Normal Was Never The Plan.

A chat with North Carolina native Rod Abernethy on his newest album “Normal Isn’t Normal Anymore” & a few stories along the way.

Around The Country had the unique opportunity to have a chat with Raliegh-based composer and musician Rob Abernethy. Talks of early beginnings, hotel room dessert & steampunk robots ensued.

A Diet of Dylan and Disney

An early fan of compositions found in Disney media, Rod attributed Fantasia and Mickey Mouse for laying the groundwork of what would be a successful composing career. Rod recalled early in his childhood

“I’ll never forget watching Mickey Mouse being chased by these brooms walking brooms in the sorcerer’s apprentice. I’ll never forget that. It was scary and exciting at the same time.”

Rod also credited Bob Dylan and watching the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show as inspiration growing up. One of Dylan’s songs(“Oxford Town”) shows up as the last song on the album.

Steampunk Robots 

Among songwriting lies another creative pursuit that Rod enjoys. Rod builds custom steampunk robots out of parts. Included in his wildly successful Kickstarter campaign was a chance to own one of them. When asked about how or if those robots influenced his songwriting process or the overall creation of “Normal Isn’t Normal Anymore” Rod offered an insightful view of how he usually manages multiple creative interests:

It’s all coming from the same muse, from the same place. But I don’t really see the steampunk art influencing my music at all. It’s almost like you’re driving the same car but you’re on a different highway.

What I got from Rod is that he’s always on creatively, something that is an incredible gift to have.

There’s Stories In These Songs

This album is filled with stories and inspiration drawing from all different places and talking with Rod confirmed that. Let’s dive into the behind-the-scenes of the album’s creation. Normal Isn’t Normal Anymore was recorded at Skinny Elephant Recording in Nashville TN. Rod recruited Grammy-nominated(Rifles & Rosemary Beads) producer Neilson Hubbard & had Dylan Alldredge assisting with engineering. Neilson also contributed to the drums on this album! Other than Neilson, Rod called on these other great Nashville musicians to lay the foundation for his songs:

While recording the album, Rod came back to the point that Neilson as a producer really pushed him to let go of the perfection that he was chasing. 

“I will say Neilson was really good at not letting me go back and try to fix stuff or do it again. For example I would say Neilson I could play that part his reply: no we’ve got it”. 

From a listener’s perspective, it seems that Neilson was on the money about all of those decisions. The album sounds really solid and alive, really supporting the stories in the songs rather than taking away from them. A song with a cool story that I had the pleasure of learning about was the sixth track on the album “When Tobacco Was King”.

“When Tobacco Was King” was spurred out of this photo Rod had taken while walking through the streets of Winston Salem. The song was co-written with Susan Cattaneo, a friend, and collaborator. Susan had seen the Rods post on Instagram, and that turned into an all-day writing session. When it came to laying down the parts for the song, Rod mentioned:

“with When Tobacco Was King, we wanted to keep it kind of an intimate feeling. Guitarist Will Kimbrough came in and a lot of those parts are one-take parts.”

I thought that spoke volumes about how the record was produced and arranged. I firmly believe that the instrumentation of an album is just as important as the imagery and stories it tells. One can live without another, but when they both are present is when albums become memorable.

The third song on the album “Whiskey and Pie” also had a unique backstory as I would find out. Rod had written an instrumental on a 12 string and needed a title for the composition. While attending a Folk Alliance International conference at a hotel, Rod had stumbled upon a room in the hotel that was being used to host different folk artists. It was late at night, but the host was more than accommodating with a late-night snack for the musicians…Pie, and Whiskey to wash it down. Rod had his title.

The album as a whole is a really great listen. With Rod providing great stories, and the band providing great musicianship, it’s definitely an album that carries a lot of thought and effort. I thoroughly enjoyed the pacing and song choice of this album, as I felt every song had something unique to say. With Rod, I felt that “normal” was never the plan. An accomplished composer, maker of robots & an NC folk hero, Rod is anything but normal…and that’s an incredible place to be.

Check out Rod’s website for the latest details on show dates & news!

*Special thanks to Rod for chatting with me & providing all of the great photos!

A Night with Railroad Earth

An eclectic night of bluegrass-inspired music at the Fillmore Charlotte.

