / but for now this is exactly where I need to be'. This track has relaxed, comfortable guitar riffs and feels like returning home after a long road trip; a taste of that calm, peaceful feeling one may feel when about to set foot into the most comfortable of places.

'Dust of the Dirty Rambler' is a soft, sweet piece that opens with a wholesome guitar solo and progresses into an authentic southern ballad as June sings, 'I'm a lost soul / and I'm lonely lingerin' / I can hold a key to heaven in my hand /...had a man who claimed that he loved me dearly / had a man who claimed that he wanna be near me...'. This track has a down to Earth, peaceful sound that will put listeners at ease and allow them to take things slowly for a second.

All of June's songs have a hint of southern charm and quiet country thoughtfulness. Listening to June's music is like visiting Tennessee for the first time!

WomensRadio is a subsidiary of Women's Online Media and Education Network. 'The SXSW 2011 ABC's' are dedicated to the year's HOTTEST showcasing bands from all around the world, in every style & genre. WomensRadio brings listeners an unbiased and 'wide-angle' view of the goings on of the yearly festival, spotlighting the talented female artists playing Official SXSW Showcases. The Feature can be found at



Flagpole's Music Blog

10 days ago

SXSW: Half of Life is Just Showing Up

Thursday and Friday with Gordon

I didn’t have any real plans for Thursday night other than seeing Edwyn Collins (Orange Juice) at Nuvola so I figured it’d be a good idea to just walk around and see if anything caught my ear. I left the hotel for the night around 8 pm or so and wandered into the ugh-ness of 6th Street. I forgot it was St. Patrick’s Day, too. The crowds have been so huge, though, that the only real difference in the roving groups of obliterated college kids, scenesters, wannabees and hangers on was that they were wearing green. Also, there’s too many bands playing too loudly in too many locations. Wanna know was the entrance to hell sounds like? Wander down 6th Street when 100 metal bands are playing at the same time. I know the point is for people to hear them , get excited and go inside the venue to catch the rest of whatever band’s set they heard. But it all bears no appreciable difference to a street lined with hundreds of sideshow barkers all selling similar snake oil to people with self-limited decision-making skills. And, besides, this type of thing never really works.

Except when it does.

Turning half a block from 6th Street onto San Jacinto I heard this great sound coming from the open doors of the British Embassy at Latitude 30. (Note: Several foreign states make a huge deal out of coming to SXSW and their respective governments pony up cash to send acts here. Who? The entire UK, Germany, Belgium, Japan, et al). The band I heard was London’s Goldheart Assembly ( Maybe I was just in the mood for something like them, or maybe they were honestly really good. I sure hope it’s the latter because I stopped right there in the middle of the sidewalk and watched them for two whole songs through the open windows and then caught the rest of their set inside.The switched between really tight, nervous rockers and sensitive student pieces.

With things to do later I went looking for coffee. Now, here’s the deal: after dark in downtown Austin you can buy alcohol, pizza, sausages, tacos (and whatever else is intoxicating, cheap or salty) the whole damn night. What you cannot find to save your life is coffee. I wasn’t gonna bother heading into an actual restaurant and waste their time on this hunt so I went back to the hotel bar figuring they surely would have some. They did. It was seven hours old. I told the bartender to just pour it over ice and let me at it.

Like everywhere else in town, the 18th floor of the Hilton Garden Inn was hosting SXSW shows. So it wound up being a good thing I couldn’t find coffee anywhere else because I would have missed a wonderful set from Memphis, TN’s Valerie June ( Now this was “roots” music. She has a voice that can go from haunting to endearing to cute as pie within three songs. Every tune was from that deep tradition that can only be handed down personally and not learned from books or, even, lots of listening. It’s in her bones.

After her set I hustled back into downtown to catch Edwyn Collins. Luck placed me directly in front of the stage and that’s really been my luck at every show so far this week. Known in the US mostly for his 1990‘s hit “A Girl Like You” Collins will always be the guy from Orange Juice for me. That’s meaningful to me, too, and not me slagging him off or anything.His band was a crack outfit who played his songs like they’d been doing it for years. Maybe they have, I don’t know. Collins is still dealing with physical issues years after his double brain hemmorage in 2005. His right side is basically entirely limp and he sat down the whole show. But his voice is still incredible. He treated everyone to a smattering of well-known Orange Juice tunes and a handful of solo tracks.It was just what I needed to finally wash the bad mood of the heavy metal vomit party on 6th Street off me.

I walked across a few blocks back toward the center of town to the alleyway entrance of the Ale Bar to catch an acoustic set from goth’s God Peter Murphy (Bauhaus, Dali’s Car). It was a surprise appearance (Murphy had played a regular, non-SXSW concert earlier that night but decided to do this, too) and everyone in the room, er, basement, was pretty thrilled to be there. Thank heaven nothing bad happened because the every member of the Austin goth scene aged 45-60 was in that room. And me. And Flagpole photographer Mike White (who had to stand in the back while I was so close I could basically smell the stage). Anyway, Murphy showed up a full fifteen minutes after his band was done setting up. They were all onstage and literally asking if anyone had seen him. I think he must have gotten lost because among the first things he said was “This festival is a clusterfuck!”

Knowing full well who his audience was in that tiny room he played several great Bauhaus pieces (“All We Ever Wanted Was Everything”, “Silent Hedges”) his best known solo track (“Cuts You Up”), a decent but not really terribly good cover “Hurt” by Nine In Nails and a few others. He nailed the end, though, by doing a rousing version of Bauhaus’ “Passion Of Lovers”. I had never imagined that that this song (or, hell, any of these songs) could sound so good minus every guitar effect, including electricity. And if I, a years-long fan, was convinced of this imagine how easy it would be for a newcomer with no preconceived notions to fall right into Murphy’s web?

They would have needed to show up, though.

Gordon Lamb - HOMEDRONE

"King Biscuit Blues Festival Past, Present, and Future Part Two"

By Bill Graham

It was well past 6 p.m. on Thursday and the crowd in front of the main stage was growing. Fans old and young were dancing to the canned music as they await Reba Russell's performance.

Grady Champion, Willie Cobbs, the Sterling Billingsley Band, and James Harman all received warm applause and ovations. Yet the evening was there, and the crowd was primed.

The Reba Russell Band was introduced and the crowd greeted them with cheers. Russell didn’t disappoint. Her act features no light shows, no frills, just the talent of the musicians who comprise her band and her marvelous voice.

Russell didn’t disappoint the crowd. They seemed to hang on every note she sang and responded to every emotion in the songs. The applause and cheers at the end of her performance were richly deserved.

Paul Thorn was up next. Reba is a tough act to follow, but Thorn was equal to the task; his combination of country-blues and homespun humor was a crowd pleaser. There was both a wisdom and humor in his songs “Pimps and Preachers” and “I Don't Like Half The Folks I Love” that struck a chord with the audience. When he left the stage, it was a toss up as to who turned in the better performance, Reba Russell or Paul Thorn.

Finally, it was headliner time. B.B. King was about to make his first-ever appearance at the festival.

Yet, before he started his show, an announcement was made, one that will have every blues fan in attendance on their feet and cheering. The festival organizers announced that the official name of the festival will once again be the “King Biscuit Blues Festival.” Legal hassles had resulted in a six-year period when the name Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival had to be used. Everyone continued to informally call it King Biscuit or simply “The Biscuit.” But now those problems were resolved. And everyone was ecstatic. It was once again The Biscuit!

It would take a legendary act to follow the performances of Reba Russell and Paul Thorn and the announcement that The Biscuit was back. But then B.B. King is a legend and Day One of the Festival ended with what is being described as King’s best performance in a long time.

Mama Curtis was just getting back to her still-open deli as the crowd was passing by after the show. The smile on her face said it all. She got to see the great B.B. King.

It was Friday morning and the studio of King Biscuit Time was filling up quickly. By showtime it was standing room only. Though the show is broadcast on KFFA, the studio is located in the Delta Sound Room at the Delta Cultural Center located at 141 Cherry Street in Helena.

Terry Buckalew, assistant director of the Delta Cultural Center, noted that the Center houses musical instruments that are “pertinent to various artists from the region, from eastern Arkansas.” The music covers delta blues, rockabilly, and gospel. Artists represented are as varied as the music from Al Green to Conway Twitty to Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

Still, as Terry will tell you, the main feature of the Delta Sound Room is Sonny Payne and the King Biscuit Time radio show.

Jeff and Cathy from Little Rock are excited. They have recently discovered the King Biscuit Blues Festival and couldn't be happier. They have lived in Dayton, Ohio, and Athens, Georgia, and always attended nearby music festivals.

They were happy to see B.B. King, but were blown away by Reba Russell's performance. Eden Brent, who would be playing the Lockwood Stackhouse Stage at three, was high on their agenda for the day. After that, the choices would be tough to make.

Reba Russell entered the King Biscuit studio. As she walked by, Rae Ann from Pensacola stated, “She [Reba] really put on a show last night. Wasn't she good?”

This is the second King Biscuit for Rae Ann. Her husband, Anthony, discovered the Festival back in 1996 while stationed at the Naval Air Station in Millington, Tennessee. He has been coming back every year because he enjoys the atmosphere, an atmosphere that appeals to Rae Ann as well.

Anthony admits the Festival has changed but still enjoys the people, the music, the town, and the atmosphere. “Even when it rained [in 2009],” he said. “We danced in the rain.” Rae Ann finished the thought for him.

How did they feel about the Festival's name change? “About time,” says Anthony. “Every one called it King Biscuit anyway,” adds Rae Ann.

So what does Reba Russell think about the comments praising her performance. To hear some people talk, she may well have stolen the show the first night.

“Oh, wow!” She is sincerely humbled by the compliment. “I'm just gratified that the fans enjoyed the act. We try real hard to put on a good show every time. You don't always but last night did feel real good.”

What about Paul Thorn? “Wasn't he something,” was Reba's reply. “He put on just a tremendous show.” And B.B. King? “Well, he's just great. What can you say?”

Russell has performed several times at the King Biscuit, but confessed that even when she is not a performer, she comes to listen and mingle with the fans. “I'm glad they got the name King Biscuit back. Of course, we never stopped calling it that anyway!”

What about young performers out there at this year's festival? Did anyone catch her eye or ear?

“I hate to try and single any one artist out because they are all so good. But there is a young lady from Memphis who has been out there busking. I have say I like Valerie June, not just because she us Memphis girls have to stick together, but she is GOOD!”

When Valerie June learns about what Reba Russell had to say, her eyes welled up with tears.

“That was so kind of her to say.” Valerie had another appearance coming up with Sonny Payne and Terry Buckalew. After that, it wa another afternoon out on Cherry Street followed by an appearance at 5 p.m. on the Emerging Artists Stage.

The Kentucky Headhunters rocked the Main Stage at 3:35 p.m., followed by Hubert Sumlin and the Willie “Big Eyes” Smith Band at 5 o'clock. The juxtaposition of the two acts is an interesting one.

The Headhunters are a mix of country and blues but pure rock and roll through and through. They are vibrant and high speed, as well as high energy. “Lonesome Me” and the old Norman Greenbaum classic “Spirit In The Sky” had everyone up and dancing, not to mention hooting and hollering.

Hubert Sumlin will be 79 years old next month. He is frail and on constant oxygen. He doesn't “rock out” the way the Headhunters do. Still, he rocked the crowd with his courage and determination. His playing was sharp and crisp and on time. A lifetime of playing with the greats, and himself achieving greatness, carried him through a brief but thrilling performance.

Over on the Lockwood Stage, it was time for Spoonfed Blues, featuring Mississippi Spoonman. Bob Rowell, the Spoonman, has been performing throughout the south for over ten years. He was joined this day by traditional blues harmonica player Bob Corritore, bass player Andrew “Shine” Turner, drummer Carla Roy, and Terry Buckalew on guitar.

The Spoonman would beat the rhythm out with wooden spoons and a tambourine attached to his right foot and the band followed along. His music appealed to young and old alike, as did much of the festival. A little girl, perhaps two years old, was dancing up a storm to a rollicking rendition of “Crossroad Blues” as a crowd of grownups gathered round to watch. As Spoonman went into the Muddy Waters tune, “I Got My Mojo Working,” a couple of woman began to dance, looking and obviously feeling maybe twenty years younger. Judging from the appreciative looks from their husbands and the applause from the crowd, they definitely had their Mojo working.

Saturday, October 9, the last day of the Festival, arrived way too fast. Marcia Ball's and Dr. John's performance from the night before seemed like blur, although both were excellent.

Don Wilcock, erstwhile editor of the King Biscuit Times blues magazine and current editor of BluesWax spoke today about the history of the King Biscuit Festival at the old Miller Hotel on Cherry Street. For Don this is a great honor because he truly loves the Festival and the people associated with it. He attempts to convey how this festival goes beyond the music, how it brings all people together.

The audience was just under a hundred people, which is good for a Saturday morning at a music festival. The audience responded with several questions and the ensuing give and take had the audience engaged.

In some ways, Wilcock's point about bringing all people together in itself was brought home by the act that follows him in the Miller hotel.

Bob Corritore on harp, Bob Margolin on guitar, Bob Stroger on bass, and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith on drums played a set that can only be described as show stopping. No one cared that two where white and two were black. They were united by the music and they fed off and pushed one another to their peak. People passing by on the street stopped to listen. They couldn’t possible come in because the standing-room-only crowd was already packed as close together as possible.

As Willie Smith sang their rendition of “I Got My Mojo Working” it was apparent that there is indeed some heavy Mojo at work here. This seemed to be the way blues is meant to be heard – in a small, enclosed space before a packed house where everybody forgets everything but the music.

When they finished a little over an hour later, the crowd was breathless and sated, though they clearly wanted more.

A state of blues nirvana had been reached. After the performance by Bob Corritore and company, it was difficult to concentrate on the performances that lay ahead. Blues nirvana is not unusual among those who attend the King Biscuit Blues Festival.

An elderly woman was dancing to the music of Lonnie Shields. Her name was Eddy Jo and she has been coming to the King Biscuit for 23 years. She missed the first two because she and her late husband had not heard about the Festival until its third year. Eddy Jo kept coming back for a very simple reason: she likes good music and they keep having good music. She will keep coming back as long as they do.

A middle-aged couple was also dancing as were a younger couple, perhaps in their late twenties or early 30's. They moved in sync with each other, following a pattern of moving away and then coming closer again. Their rhythm was perfectly paced to the music of Shields and his band. Yet they moved more like the music was coming from within themselves. They were separate individuals, yet so finely tuned to the rhythm and to each other they moved as one entity.

On the wall of the Delta Cultural Center is a quote from Robbie Robertson, formerly of The Band. It reads: “People walked in rhythm and talked this sing song talk; when I’d go down by the [Mississippi] river in Helena, the river seemed to be in rhythm, and I thought, no wonder the music comes from here, the rhythm is already there.”

Reba Russell believes that is true. She said she always comes away feeling inspired and feels some of her best songs have been written after visiting the King Biscuit Festival.

Valerie June believes it is true. She believes the vibrations of the festival – the rhythms if you will – were so good she was sure to raise the money she needed to do her CD the way she needed it to be done.

As John Sebastian said all those years ago, “The magic is in the music. And the music is in all of us.” The King Biscuit Blues Festival is about the music, but not just the music that is played on the Main Stage or the Lockwood Stage or the Emerging Artists stage. It is about the music in each of us, the music that the King Biscuit and the Mississippi and the very Delta itself brings out in us and unites us as one.

Until you have been there and experienced it for yourself, you can never truly appreciate the attraction that draws people back year after year.

On October 12, at approximately 1 p.m., Valerie June exceeded her goal of raising $15,000. The mojo of the King Biscuit Blues Festival triumphed once again.

Bill Graham is a contributing editor to BluesWax. Bill may be contacted at - Blueswax

"Valerie June Artist Review"

Just when we thought that genuine, deep roots folk blues music was only a domain of previous generations, the fodder of adoring revivalists, archivists and folklorists, a dead, fallen tree laying in the meadow, here is a beautiful, strong new sprout from an old tree. Valerie June is a powerful folk singer who directly descends out the old traditions, not an admirer or emulator, but an unexpected, wonderful, truehearted authentic outgrowth of traditions. She is not just keeping the old music alive, this is and was always her music. The adjective “awesome” is often overused, but for this singer, it should be restored to its original meaning. This is original folk music, played as fresh and sincere as it gets.

One of the loveliest, most unique and idiosyncratic voices in the American folk-blues scene today is still largely under the radar, but not for long. Valerie June is a singer/songwriter from Memphis by way of West Tennessee, who speaks with a deep southern drawl and is destined to soon come to huge folk fame. She has yet to release a full fledged CD and for now fans need to suffice with a self-recorded live EP , “Love-n-Light”, but just wait and see. This one will be one of the most important voices in the folk blues for decades to come.

The deeply impressive young African-American singer is a startling sight. Tall, slender and strikingly beautiful, with full head of dreadlocks, she seems more like a waif-like model heading to a photo shoot for some fancy magazine, like Vanity Fair, than a folksinger. All the more surprising, almost shocking, is her deep roots repertoire and ethereal creative style. The closest comparison one could make in trying to explain it is to say “Elizabeth Cotton meets Laura Love”, but that would not do justice to describe Valerie June’s essential individuality. Directly compare her folk-essence to the genuine folk musicians like Doc Boggs, Elizabeth Cotton, Vera Hall, Jesse Mae Hemphill, Roscoe Holcomb, John Jackson, Mississippi Fred McDowell and Mississippi John Hurt. When the musicologists and folklorists “discovered” these great American folk musicians, they were initially brought to young urban audiences through their field recordings, and eventually the musicians played the stages of folk festivals. Valerie June emerged from a different place and time, but she is one of the very few of her generation, if not the only, who still hold the umbilical chord directly to the source of this music.

Valerie June plays fairly rudimentary guitar, accompanying herself with simple strumming chords. One could say she’s a beginner instrumentalist. Her distinct singing style is a highly unique and untypical. Yet, she somehow adds all that up to a powerful, natural deep-roots folk style that draws heavily on old folks songs, both from the African-American and Appalachian folk song repertoire of the 19th Century, songs that lived in regional pockets of Appalachia and for the most part did not come to the attention of mainstream audiences until the Harry Smith Collection, Allan Lomax’s Library of Congress and similar collections helped trigger the 1960s folk revival. The music of Valerie June reaches deep into these traditions. She is a direct continuation of this authentic and genuine tradition. She is the real deal, vibrant and fresh with a repertoire of what she calls “Organic Moonshine Roots Music,”consisting of folk, ballads, folk songs, African-American spirituals and blues.

Her star is soon to rise. She is working toward raising $15,000 to fund her forthcoming new album with Grammy Award winning producer, Craig Street who has worked with renowned artists such as: Norah Jones, K.D. Lang, Cassandra Wilson, Charlie Sexton, Meshell Ndegeocello, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Derek Trucks, Allison Krauss, The Holmes Brothers, John Legend, and Chris Whitley.

Hopefully, she will be able to keep her deep roots and her musical purity, innocence and beauty. - The Country Blues

"The Musician's Progress"

The Musician's Progress
Artists look to Web to gain support
JOE BOONE | Special to The Daily News

Musician Valerie June performs her blend of “organic moonshine roots music” to passersby outside Folk Alliance International’s South Main Street office during Friday’s Art Trolley Tour.

Valerie June’s grandfather gave her a guitar for her 15th birthday. Since then she has worked tirelessly to make a living following her passion.

In the face of an industry in collapse – where musicians and filmmakers face challenges financing production just as large media face hard times – June has turned to an online fundraising platform called Kickstarter to raise money for a full-length album.

“I get by with a little help from my friends,” said June.

She is not alone. Independent financing of film has been the norm since the late 1980s. The stereotype of the director maxing out a stack of credit cards to finish a film is a staple of indie culture.

But musicians typically have not exploited such measures. Film is still relatively expensive, requiring lights and sound crews. Music, since the advent of the computer, has adjusted its aesthetic to accommodate “bedroom” producers using computers and synthesized instruments.