February 20th, 2020. A day that brought not only eccentric weather but an eclectic band to Charlotte. Outside the roads around the Queen City were icy, the air frigid, and the temperature freezing. However, inside the Fillmore the crowd was warm and receptive to any band that happened to be on stage. Starting off the show was a duo called Handmade Moments.

Handmade Moments.


Comprised of Anna Moss & Joel Ludford, this duo brought a great opening set to the Fillmore. Through brass and wood, these two brought a unique sound to the opening part of the show, and I highly recommend checking them out! They are out supporting Railroad Earth on this tour on select dates through the rest of the tour.

Railroad Earth


A plethora of instruments lined the stage. Such instruments included the usual suspects like acoustic and bass guitars. Others like pedal steel made a welcome appearance in the eyes of the attendees. Starting with a black stage, Railroad Earth was received fondly as the drummer(Carey Harmon) started the set. Slowly, building in layers, the other instruments came in building an overall sound that could only be described as cohesive.

Cohesiveness was the main underlining factor in this set. 19 years of performing will do that to a group. One thing that stuck out was how during the set, no one ever got in each other’s way. Carey Harmon’s drum fills never competed with Andrew Altman’s stand up bass lines. Tim Carbone’s violin never interfered with John Skehan’s mandolin picking. The crowd picked up on that, noting by how attentive the crowd was during the entirety of the set.

A time and a place.

Although cohesiveness was the main theme of the set, a big part of how I perceived a Railroad Earth live set was through the individual skills of every member in the band. There was a time and a place for each member to take a solo, while still contributing to the overall sound of the song.

Todd Sheaffer
John Skehan
Tim Carbone

As examples, John Skehan & Tim Carbone had many moments throughout the show where the individuality of each of their respective instruments was put on display. Even frontman Todd Sheaffer had many tasteful solos.

A great night filled with incredible music, Railroad Earth had such a fantastic set which you can check out here:

Set 1:
Chasin’ A Rainbow
Bread & Water
Bird in a House
The Hunting Song
For Love
Crossing the Gap
The Forecast
Runnin’ Wild

Set 2:
Just So You Know
Lovin’ You
Old Man and the Land
Warhead Boogie
Captain Nowhere
Jupiter and the 119
Cuckoo’s Medley

Be sure to check out Railroad Earth on tour through March! Dates below!

Feb. 22 – Asheville, NC – The Orange Peel

Feb. 23 – Charleston, WV – Mountain Stage

Feb. 25 – Louisville, KY – Mercury Ballroom

Feb. 26 – Knoxville, TN – Mill And Mine

Feb. 27 – Birmingham, AL – Iron City

Feb. 28 – Pensacola, FL – Vinyl Music Hall

Feb. 29 – Pelham, TN – The Caverns

Mar. 3 – Indianapolis, IN – The Vogue 

Mar. 4 – Grand Rapids, MI – The Intersection

Mar. 5 – Madison, WI – The Sylvee

Mar. 6 – Minneapolis, MN – First Avenue

Mar. 7 – Chicago, IL – Vic Theatre

Mar. 20 – Washington, DC – 9:30 Club

Mar. 21 – Washington, DC – 9:30 Club

Mar. 25 – Fayetteville, AR – George’s Majestic Lounge

Mar. 26 – Tulsa, OK – Cain’s Ballroom

Mar. 27 – Kansas City, MO – Knuckleheads Saloon

Mar. 28 – St. Louis, MO – The Pageant 

Railroad Earth to Headline The Fillmore Charlotte February 20th

Bluegrass never sounded so good in the Carolinas.

Around The Country will be providing coverage for Railroad Earth as they stop into Charlotte February 20th on their 4th show out of 23 on the tour. With stops including one of our favorite venues ‘The Caverns’ that has already sold out, Railroad Earth has much to look forward to during this tour!

Forming in 2001, the band was a culmination of the love for acoustic instruments. 9 albums later with the lastest entitled All For The Song releasing later this year, we have much to look forward to with this group!

You can find tickets here & the complete tour schedule below. Hope to see you all there!