But June has bigger ideas.

“I just want to work with musicians who are amazing,” she said. “I want to have an organist and an upright bass. The time is passing and I’m seeing just how hard it is to be an island. Why not take the leap and ask for help?”

June’s sound eschews the synth-driven norms of self-produced music, opting for a folksy feel that harks back to her childhood in Humboldt, Tenn.

She has had some great exposure, primarily through her involvement in “$5 Cover,” an MTV series about musicians in Memphis. It was produced and shot locally by Craig Brewer and aired in 2009.

June, who also has recorded with Old Crow Medicine Show, a Nashville-based old-time string band, is a relentless live performer and takes her work more seriously than most. But these are hard times for music on all levels.

The music industry is without a business model. The old model was itself inefficient. Major labels signed perhaps 100 bands only to see profits on a small percentage of those signed acts. But with a lock on distribution and in the days of mass media, those profits were enormous.

Digital file sharing broke the label cartel’s stranglehold. Without durable sales, the industry has become even pickier about who gets to play. Labels that once had single-project budgets of $200,000 or more now expect artists to foot the bill.

June and other musicians aren’t alone in their efforts to use new Web technologies to determine demand before moving to the next level.

MTV recently produced “Savage County,” a horror series that was shot in Memphis. The project was meant to be serialized on the Web over about nine episodes. But it took on a life of its own and is being considered for the cable schedule.

To gauge popularity, MTV has turned to the Web. MTV stipulated that “Savage County” would need 100,000 “demands” via its website in order to be aired. The show currently has 74,000 demands.

The decision to air the show would have direct economic benefits for the local music scene. The soundtrack was produced locally by Jason Freeman at Music + Arts studio.

“It’s a great score and showcases both Jason Freeman’s and re-mix engineer Kevin Houston’s natural talent for film work,” said studio owner Ward Archer. “It will also boost Music + Arts studio growing reputation as a leading Memphis post production house for film.”

(Demand “Savage County” at

As for June, she is using Kickstarter, a website that takes financial pledges from fans. If the stated budget is not reached, then fans are not billed. June has set a target of $15,000 and a deadline of Oct. 12.

“At first I was not comfortable asking people for money,” said June, who then changed her mind. “Since I launched this, I’ve had labels call me up and say, ‘I remember you from the Old Crow thing.’ I think, ‘OK, now y’all are seeing.’”

June said she has received most of her response through Facebook, where she has a 4,000-plus fan base.

As of Wednesday morning, 59 backers had contributed $3,180. People who make pledges receive one of many tokens of June’s thanks depending on the level of support, including a house concert, a custom painting and even her signature red boots. Visit the site at
- Memphis Daily News

"Valerie June out to kickstart album"

Valerie June out to kickstart album project with help from her friends
by Takia White
Special to the Tri-State Defender

Nestled in Memphis’ historic Cooper-Young District is a quaint coffeehouse called Java Cabana that seems the perfect venue for the eclectic sounds of local musicians such as acoustic folk singer/songwriter Valerie June.

Valerie June
Valerie June

June, who describes her sound as “organic moonshine roots music”, is a self-taught guitar player, singer and composer from the Jackson-Humboldt area in Tennessee. She started in the music industry at 19, has penned over 150 songs and is hoping to “capture my little ole sound on a sparkling, new record” with an album titled “Mania”. And she needs the help of her fans and supporters to make that happen.

June hopes to garner financial support to complete her record through an online funding platform called Kickstarter. The initiative lets the public “fund & follow” creative projects while allowing artists to get their creative vision out to the masses without losing ownership of their product. Programs such as Kickstarter allow an artist – whether it be a musician, painter, filmmaker or writer – to publicly announce an upcoming project to the world as support and donations are gathered towards the goal.

People who’d like to support June’s “Mania” music project can go to and make donations through Oct. 12. Her goal is to raise $15,000 to successfully complete the album.

“Without Memphis, I would not be where I am now. I represent Memphis in my music,” says June. “I became an adult in Memphis.”

Performing across the Mid-South, New York and Dublin, Ireland, June has developed an extremely supportive fan base that includes business owners, music lovers and other Memphis artists.

Mary Burns, owner of Java Cabana and a Valerie June supporter said, “I love Valerie. Her music moves me, and I want other people to hear her.”

Friends, said Burns, take turns supporting each other. “That’s part of fulfilling the dream – those moments when someone else sees your vision, too, and they want to see it become a reality. Music matters, but sweet music matters more.”

“(June is) definitely a unique talent and something fresh for music in Memphis,” said fellow Memphis musician MaxPtah. “She shines a light on the little-mentioned folk scene here. She’s phenomenal.”

Thanks to Burns, June will be performing short sessions in front of Java Cabana, 2170 Young Ave., on Saturday (Sept. 17) between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m., followed by a show at Fresh Slices, 6600 Stage Rd., from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m.

June is grateful for the word-of-mouth and financial support Memphis has given her over the years and is excited about the continued local support of her new project. She noted a familial connection with the city.

“It’s difficult to gather support if your own people aren’t behind you,” she said.
- The Tri-State Defender

"The Wanderer"

The Wanderer
Singer Valerie June expands her base, preps her next move.
by Chris Herrington

The past year or so has been a busy one for Memphis folk/country/blues singer Valerie June. Local music fans may not have seen quite as much as expected from June since being featured in Craig Brewer's $5 Cover last spring, but that's because June, long one of the local scene's most promising and most hidden artists, has spent much of the past year on the road, building fruitful new connections and polishing her sound.

Her own worst critic, reluctant to record and promote a full album until she felt the music was ready and the circumstances were right, June seems ready for a coming-out party. And with a name producer — Craig Street, who was one of the producers on Norah Jones' breakout Come Away With Me — enthusiastically on board, June is preparing to finally hit the studio for real.

Oddly, though June cites Brewer's series as a validating experience, it wasn't $5 Cover exposure that initiated a new phase in June's career. It was her hair.

"Every time I turn around, somebody is sending me a questionnaire for hair," June says. June's sprawling dreadlocks have made her a person of interest on various natural-hair websites and in articles on the subject. And British soul singer Corinne Bailey Rae posted an approving photo of June on her website.

"I tell them, well, I can do it, but only if you're going to mention my music. I'm not trying to be a model for hair," June says with a laugh. "The hair is huge — literally."

But it was the hair that led to one particularly fortuitous connection. Writer Dream Hampton, a former editor of hip-hop magazine The Source, came across June while researching an article on hair and fell for June's music as well as her mane. Hampton contacted June and ended up introducing the singer to Greg Tate as well as producer Street. It was Tate, a former Village Voice staff writer and one of the most important black music and cultural critics, who convinced June to try her hand at New York, which has become a second home over the past year.

"He said, 'You'll know in three months if you should be here or not. The city will let you know. And if it doesn't [work out for you] I will be very surprised,'" June says of Tate's urging her to come to the city. "He's a good friend and very supportive."

In New York, June has performed a residency at Greenwich Village club Terra Blues, found an important prospective partner in Street, developed a writing, recording, and performing partnership with hip-hop/roots artist John Forté, and made other promising connections.

"I'm back and forth from here and New York and Nashville — three music cities," June says of her current situation. "I've been that way for four or five months. Living out of a suitcase. Following the gigs. I try to stay as long as I can to make the traveling worth my time. I thought it was time to try to establish myself in a city like New York and to take advantage of the opportunities presented to me.

"Memphis is where I get my, well, I don't know if mojo would be the word, but support, family, inspiration," says June, who books gigs at some of her favored venues — Java Cabana, Fresh Slices, the Memphis Farmers Market — whenever she's in town.

In addition to her New York excursions, June found some meaningful collaborators in Nashville, recording an Internet and gig EP — Valerie June & the Tennessee Express — with members of the Nashville roots band Old Crow Medicine Show.

"We did it in one weekend at a cabin studio [north of Nashville] and we recorded [the songs] one after the other," June says. "They'd never heard the songs before. That was one of the greatest lessons I learned. If we had had a budget ..."

With a taste of recording in a studio alongside companionable supporting musicians, June now feels she's ready to finally produce a proper, full-length album. To fund the project, she's started a campaign on Kickstarter, a website that allows artists to seek funds for specific, independent projects. (You can find a link to June's Kickstarter page on her own website,

June set a goal of $15,000 and is more than halfway there, with a deadline of October 12th. The way Kickstarter works, artists only receive funds if they meet their entire fund-raising goal. Otherwise, they get nothing.

"I decided to do it because I am solely an independent artist," June says. "I have a producer. I just need a budget. I'm not making enough to [fund] the recording, so I thought I'd take this leap and approach the fans, friends, and people watching my artistic growth."

Rewards for pledging range from free downloads to autographed posters to a house concert from June.

June feels she can capture her sound in the studio with Street, whom she hopes to bring to Memphis to record when she reaches her funding goal.

"He's really amazing at capturing the female voice," June says of Street, citing other artists he's worked with, such as Jones, Cassandra Wilson, K.D. Lang, and Madeleine Peyroux.

"I don't need to be playing with musicians who force me to get into a regular, steady groove," June says. "[Street] listens to a lot of old music and knows that a lot of old blues musicians might play a part fast and then slow it down the next time, and it works."

As June builds toward her goal on Kickstarter, she's hoping to get the rest of the way there with a local benefit show October 5th at the Trolley Stop Market. Admission is free, but June will pass around the hat for donations to her Kickstarter account. June will also be playing the Arkansas Blues & Heritage Festival in Helena on October 7th and 8th, first busking, then on the festival's emerging-artists stage.

- The Memphis Flyer


I had the pleasure of being interviewed by the fabulous, Eagle Nebula and her sidekick, Protius, for Centric TV. We sat in my kitchen on a hot day drinking lemon water and chatting it up!

Click to Watch the Interview: - Centric TV-BET (Black Entertainment Television)

" Q&A with Valerie June + her song “Raindance”"

I originally met Valerie June last November when she participated in the Fire + Fire: Gypsy + Black event, where Hungarian Gypsy and black American musicians shared the stage and explored common musical bonds. Of course, you can't miss the Medusan head of locks she sports, and then there's something about her that reminds me of Thandie Newton's Beloved. When she sang, she was definitely calling on something very Southern and very much older than what usually comes out of the mouths of young artists these days. If you attend the Weeksville Garden Party this Saturday, you'll get a chance to experience Valerie's "organic moonshine roots music" for yourself.

In the meantime, here's a short email exchange she and I had, after which you can check out her song "Raindance"

Roots and blues music seems to be holding its own against the onslaught of technology-driven sounds. Some would even say the forms are coming back, particularly if you think of artists like the Carolina Chocolate Drops. What do you think is the appeal?

I went to visit with my grandmother of 86 and my great aunt of 92 last week just to sit and listen to them tell me stories. I asked them questions about our family line, recipes, and if I could freeze celery for soups and broths. Gran has just recently regained her strength from a double knee replacement surgery, and Aunt Avanell is concerned only about doing things at her own pace and not the will of others. As I ate fresh pecans and listened to their stories, learned that apple cider vinegar is good for balancing blood sugar and removing age spots. There is nothing new under the sun except our personal version which has never been and will cease to be when we are gone. We sit with the elderly listening to their stories while gathering traces of knowledge to incorporate into our day to day lives. While I do believe that traditional music should be preserved, I also believe that it should be used as an inspiration and a foundation to create a person's authentic and original form. I think the appeal of roots and blues music hold's its own against the onslaught of technology-driven sounds because it is the basis and strength through which most of the modern sounds branch out from. We gain strength from the lessons of our ancestors, and we are awakening or as you said, "coming back" to these traditional sounds at our own pace. My attraction to archaic music is to use as and influence on my own form, Moonshine Roots Music.

On the other hand, I have a sense that there's something that Northerners don't get about "roots" music? Do you agree? Why do you think that is?

The Flatlands of Tennessee are the lands I first broke bread, but I've always been enchanted by the mountains. I always hated living on flatland. I packed the car to head down to Clarksdale, Mississippi to perform at The Juke Joint Festival in the scorching sun, and as I drove home later that night, I was graced by a huge, round full moon. I fell in love with the flatlands after seeing The Mississippi Moon shining down on the rows of cotton. It wasn't hiding behind any trees or mountains for miles and miles. I felt like it was telling me the stories of the ghost that worked those fields years ago. It made me grateful to be from The South, from near the Forked Deer River, and from the edge of three counties. I have been warmly welcomed by Northerners and Southerners alike. If there is anything that Northerners "don't get about roots music" then maybe it would be the honesty it reveals. It is raw. It is dirty. It's sometimes just down right brutally honest, but I've got a feeling that Northerners "get it" just fine.

What do the blues and roots music do/convey that no other form can?

Blues and roots just tell another version of the same story that old time country and bluegrass tell. There is a common thread that these genres of music share that is just viewed differently by what the listener is willing to hear. If you are truly listening to the music, you can make it your own and move beyond the structure that society has place the music in as a specific genre to just getting a "feeling" or an emotion. That emotion and feeling is what the music is really trying to convey. That's what it's all about!

Has anything surprised you about the way your voice–both as a singer and a songwriter–is evolving?

I try to stay surprised by the way my voice and songwriting evolves. I'll let you in on a secret: If you stay surprised about each moment and watch them unfold, then it's easier to realize just how powerful and magical we are as creators. The fun thing about calling my music Moonshine Roots Music is that it allows me to have flexibility in my creative process. It's important for me to not feel confined to a specific genre of music. When I enter the songwriting process with an element of surprise, I find I am more open to just writing a song versus writing a "blues song" or a "roots song". I am influenced by artist like Joanna Newsom and Imogen Heap and much as I am by Elizabeth Cotten and Etta Baker. I like to think my listeners are intelligent folks who listen to my music with open ears and an hint of surprise which enables them to define each song as they see fit. I just unleash the sounds and stay in a constant state of awe about the entire process of making music. It's truly how I find my spiritual center, and I hope it's how I provide comfort for others in letting them know they aren't alone in happiness or sorrow, love or fear.

Besides this Weeksville performance, what's next for you?

Fairy Dust, Saturn's Rings, & Banjo Strings…I will be off somewhere over there writing and recording songs, cooking hot water cornbread in my cast iron skillets, and taking herb walks through the woods! - Rob Fields

"The Quike Fix"

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Thursday, August 12, 2010
Ramblin' On Through, A Conversation with Valerie June
A musician sat across the table from a writer. They had met for one specific thing, a staged conversation many would call an interview. By meeting in a cafe in Williamsburg, they ended up having more. She, the musician, a tall cup of tea. Him, some sort of deliciously sweet smoothie. He placed his elbows on the wobbly table. He pulled up. She folded a napkin and placed it under the leg of the table, saying, “I just wanna—I'm trying to learn a lot of things right now—language wise. Not just music. I want to know as much as I can about the things that interest me.”

He placed his elbows back on the table. The wobble was reduced significantly.

“So what kind of languages are you learning?” he asked.


“Hungarian, yeah?”

“Yeah,” she said. “Hungarian. I'm really into it right now. I'm supposed to go to Hungary, um, Oc—tober the 8th, I think it is I'm leaving. And there's a performance I'm going to do, and I'm excited about it. I'm going to be there for several days, maybe even longer.”

“Depends how the trip goes?”

“And I'll be able to speak to the natives. Yeah, I don't know how the trip's gonna go but I think it's going to be really good. I've been there before. It's amazing.”

“So the second time around you wanna make sure you got everything—”

“Yeah, cause there were a lot of cool people I couldn't speak to because they didn't speak fluent English enough and I didn't speak enough Hungarian, so...I didn't speak any Hungarian. (laugh) It's really funny listening to me say it in my southern accent.”

“It's always funny speaking another language with that. I was, I lived in Miami for five years so, I tried to learn Spanish to some degree, and I did, but whenever I spoke to a native Spanish speaker they just looked at me like, that's not how you pronounce thangs. Sorry, I don't speak English right either.”

“Yeah, I mean, can't you understand what I'm saying? I'm at least trying over here, work with me. Where were you raised?”

“I was raised in Tampa.”

“Okay, so from Florida.”

“Florida boy through and through. The beach was my life.”

“So what are you doing here?”

“Umm, I, you's sort of a difficult question to—”

“How long have you been here?”

“I've been here a little over a month.”

“That's not bad.”

“Yeah,” he said. “Not bad at all. I've been able to—”

“We've been here for about the same amount of time.”

“Oh yeah?”


“Yeah so," he said. "I came up here in October and I, uh, don't want to push anything. But I had sort of an experience. Like uh, a spiritual type of awakening telling me, 'To come here.' And I felt I needed to be here. So far, it's just doors have been opening everywhere I go.”

“Cool. I think it's a nice place,” she mused. “Nice to explore and see what you're going to run into.”

“Yeah, I don't know how long I will be able to live here.”

“Financially you mean?”

“Well,” he said. “Financially I think I can make it work, but it's just the hustle and bustle of the city, you know? I might long for a slower—slower part of the country. It's nice and all, but its hard to find peace and quiet.”

“That's true.”

“It's good at this point of my life because I'm tired of being idle. I just want to run, hustle, work my hardest.”

“Did you go to Louder Arts?” she asked.

“I did once. I need to do that one again.”

“I'm going to do that one in November. November 15th I think. I'm excited.”

“They got you booked for that?”

“Yeah,” she said. “I'm doing it with a poet friend of mine. Her name is Samantha, Samantha Thornhill. She's really great. I've read some poetry at Bowery. But it was some other piece, by another artist. It was fun though. I liked it.”

“Down south it was once or twice a month that I could find a good venue to do poetry at.”

“How often do you do them here?” she said. “Every night?”

“Every night that I am free. Sometimes I have to work, I get off, am tired as all hell, and I can't do it.”

“Gotta de-stress?”

“Yeah,” he huffed. “Definitely. Whenever I have a free night and I'm not working I'm there. So tonight I will be over there, and yeah, just do it.”

“Like a reading?”


“I thought about doing that,” she said. “Going to different open sessions...but, for some reason, I get— The thing is, I get like, 'I should just be studying.' There's a time to present and be out there doing your art in front of people, then there's the time to just take it all in, and study, and that's what I'm getting. So I guess I'm positioning myself to just go out, you know like, there's so much going on, I just wanna go out and go to this one and that one and all of that but I think I'm not supposed to be that way now. I think I'm just supposed to chill and feed off the energy of the city. But to bring it home with me, work with it. So, I don't think I would be like, trying to write music and learning all these songs if I didn't get a lot of energy from the city. I think I would just be...I dunno what I would be doing. It's hard to force yourself to be focused some times.”

“You have to be focused,” he said. “Especially when you're trying to study and learn. You can't just let it all fly out the window. You gotta harness it and practice it. So that it is perfect.”


“So what's your uh,” he began and stopped to find the right words. “What is your—how do you create your music, how do you go about that?”


“Writing your own songs and stuff.”

“Usually, I just hear a voice singing. So I just write it down. What I'm trying to do nowadays is, I hear a voice, and I write it down. Then I go back after I've written it and edit it and really really spend time arranging songs. So, that's a different mind that you're in when you're editing and arranging versus just creating. So I don't really find it too easy to switch back to the receiving when I'm being real technical about—about the um, material I already done. It's hard to go back and be like, open again. I think that's why, sometimes you're like, when you learn how to do something, preferably 'the right way', in some senses it takes away from what you do. You can learn how to do it the right way but learn how to break the rules again. Which is ultimately the goal but sometimes people don't get back to learning how to break the rules, they're just like, 'That's not right!”

She chuckles, “So the process just stops. Because I think it is two different minds. The receiving mind, the creative mind, and the editing and and, you know, the tightening. It's just so different. And I don't like being in that mind.”

“Just be in a brainstorm, free flowing mind state.”

“Yeah,” she said.

“Now this has to be edited so that this line has to fit into this rhythm.”

“That's what works better for people who are used to formulas, and patterns and forms, and the way things are supposed to be.”

“Do you feel that's how things are supposed to be?” he asked. “All formulas and technicality?”