Feb. 7 – Boston, MA – Paradise Rock Club

Feb. 8 – Port Chester, NY – The Capitol Theatre

Feb. 19 – Salem, VA – Salem Civic Center

Feb. 20 – Charlotte, NC – The Fillmore

Feb. 21 – Raleigh, NC – Lincoln Theatre

Feb. 22 – Asheville, NC – The Orange Peel

Feb. 23 – Charleston, WV – Mountain Stage

Feb. 25 – Louisville, KY – Mercury Ballroom

Feb. 26 – Knoxville, TN – Mill And Mine

Feb. 27 – Birmingham, AL – Iron City

Feb. 28 – Pensacola, FL – Vinyl Music Hall

Feb. 29 – Pelham, TN – The Caverns

Mar. 3 – Indianapolis, IN – The Vogue 

Mar. 4 – Grand Rapids, MI – The Intersection

Mar. 5 – Madison, WI – The Sylvee

Mar. 6 – Minneapolis, MN – First Avenue

Mar. 7 – Chicago, IL – Vic Theatre

Mar. 20 – Washington, DC – 9:30 Club

Mar. 21 – Washington, DC – 9:30 Club

Mar. 25 – Fayetteville, AR – George’s Majestic Lounge

Mar. 26 – Tulsa, OK – Cain’s Ballroom

Mar. 27 – Kansas City, MO – Knuckleheads Saloon

Mar. 28 – St. Louis, MO – The Pageant 

Kelsey Waldon at The Evening Muse.

Kelsey Waldon may have small-town roots..but her songs know no bounds.

Stopping in Charlotte on a cold November night, Kelsey Waldon transformed the Evening Muse into a proper country music venue. Supporting her latest album White Noise/White Lines, Kelsey put on a great show.

Born and raised in the rural community of Monkey’s Eyebrow Kentucky, Kelsey is about as real as it gets. In a state that has produced some of the best emerging country artists, Kelsey adds to that list with songs that speak of life experiences and different points of view.

Throughout her set, Kelsey would sometimes give a tiny snippet of the song’s origin, crediting her grandma for one of them. Things like this paint a portrait of a person who has lived. A person that isn’t filling a song quota, or searching for current buzzwords. A true country artist.

Kelsey also brought a killer band with her. One of the best sounding rhythm sections belongs to Nate Felty & Alec Newnam. This only elevated Kelsey’s songs.

The crowd at the Evening Muse was attentive the whole night, with silence coming during the acoustic part of Kelsey’s set. It was a truly authentic country night at the Evening Muse, and I highly recommend going out and supporting this great artist.

Kelsey is on tour through the new year, with dates surely being added in the future. Thanks to Kelsey for having ATC out to the show!

Quick Takes Featuring “Desert Dove” by Michaela Anne

Welcome to this second edition of Quick Takes, where we at Around The Country quickly give you a reason to give an album a listen in 200 words or less.

Alright folks, break out your favorite beverage and block out 40 minutes of your day…because this album is a good one.

Michaela Anne is a songwriter that is new to my playlist, but she entered my country music radar via her appearance on Live from Layman Drug Company.

If there is one defining trait of this album, it’s the careful craftmanship of each song. With the first song “By Our Design”, one can really get a taste of the sound of this album from a sonic standpoint. The haunting strings that start right on the downbeat give this album a theme of space and nostalgia. Each song on this album could be a title track, something that I find rare in other albums.

My favorite song off of Desert Dove has to be “Two Fools”. It’s a no-frills classic country song dripping in pedal steel that revolves around a complicated relationship. It doesn’t get more country than that.

Give Desert Dove a listen, and get lost in the space & vibes that make this album so special.

Flatpicking, Family & Friends.

A conversation with seasoned bluegrass artist Larry Keel.

Around The Country recently had the chance to interview Larry Keel, a treasured bluegrass musician who’s seen a life of music. Here’s what he had to say:

What got you into flat-picking?  