“That's the tough part because if you want to make a living doing it, you kind of haveta bend it to where, you know, i-it is acceptable to the average viewer that doesn't really, that can't really take something that every once in a while throws them off from the regular formula, like, 'that's not supposed to be that way.' So, I think that's really the art, really the craft that has to be mastered. When you can take it and make it acceptable for the average person but also sneak in your own know...your little...the way you do it basically...the way it was...the way it would be if we weren't so used to things being in this tight pattern. And also, isn't it supposed to be that way? Because that's the way we naturally hear things. For the songs to, you know like the 1-4-5 pattern or something like that, for things to fit into a rhythm and a pattern. Even seasons are like that, time is like that, aging and birth—everything has this regular pattern. So maybe its the right way, to fit it into that pattern where it feels right and sounds right.”

“The trick is formulating the pattern to—” he said. “To fall under these guidelines that fit your own creative style. To not just emulate but to be something new in itself yet still put it in a way that people can take in. So people don't just stop and be like, 'whoa, I don't understand it so I'm not going to think any further.'”

“Yeah, and I think a lot of times when I'm just receiving and giving people what I've received they can't grasp it because its not—it's too sharp for them to touch. It might hurt. And also it seems like, people are so—like your image matters so much. That sometimes I feel like, what people accept from me, as far as what they're interested in hearing, it really matters what I look like. That could be to my benefit or not. And the reason why, is because sometimes people look at me and hear the sound of my voice and they know I'm from Memphis and expect me to play the blues. So, if I feel like playing the blues, because that's an easy sell, they're open to hearing me do that. But then I feel like, you know, the majority of people—instead of just letting my music be what it is, and like, appreciating it for what it is, they can't really hear it when I'm doing what I do because its not normal for me to look like I look and do what I do. I just think that's really weird and strange that people are so closed minded. I always wanted to have a little bit more hope for humanity that we were more,” a smile broke over her face, “open minded.”

“Some will just accept anything that's fed to them.”

“Yeah, yeah,” her eyes squint as her cheeks rise from a smile.

“What would you uh,” he continued. “Along those lines of image and how people perceive other people, what would you say to a young girl facing insecurities? That's so caught up in her image, or even a young boy, with his image. What's the importance of image in the scheme of things when its really not about image? It's about what you bring to the table. So what would you say to someone battling with their own insecurities, what would you tell them?”

“First thing to do ista get to know your self. And know your strengths and weaknesses and just overall know how you feel about yourself. The second thing ista know that, you know, the world is a certain way—and people are a certain way—and the only way to change people is by your example. So in a lot of ways I feel like whatever you like about yourself, and whatever you find likable, whatever people find likable about you—you might not be what you want to be, like with the most popular feature that you have but use it and work with it and just go with it. So what, if people are, I mean, when you really feel hard about it and you really know yourself well and you know who you are, then it doesn't really matter what the rest of the world thinks about what you are. I mean, you can play it either way. You can give them what they want because they like that, because they like that side of your personality. You can do that, you know who you are at the end of the day. Or you could just, do what you do and be like, 'I don't care. It's all or none.' You can take the likable side of me and the unlikable side of me as well because that's who I am and how I am. I really feel like, it's about finding some ground in your confidence and security within yourself and sayin' I don't really care what the rest of the world's sayin' as far as if they want to be insecure about who I am then that's their problem. If you can learn to find that grounding and that confidence then you can succeed at what you do because you are just fearless. And I think it takes being fearless to make something happen.”

“It takes being true to self to be a successful being.”


“No matter the outcome,” he said.


“If things don't work out for you are you going to change your personality and become more cold to just achieve your own means? Or are you going to be true to your self?”

“I was thinking about that the other day.”

“Oh yeah?”

“When I was thinking about it I was thinking about the different artists I like to listen to,” she said. “And how different all the genres are, and how I might have worked with somebody two or three years ago and if they worked with me now and I'm in a different place and I'm doing different thangs, types of music and things, they might say, 'you've changed.' I'd tell them, 'no I haven't changed. I like to be fuller, I like to be—you know, I-I know who I am still. I'm still the same person you worked with two years ago but I'm just like—”

“Your interests changed.”

“Yeah, I'm the same though. I still like all the same things. I think other people might find that they feel the same way to follow their own path, instead of following the path the world wants them to follow. But I think there has to be a balance.”

“Always a balance. Unfortunately,” he rethought his words. “Or no, fortunately. What would you say is your biggest influence musically?”

“Probably gospel. Like last night, I spent a long time—most of the evening singing ol' church songs. It was so much fun! Oh my god.”

“Must have been a lively household last night,” he said.

“It was. Man, what I'm going to do is write down all the ones I love and do an album of church songs I love. They remind me of my childhood. And its funny because people ask me how did you start singing the way you sing. I think its really easy when you have a southern accent to sing the way I sing, but also, when I was really young I went to a black church and learned how to sing really soulful. Then, when I was about twelve we went to a white church and we were one of the only black families. So I learned to sing really, you know, throaty and high, so that was different. So when I was singing those church songs it just reminded me of how natural the way I sing is. And how when I was trying to sing a different way— I was in this band and was trying to sing like this R&B star.”

“Ohhh man,” he said breaking through the barrier he hoped would stop his laughter. She knew this was the correct reaction to what she had said, so she didn't hold back the type of crooked smile that comes from experience.

“Yeah, it was awful. It was awful. I just hated it. I was like, 'this is so not me.'”

“So what about personally, your biggest influence?”

“At this point I'd say my parents,” she said. “They're really, fighters to fathers, and magic workers. They can make things come out of the blue that never would have been there. They don't realize they are magical.”

“Those are usually the people who are most magical,” he said. “Those that don't know they possess magic. They just continue doing what they're doing. Either way, whether they know they're magical or not. What are they going to stop and say, 'I am magical.?' They're just going to keep doing magic.”

“Okay so,” she started with excitement. “Do you think that, its interesting to use the word think in this sentence. Do you think, that the creative process, whether you're writing a poem or, or at any rate, do you think that there is any involved thinking? Or when you're doing it, and you're really really doing it—you think about it during and you think about it after—but do you think that when you're doing it you think at all?”

A light chuckle follows the question into the answer.

“Y-yo,” he started. “—I wanna say yes.”

“I think some times I'm totally separated,” she said. “Like when I'm lost in it it's not happening.”

“It flows, and y-you're a vessel,” he said. “You take in, like you said you receive.”

He waved his hand in front of his face and then put his palm to his stomach, “and then it churns up in here.”

“Over here,” he places his finger to his temple.

His hand moves to his heart and he continues, “Down here, you know. It's all in your body, then when you're ready. Just—you know. I don't want to use the wrong example. It's just like your spirit, you know, and in a way you want to get it all down. The release, the release, just go. Then when you stop and you put your pen down, and reread it—that's when you start working. Otherwise you're just like a channel, you know, it comes in and out. So, in a way. You're just an eye, a mind, taking it all in and kind of recording it all. This is just like the raw recordings of life. I think of it as a history because of when my grandfather died. He didn't write down many of his stories. He used to tell us these stories and stories, and he or I never wrote them down. So I think that every time you're putting the pen to the pad, its like, you're marking your moment. Your existence. So by telling your story, you're unleashing the make up of your soul. So, but, yeah. That's probably the funnest part of creating. The loss of control. Or the harnessing of another world. When its just coming out. Could be divine, could be just personal mind, who knows, its something. Certainly something.”

A relative to the centipede, or millipede or something crawled along the wall. After trying to capture it in a napkin without killing it. The fast moving creature headed along the frame of the wall and towards the hair of the girl sitting behind us. We warned her, she explained its relation to the centipede, or the millipede or whatever, and then they continued in the creature's absence.

He asked, “Why is music vital to human nature?”

She leans back slightly and looks away, her eyes staring at the the jars hanging on the wall, then she says, “because of the rhythm of life. It's everywhere. There's no getting away from it. Someone I know once told me they don't listen to music ever. I was just like, “Everybody listens to music.”

“Your heritage, pours out of your music (poetically exaggerated)...why is it important to remain conscious of your history or where you come from?”

“It's a way to learn. History repeats itself, they say. Just know your ancestry and past, and a little bit about where you come from as you hold onto it. And as you learn these things, you can adapt them to your life easier I guess. Don't throw the old out. Don't throw the baby out with the bath water. You know. It really matters. As a building block. A foundation. But not to hold onto you but to build on top of it.”

“That's an interesting way of looking at it,” he said. “A lot of times people think of being stuck in the foundation. Keep it as a foundation from within. Not necessarily stay in one spot, move on but just keep it within you. It's a foundation of your being, of who you are. I think it's impossible to separate the musician from the music, so how does your music reflect you as an individual?”

“Well, when I listen to my music, just a wild thought comes to mind that its an untamed voice. Then there's this album Roscoe Holcomb had called 'Untamed Sense of Control,' so when I saw that album name, title, I was like, 'Man, that's what I feel my voice and music is, in a lot of ways. Which comes back to what we were talking about earlier when we were talking about the structure that people are used to hearing. I feel like I don't really fit into that, but I'm trying to learn it so that I can know how to do it even though I wanna keep doing what I'm doing. So, I think it reflects me and my personality and who I am, because I just have this wild thought that I'm like a crazy wild lady. This music is rooted and grounded and all of those things, but at the same time its untamed and its wild...and crazy.”

“Craazy,” he said.

“And its not necessarily—” she said. “You know, it makes you think twice. And I think my personality does that some times. Challenge myself.”

“Don't go taming yourself with formulas and all that. That's one thing I like about your music, the reason I'm drawn to it really, is, I dunno, the way you pull different ways within a line, its freeing. It really is like that, Tamed, wait.”

“Untamed Sense of Control?”

“Yes,” he nodded. “Untamed Sense of Control. That's a good one right there.”

“When I saw that, I was like, 'I need to hear this record.' Then it was, 'I just love it!'”

“Musicians are often referred to as agents of change, do you feel you have a role as an entertainer as provoking some sort of change?”

“Yeah, I feel like, well, I was just reading a book called Deep Blue, and it was just talking about African slaves coming over with their instruments, the banjo and things like that. I feel like, a lot changed between then and now. And I feel like in some ways what I do is very different from the blues and country music and all of that. But at the same time, its just, African music made the change where a lot of African people didn't even care about the banjo anymore. And now, there's a change where we are identifying with it again, you know?”


“So I think that's one form of change. Another form of change is just, the industry, the music industry—there's things about it that make it difficult for an artist who really does their thing, follows their passions and is really a creative artist, you know, you kind of have to get inside of some kind of sellable, marketable formula or structure. And I think by myself, I'm not really fitting into that. And that represents a change in itself. So, that's how, you know, there's more and more artists that don't really fit into that normal picture but they're becoming successful. I'm just in that movement, where that kind of change is happening and people who are in the music business and industry are rethinking the way they do things, in trying to—”

“It's like they're losing control. The artists are gaining more control over their creative force.”

“That's a change.”

“Do you think its on an individual level, you personally are creating the change before the music industry has to change?”

“That comes back to a person being insecure and finding their own place in the world. I think that I, my only responsibility is to be true to myself and to make music that comes from my heart and not really worry if I'll be able to eat off it. Because I've worked many jobs, I know how to make a living. The industry, maybe it will change, maybe they'll come to us, maybe they won't—you just...”

“Have to keep making good music,” he intervened. “Focus on your own craft and then it will all pan out from there.”

“I think so. I mean it really is a weird fast life, it's over before you know it. What do you want to spend your time doing? What you really wanna do. What you're really passionate about. What you really love. Not what everyone wanted you to do or what you had to do to survive. I'm all about Thoreau when he's like, 'work the minimum amount that you need to work in order to survive, then you reevaluate what survival really looks like. And then, after that, live life and enjoy it. Do what makes you happy.”

“That's how I feel right now about getting published,” he said with a rise in his voice. “I can send it to a hundred spots, get a hundred rejection letters—or I can create my own forum and not get paid. Still, its reaching people. I'm not necessarily able to put any crumbs on the table, but its still love. It's not tarnished by that business end of it. Just pure love coming through.”

She began, “Then there's the whole thing too where like, why not send it off, why not get a hundred rejections? That's just one evening of putting them in envelopes of putting them in envelopes and putting a stamp on there. Just do it, put in the mail you know, it'll be gone the next day. Don't get attached to it, it's just part of the journey, just send it off and move on.”

“That's the thing. You send it off, you can't get like, this mentality like you bought a lottery ticket and are just thinking of all the things you could buy.”

“What a waste of time.”

“It's the same way,” he said laughing. “You send it off and forget about it. Then you get a rejection and are like, 'fuck.'”

“That's just the process.”

“One hell of a process,” he said before groaning, “good lord. On that level, a lot of people are afraid to pursue the arts. What are some of the benefits of living an artistic lifestyle that a paycheck could never afford?”

“Living an artistic lifestyle,” she said with reflection, looking up as if to her thoughts. “Well shoot, I feel like I didn't have a choice. I didn't sign up for this job.”

She laughs, “It was something that wouldn't let me go. Uh, if I could have had the choice I might have chose something else.”

She laughs again, “I'm joking.”

“I tried to choose something else and it—did not work well.”

“Yeah,” she said. “I really feel like it causes a world of pain as an artist to like, try to act like you aren't what you are. Trying to fit into regular society and lifestyle. That is a disadvantage and that costs you a lot. But if you really follow your path to be an artist and accept what you are—you're gifted. You're not like everybody else. You aren't the same, you cannot follow the rules that everybody expects of you because you aren't that person. You just can't do it. And if you do it its going to go against your grain and its going to cause you years of pain. So, when you follow your path as an artist—everyday you get these gifts and signs and these like beautiful presents that come to you. They just come to you. And it's like, so exciting to get that. So rewarding. I don't think that other people really have the chance to get that. I hate to say it that way but for how much as it takes, or as much as the sacrifice you'll surrender as for you to be an artist and follow your creative path—you receive so many blessings. Think of how nice it is when you get invited to do a mural for the first time. That feeling that you get is crazy. It's just a magical feeling. Believe it, empower it, and just trust it because when its gone—its like your sending a curse to the universe like, 'I don't want to be this, creative person.' And they're like, 'How could not want such a nice present?' And you're like, 'because it doesn't feel like its a present!'

They both laugh.

She continues, “Then they're like, 'Alright, well I'll show you. It'll be a real hard bargain.”

“I opened the box and I got work shoes...”

“Gloves,” she added with a laugh.

“A tool belt, tellin' me to get to work.”

“Hahaa,” she laughed. “I like that. That would be a good painting to hang. Two kids are opening a box.”

As soon as the laughs die down, he begins again:

“How do you feel about the state of contemporary music? What needs to change?”

She gives a long sly smile and said, “I think contemporary music is just fine the way it is. If people want to be herded and cattled that's fine, that's good. I think its all about happiness. If that's what makes people happy then they should go for it. You can read the newspaper and watch the news and just believe everything you hear. Or you can be like I'm going to read the newspaper and watch the news and I'm going to learn what's really happening over in that area. I think the mainstream is fine. I think its possible for me to live and do what I love without the mainstream. I think there are just as many people supportive of non mainstream and that they keep artists alive. You just have to do what we were talking about earlier, reevaluate what survival looks like to you. I really don't think mainstream matters.”

“Let people do their thing,” he said. “As long as you're doing your thing.”

“Yeah,” she said. “And I'm true to it. I love it—have fun. Life's too short to not be happy.” - Kevin Patrick Nelson

"Neosoulsville-Memphis' Own- Valerie June Interviewed on Centric's "SubCentric" Blog"

Here in Neosoulville, we love talking about music...but we REALLY love talking about music made by people we know and love. Singer/songwriter (recently turned actress), Valerie June has been carving a new niche in music & I've had the pleasure of watching her career blossom along the way. Check out the interview & check out Valerie June on FB: - Tonya Dyson

"Valerie June"

Hello Valerie,
Thank you so much for doing this interview. I tremendously enjoyed your concert and the more I learn about you the more I love your music and you. So let's start at the beginning. You grew up in Humboldt, Tennessee in a family of 5 kids. When, at what age did you start singing?

I like to think I started singing at birth. For as long as I can remember, I have been singing.

Were singing and music also part of your upbringing?

I would say that singing was definitely a part of my upbringing, but playing music was not.

When did you know you wanted to be a singer? Do you remember that moment?

You are a self taught guitar player. Why guitar?

The first time I heard an acoustic guitar I fell in love with the warm sound of the strings. I really have a passion for string instruments. They are soothing and grounding for me.

Do you believe that an instrument chooses the artist or that an artist chooses the instrument?

I believe it can work both ways. As an artist experiments with his or her evolving sound, the instruments the artist is drawn to change. I find it fascinating how many different guitars a guitarist can have stored around in the corners and closets of a house. They all have different sounds that are attractive for certain projects.

Correct me if I am wrong but I believe you said that the spirituals is where it all started. That is the root of your music. Do you use that as a base to compose?

Composing music like everything else in life is a truly spiritual experience to me. I definitely use my foundation of gospel hymns when writing tunes. I spent the yesterday evening just sitting around singing my favorite hymns.

What inspired your first 2 cd's?

The Way of the Weeping Willow was recorded in an old farmhouse in Tennessee. It was inspired by some spirituals and traditional songs. It was the first collection of songs I was able to play on guitar.
Mountain of Rose Quartz was inspired by my desire to experiment with my voice. Just how much can I use my voice as an instrument?

In your MTV interview you said that you had been told that because you are a woman you had to be a certain way. What was expected from you as a woman?

As a woman, I feel there are always expectations dealing with appearance. For example, how I choose to wear my hair has sometimes automatically branded me in the minds of others as a "Rasta" or a reggae singer. When in reality, I just think it is easier than having to go sit under the hairdryer every week and having my scalp burned every two weeks. This only touches on the idea of women being expected to be a certain way in the world. It is partially to our benefit because we have the power. We just have to trust ourselves.

Was it hard for you to make up your mind and choose what you want?

I usually spend a good deal of time thinking about what I want and trying to see it from every angle before I make up my mind. So, yes, it was hard to make up my mind.

Was locing your hair part of breaking free?

I suppose it was a breaking free. It was about gaining back hours of time that I would spend on my hair.

When and why did you start locing your hair?

I really have always had very thick hair. It has been difficult to manage since I was born with a head full. I was just seeking to simplify my life a little bit by going natural. I began nine years ago.

You come from a fairly traditional family. How did they respond to your hair?

At first, my family did not much like my hair. It was when all the girls went on a trip to New Orleans and as we walked down the street folks were complimenting my hair that my mother said, "You know, I like your hair too!"

How do you care for your locs?

I have to have man hands to help me really care of my hair. My hands aren't strong enough to squeeze out all of the shampoo. Besides that, I usually make my own herbal hair care products from things in my garden to keep it healthy. It is not so easy to do that now without a backyard.

Your hair is absolutely gorgeous. Sometimes I see straight locs and sometimes I see them kind of like swirls. How do you do that?

I just wash it and braid it.

Does your hair have spiritual meaning?

It is funny to me because I sometimes entertain myself with the thought that musicians pick up radio stations in the ether by using their hair as an antenna. There are so many musicians of all races with the coolest hair! I just like to think of my hair as a plant. It is a philodendron.

Why did you move to New York and how do you like it?

I moved to New York for the only reason I every move myself in and out of bed morning and night...for LOVE. What other reason is there to do anything?

Do you still make soaps?

I do make soap. I will probably sell some in New York soon as I find a place I like.

I noticed that you often wear boots? Is there a connection to your roots or you just like to wear boots?

My father always wore boots when I was growing up, and whenever he gets dressed up, he wears boots. It reminds me of him. I was in Nine West not too long ago trying on high heels. Maybe I'll change. Girls must be girls!

What is your goal as an artist?

My goal is to get RICH BITCH...Just joking!!!!!!! My goal is to really learn to be a master of my craft. Master my songs and my instruments. Learn to read music and have fun exploring where my bliss leads me!!!

What can we expect next? Are you recording?

You can expect only the best from me in the future. I am going to begin my Kickstarter campaign this week to raise funds to finally capture my sound that you see at my live shows with a producer and musicians. It will be nice to be able to take the time needed to really focus on getting 12 songs recorded and move them from bouncing around my head. I have recorded some amazing work over the last five years since I have been playing guitar. Three of what I call "bedroom recordings", and I'm very proud. I have had the honor of working with artist and producers I admire, but I have never had the funds and resources to take the time to capture my sound at it highest potential. I really hope that a community of folks will come together to help me finally get my music recorded and a tour to follow! I definitely need help to make this happen. I've tried it alone. It's difficult and not as much fun as being surrounded by a community of supporters!

Where can readers get your music?

My music is for sale at I would love to see the readers at an upcoming performance. I have the shows listed on my site too! - Mirelle Wirht

"'I Am a Man' and '$5 Cover Amplified' get top awards at Mid-South Emmys"

By John Beifuss (Contact),
Originally published 12:23 p.m., February 1, 2010
Updated 11:19 p.m., February 2, 2010

Memphis documentaries "I Am a Man" and "$5 Cover Amplified" were winners at the 24th annual Mid-South Emmy Awards ceremony.

Directed by Jonathan Epstein of Running Pony Productions and written by John Hubbell of Old Bridge Media, the 25-minute documentary "I Am a Man" -- which looks at the infamous Memphis sanitation strike that brought Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to town through the eyes of 70-something Elmore Nickelberry, who continues to collect garbage for the city -- won four regional Emmys at the Saturday night event, which was held at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center in Nashville.

"I Am a Man" earned Emmys in the categories of Historical Documentary; Director -- Programs division (Epstein); Music Composer/Arranger (Scott Bomar and Deanie Parker); and Writer -- Programs division (Hubbell).

"$5 Cover Amplified" -- created by Alan Spearman (a photographer with The Commercial Appeal), in collaboration with editor Eileen Meyer and co-producers Hubbell and Andria Lisle -- was recognized with two awards. The series won the Cultural Documentary Emmy for its episodes on musicians Valerie June and Ben Nichols, and the Photography (Programs division) award for its June episode and an episode titled "What It Is," featuring filmmaker Craig Brewer and musicians Paul Taylor and Jason Freeman.

Created in conjunction with The Commercial Appeal, the 12 "$5 Cover Amplified" short documentaries were created last year to coincide with the debut of Brewer's "$5 Cover" musical serial drama on MTV.

-- John Beifuss
- Commercial Appeal

"SXSW All Aboard"

SXSW All Aboard
An unprecedented Memphis contingent invades Austin's SXSW Festival.


"I know we've got rock and blues and singer-songwriters, but I really think 'Memphis' should be a genre," filmmaker Craig Brewer told an MTV News crew last week at Austin's South By Southwest Music Festival, the biggest annual gathering of musicians and music-industry insiders in the country. And for four days in Texas, an unprecedented number of visiting Bluff City bands gave lucky fans and curiosity seekers a sense what that might mean.

Onstage Thursday night at the Dirty Dog bar on 6th Street as part of a showcase hosted by the Memphis Music Foundation, rapper Al Kapone preached the same gospel: "We're gonna take y'all on a tour of Memphis," Kapone said to the assembled crowd. "We got Soulsville — rest in peace, Isaac Hayes — blues, soul, rock-and-roll, and hip-hop, aka, all of the above." Hill Country Revue's Cody Dickinson joined Kapone onstage to play electric washboard during a blues-rap tribute to Beale Street. Kapone's live band dipped into soul and rock. And Kapone himself more than supplied the hip-hop.

Kapone was wearing a $5 Cover T-shirt — promoting Brewer's upcoming Memphis-music-scene-themed MTV project in which Kapone's among the on-screen subjects — and Brewer was in the crowd, filming the set with a tiny AT&T digital camera (a new $5 Cover sponsor) that sent live streaming video to

At this moment, the two primary forces — $5 Cover and the Memphis Music Foundation — driving the largest Memphis delegation in SXSW history came together. With Brewer and MTV New Media executives in Austin to promote the series for a probable May launch and the Music Foundation hosting two events and financing the travel of participating local bands via its "ambassador" program, roughly 30 Memphis acts descended on Austin, smashing last year's record of 20.

There were seven Memphis-oriented day or night showcases over the festival's four days — two each sponsored by the Memphis Music Foundation and Goner Records, one co-sponsored by $5 Cover and MusicMemphis, one by Ardent Records, and one by local rockers Lucero, who created a "Lucero Family Picnic" day party featuring tourmates and friends (including fellow Memphians River City Tanlines) at the last minute when the Dirty Dog had an unexpected opening. (Sadly, we were forced to come back a day early and missed Goner's Saturday night showcase.)

I haven't even bothered trying to figure out how many total shows were played by Memphis artists, not when John Paul Keith played nine shows himself, five leading his band the One Four Fives and four more as a sideman for Jack Yarber and Harlan T. Bobo. (It would have been more if Bobo hadn't missed or canceled a couple of his scheduled shows). Trumpet player/flautist Nashon Benford played shows with four different Memphis bands (Snowglobe, Antenna Shoes, Two Way Radio, and Jump Back Jake.) These flurries of activity are entirely typical of SXSW, where upward of 2,000 acts (according to a New York Times report) now show up and live music runs from noon to 2 a.m. only if you skip after-parties.

There were no individual Memphis performers this year as buzzed about as Jay Reatard or Amy LaVere at previous festivals and no Memphis-centric events as high-profile as the Stax showcase two years ago or Goner's first showcase the year before. But in terms of overall festival presence, this was Memphis' biggest SXSW year yet.

Memphis' Austin invasion got started late Tuesday night at Central Station, where roughly 60 Memphis musicians and scene-connected representatives had a few beers in the parking lot and then boarded a bus to Austin sponsored by the Music Foundation. The motley assemblage included members of the classic Stax instrumental band the Bar-Kays (headlining the Foundation's Thursday night showcase), members of Kapone's live band, and members of rock bands such as the Tearjerkers, River City Tanlines, Jump Back Jake, and Two Way Radio. "It was the only way to make sure we could get everyone down there," Foundation president Dean Deyo said with a shrug at the organization's Thursday day party, while acknowledging the inherent comedy of the trip.

Around 8 a.m., the bus pulled into a Cracker Barrel restaurant parking lot outside of Dallas. "Somebody said we probably scared the crap out of everybody at Cracker Barrel," Deyo said. Among the many moments of humor and incongruity to emerge from this cultural clash was, according to Two Way Radio's Kate Crowder, a post-breakfast siesta in which a row of Memphis musicians sat on the restaurant's front porch rocking chairs, smoking. Remembering the same moment, songwriter/bandleader Harlan T. Bobo wryly noted the sign overlooking the scene: "OUR ROCKERS ARE FOR SALE."

In Austin, a scattering of local bands got started with official showcases Wednesday night — indie rockers Third Man, hardcore assault unit No Comply, and $5 Cover subjects Two Way Radio, whose early set suffered interference from a loud metal band the next club over; The New York Times' four-word verdict: "Homely, cute. Metal disrupts."

But the Memphis action really got going Thursday, starting with an early Music Foundation outdoor day party in Brush Square Park, adjacent to the convention center. Heading into Austin, I was starting to question the wisdom of the Foundation putting such focus and funds (surely tens of thousands of dollars) on a few days in Austin, but both of their Thursday events came off very well. With its proximity to the convention center and catering from Memphis in May Barbecue Fest award winners Natural Born Grillers, the day party served its purpose — luring hungry industry types over from the convention site to see Memphis bands.

After indie-poppers Two Way Radio finished their opening set — Brewer training his streaming camera on $5 Cover breakout bet Crowder — the singer found herself facing a receiving line of business-card-clutching bizzers. One, who licenses music for television shows, suggested the band would be a good fit for TLC's Jon & Kate Plus 8. Another suggested a USO Tour booking. Who knows if anything will come out of these new contacts, but it's a start. While Crowder was doing business, the tent was filling up with the sounds of Jump Back Jake, a young Ardent Records swamp-rock/R&B band whose sharp set was highlighted by a cameo from Ardent patron and Big Star drummer Jody Stephens, who sat in for one song, and a closing cover of Eddie Floyd's Stax chestnut "Big Bird."
click to enlargeCraig Brewer - by Justin Fox Burks

* Craig Brewer

The Foundation moved to the Dirty Dog that night for its official festival showcase, a diverse lineup of local acts dealt a slight blow when rap duo Eightball & MJG missed their flight to Austin, spurring early bands to start a little bit later to fill up the duo's middle slot.

Jack O & the Tennessee Tearjerkers started things off with a show-stealing first set that relied heavily on their most recent album, Flip Side Kid (the follow-up, The Disco Outlaw, will be released in May on Goner, though advance copies were available in Austin), and showcased his underrated skills as a hooky rock songwriter and skilled lead guitar player.

With Kapone and the River City Tanlines filling out the middle portion of the bill, the Foundation showcase was closed by the odd-couple pairing of Lucero and Stax vets the Bar-Kays. There was some apprehension about how this combination would work. More than any other Memphis act at this year's festival, Lucero brings with them an independent national fanbase, and their set transformed the bar from a two-thirds-full crowd that was at least a third Memphians to a full crowd heavy with hardcore Lucero fans.

The band had been charged by showcase organizers to "be sober" for their set, a request they partially fulfilled, but which gave lead singer Ben Nichols a conversation topic in his back-and-forth with the audience. Toward the end of the set, Nichols sensed that the crowd his band had lured into the club probably weren't big Bar-Kays fans. "The Bar-Kays are going to play after us," Nichols said. "Anybody ever heard of a song called 'Soul [effing] Finger'? Badass shit." Not getting the recognition he sought, Nichols threw his hands up in resignation and admonished his fans: "Ignorant motherf##kers!"

After Nichols polished off the Lucero set with "Fistful of Tears," accompanied only by Rick Steff's piano, the Bar-Kays took the stage and proved to not need any help with the crowd. The club thinned out a little when Lucero finished, but a new wave came in expressly for the Bar-Kays, who took the stage in white sequined suits and unleashed a surprising blur of energy and sound that immediately gripped the crowd. With three backup singers/dancers filling out the lineup, the small stage could barely contain the band, but that only made the energetic set seem more chaotic. Memphis-connected critic Stanley Booth once wrote that "in Memphis, if your whole band can't do the sideways pony, then you don't have a stage show." The Bar-Kays, clearly, still have a stage show.

Microphone problems for a very unhappy frontman Larry Dodson threatened to derail the set, with Dodson storming off the stage while a tech tried to fix the problem and the band kept playing. But once that wrong was righted and the band launched into "Soul Finger" — their one, sure, claim on eternity — it was a big party. And a big success.

Though the Foundation party was Lucero's lone "official" showcase, it was probably the least significant of the four shows the band played at SXSW — and five if you count Nichols' official solo showcase at a packed Maggie Mae's Friday night.

Lucero has been together for more than a decade and are old hands at SXSW, but they came into this year's festival on an upswing, having just opened for the Pogues at the Roseland in New York and set to go into Ardent Studios Monday, with producer Ted Hutt (the Gaslight Anthem), to begin work on their major-label debut for Universal Republic.

Though a little loose at the Foundation showcase, the band had been in top form earlier Thursday at a day party alongside Brooklyn cult faves and good friends the Hold Steady, teasing the crowd with three songs from a upcoming album.

The new songs were expansive, rhythmic, and terribly impressive. Before the set, Nichols and guitarist Brian Venable couldn't hide their excitement about the new album, for which they're deploying a horn section and a more painstaking songwriting process. If the performances in Austin were any indication, this excitement is very warranted.

Lucero didn't get to stick around to see the Hold Steady, though the Brooklyn band sang Lucero's praises from the stage on several occasions. They had to hurry over to the Dirty Dog for an interview with MTV News, which also spotlighted other $5 Cover bands, such as Al Kapone and Two Way Radio. Though the official launch date of $5 Cover is still being set — with early May mentioned as a ballpark time — more news about the series is beginning to trickle out. It's looking more and more likely that the web-based conception will now have a television component. And at the Ardent day party, MTV New Media executive vice president David Gale confirmed a tip I'd picked up a couple of weeks before — that discussions are under way with a Seattle filmmaker (Lynn Shelton) about producing $5 Cover: Seattle — turning Craig Brewer's brainchild into a potential new franchise.

The MTV News crew almost seemed less interested in $5 Coverinterviews with Memphis artists than in the fortunes of the University of Memphis Tiger basketball team. SXSW typically coincides with the first week of the NCAA basketball tournament, which has some attendees (okay, this one) juggling a band schedule and a bracket sheet as they navigate the clubs. This year, Tiger Fever was rampant among the Memphis contingent, many of whom took over a Vietnamese restaurant outside of Dallas on the way back Saturday to watch the team's game against Maryland. Lucero's John C. Stubblefield told MTV News that the Tigers' #2 seed was good, because Memphis is an underdog kind of town. Brewer and Antenna Shoes/Snowglobe frontman Tim Regan made the scene in Tiger gear. And Regan's bandmate Luke White, working sound at the Ardent day party, filled a brief gap in the schedule by picking up an acoustic and performing his Final Four lament "Tiger High '85." The Tiger connection would also come in handy later that night.

MusicMemphis and $5 Cover hosted a Friday night showcase, and like the Foundation the night before, faced some last-minute problems. For MusicMemphis, it was Harlan T. Bobo opting out of his scheduled set after professing weariness at all the MTV attention. This opened up a slot for Valerie June, a local folk/country/blues singer who appears in $5 Cover but who didn't have any shows in Austin lined up. She was just in town to support friends.

June was happy to play but didn't have her acoustic guitar with her — and no one else at the Memphis showcase had one either. MusicMemphis organizer Jeff Schmidtke headed out onto 6th Street on a guitar search, coming up empty until he was approached by a man asking about his bright blue University of Memphis T-shirt. The man didn't live in Memphis now but had attend the U of M. Turned out to be Jason Isbell, the former Drive-By Truckers songwriter/guitarist, who had a showcase across the street. And it turned out he had an extra acoustic he could lend.

The showcase, at the cozy Halle Cabana 6, kicked off with the instrumental trio City Champs (supplemented by the Bar-Kays' horn section) laying down a hot set of Memphis-style jazz and R&B —all groove and punctuation, no jam-band noodling.

June came next, charming the audience with an impromptu set, joined onstage by fellow Memphian Jason Freeman (of the Bluff City Backsliders) for a Mississippi John Hurt cover. She was followed at the showcase by Ron Franklin, Keith and the One Four Fives, Hill Country Revue, Susan Marshall (playing with Jody Stephens and Hi Rhythm's Teenie Hodges), and Amy LaVere. It was a showcase that demonstrated how diverse and idiosyncratic "roots" music can be in the hands of Memphians — just one definition of what Brewer's proposed genre could mean.

— Additional reporting by J.D. Reager - Chris Herrington-Memphis Flyer



World Staff Writer

Valerie June, a blues artist, is originally from what she calls "nowhere." A small town in Tennessee between Jackson and Humboldt is where she was raised but she currently lives in Memphis.

What makes her story so interesting is her enthusiasm for her art. She has only been playing for a year, but was involved for about five years with another band. After watching her ex-husband play guitar, she picked up one, and found that she had memorized the chords, and needed no formal training to play. This year was her first time to play at the blues festival and also her first time witnessing the thousands that crowd Helena-West Helena.

"I am in love with this festival," she proclaims.

In a post blues festival trip, June was getting a history lesson from the president of the Sonny Boy Blues Society, Rayne Gordon. She learned about Sonny Payne and his show "King Biscuit Time" on KFFA. Gordon told her about how the artists would be on the back of a grocery delivery truck playing, in between delivering groceries, to promote their show and which juke joint they would be at. They would pack up their gear and go back to work.

He also talked about King Biscuit Flour and the sponsorship of the radio show. He explained that it was one of the first stations to expose blues artists to the general population. Needless to say, June was excited to see Payne do his show.

June also was at Pine Top Perkins "Homecoming" party at the Hoskins Plantation. Gordon gave her a brief history on the plantation.

After playing the Band Village Solo Stage and on the streets of Helena-West Helena, June had only good things to say about the hospitality of the Delta.

"I love Memphis. I play a lot of back road places but have received more support from the Delta," she stated.

As a participant of the SBBS emerging artist program, June got to play at the festival and the exposure was great.

"I got several record and production offers, sold lots of CDs and got to introduce everyone to my music," she said.

Gordon compares her style to the California Blues but June calls her tunes organic moonshine music. Many artists inspired her but all of the music she enjoys most she says is "real roots" music.

"I want to do the thing most challenging to me. I didn't ever believe in myself. I decided that it was either visual arts or music," she said when asked what brought her to the blues. "I couldn't afford art school so I said music is for me."

June has a song that was the talk of the SBBS office called, "No Draws Blues." "I will be at every festival whether I play or not," she said.

To find out more about June's style of blues visit her Web site at



2004-Bella Sun-No Crystal Stair

2006-Valerie June-The Way of the Weeping Willow-ep

2008-Mountain of Rose Quartz

2010-Valerie June & The Tennessee Express



Valerie June

Several of Valerie's past performances have included the Winnipeg Folk Festival, South by Southwest Music Festival, International Folk Alliance Conference, International Blues Challenge, and The Juilliard School of Music, NY.

Ireland, Hungary, and Germany are a few of the overseas countries that embraced Valerie's music with overwhelming charm and praise.

So far this year, Valerie has been invited to perform at prestigious festivals such as the River and Blues Festival-Battery Park-New York, NY, Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival-Hart, MI, KRCC-Woodland Park Series-Colorado Springs, CO, and the Joshua Tree Roots Festival-Joshua Tree, CA.

She is a master of Moonshine Roots Music which consist of folk, blues, gospel and country elements. Valerie plays banjo, guitar, ukulele, and slide guitar to accompany her stellar voice and storytelling.

Valerie June has recorded and ventured into songwriting sessions with the likes of The Old Crow Medicine Show, Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, Kevin Augunas (Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros) and John Forte (Grammy nominated producer for The Fugees).

You can find out more about Valerie's music at Here is a link to a video of Valerie performing:

Imagine the voice of feminine smoky silk, the face of an angel, with a Medusan tangle of locks as thick and strong as her family ties and her musical roots in the flatlands of West Tennessee…then you’ve manifested Valerie June, a true original - emerging star from the legendary and still vibrant Memphis music scene.

A ‘self-taught’ guitar player, composer and troubadour of heartbreak ballads, folk songs, spirituals, soul-stirring blues and what she calls “Organic Moonshine Roots Music”.

Valerie’s alluringly haunting voice of distinction appeals to fans similar to those of Joanna Newsom, Elizabeth Cotten, Mississippi John Hurt and Jessie Mae Hemphill along with the music world’s most famous Bobs; Dylan and Marley.

Valerie's journey thus far, has led her to record her most recent collection of songs, Valerie June & The Tennessee Express, with producers Ketch Secor of Old Crow Medicine Show and Beau Stapleton. She has also written and performed with Grammy-nominated, John Forte who produced and co-wrote on The Fugees' album: The Score. Her voice has taken her down the back roads to the late Jim Dickinson's Zebra Ranch to write and record with his son, Cody Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars and Hill Country Revue.

In January 2010, the documentary created by Alan Spearman: Manifest, won an Emmy award for Best Documentary. Manifest is the compelling story of Valerie's organic musical journey and how she came to write the song: "No Draws Blues".

Valerie's music reaches music lovers from all backgrounds from folk to blues. She has released to makeshift records: The Way of the Weaping Willow and Mountain of Rose Quartz, recorded at Ardent Studios (Big Star, Replacements and ZZ Top). Valerie is currently gearing up to enter the studio with producing team, Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys and Kevin Augunas (Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros) to capture the new sounds vibrating with the splendor & tension that occurs when mountain-spring freshness meets river-town grit. Valerie June's music channels a beautiful - generous – authentic spirit, brimming with gratitude for life and filled with all its hardships, joys, tears and laughter...