Larry: I grew up in a very musical household, with both sides of my family having been musicians and music-lovers for generations. Very deep mountain traditions from the southwest corner of Virginia – my parents moved up from the family fold in Clintwood, Virginia, up to northern Virginia for work when the coal mines slowed way down in the 1970’s. My father played guitar and banjo and sang, my brother played guitar, my close uncle on my mother’s side played drop-thumb banjo and his band toured around with Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys for years (Ralph Stanley is from Clintwood also). My grandfather Joe Mullins played banjo too… he’s reputed to have ‘penned’ the song “I Got a Mule to Ride,” that Ralph Stanley recorded and performed. There was always music in the house growing up, and musicians were always stopping by. I guess I was just born with it burning in my blood. I wanted to play music just like all the cool, interesting folks that were in my world. My brother bought me a guitar of my own when I was 7 and I’ve never set it down. As far as why I flat pick the guitar, it’s just the way I learned to play since that was the way my brother and dad played… and I loved the flat-picking style that I heard guitar greats like Doc Watson, Clarence White, and Tony Rice playing. That got me really fired up to get technically advanced like they were.  

Do you have any memorable shows you’ve played? 

Larry: Playing with Tony Rice at MerleFest, playing with my brother Gary at MerleFest, playing Carnegie Hall and Red Rocks Amphitheater. Getting to play with my wife and with friends and musical legends in some of the most beautiful places in the world… and I’m ready for more!

Photo courtesy of Angel Hendrix

Who are your favorite up-and-coming bluegrass artists?

Larry: I’m way into The Infamous Stringdusters, Billy Strings, Sierra Hull, the Steep Canyon Rangers, the Songs From The Road Band and Front Country, just to name a few really talented acts and artists out there killin’ it.

I always love to learn about the recording process of albums. Tell me about the recording process of your latest album One.   

Larry: For this particular project, we recorded it in the basement of my road manager’s house, completely live. The setting was totally comfortable, familiar, relaxed, close to home, etc., so that automatically makes for a really natural and centered feel going into things. The ‘live’ part means that we didn’t use any studio layering of tracks, no separation booths, no gimmicks, no fixes of anything; what we played that day is exactly what you get in each song, as if you were hearing us perform right in front of you like at a live show. That is the truest representation of what we wanted to say with these tunes. Recording the album this way made it genuine and fun for us, hopefully, that comes through to the listener. The other important factor is the finishing stage of the process, which was having the recording mastered by Bill Woolf. The best!

Many thanks to Larry for taking the time to answer these questions! Catch him at any of his live shows through February!

Son of A Songwriter.

Talented Texas transplant Ben Danaher on being a 21st-century songwriter.

If you want to learn about the life of Ben Danaher, all you have to do is listen. Ben credits his dad the late Bob Danaher (an accomplished Texas songwriter in his own right) for the grit and determination he needed to weather the hardships of being a songwriter in the modern age. Hailing from Huffman, Texas, he made the move to Nashville shortly after his brother Kelly was tragically shot and killed in his home. During early writing sessions in Nashville, Ben explains:

I had just moved to Nashville after I had lost my brother, and for a while this was the first time I was talking about it.

A Special Songwriter.

Like many great songwriters, Ben chose to channel his hard life experiences through song, resulting in a raw, unfiltered look into the life of a songwriter. Within Nashville and country music, Ben Danaher is a straight-shooter. His ability to connect with listeners through deeply personal stories puts him on my list of songwriters that I feel are changing the landscape of the songwriting mecca. A part of the reason his album “Still Feel Lucky” has been received so positively.

“Still Feel Lucky” embodies not only personal stories but harrowing truths about Ben’s personal loss and hardships. The album was done live with his touring band. Ben explained the process of recording an album live with his band saying:

we rehearsed the album 6-7 times before recording so everyone really knew their parts. I remember we did around 7 songs in the first day. 

Live at The Fillmore

Ben took the stage at The Fillmore in Charlotte opening for Aaron Lewis on his “State I’m In” Tour. Armed with a worn Gibson acoustic, Ben opened up the show to a warm response. The crowd drew ever-increasingly quiet throughout his set, really relating to the hardships he’s faced. Referencing his dad throughout his set really put into perspective the weight his songs carry. The songs don’t reference trends in country music, and they aren’t trying to fill a songwriting quota. I believe crowds want the authentic, relatable nature of country music back. Ben can and does provide that. And people are listening.

You can find Ben on tour as he tours the country through December. Thanks to Ben for answering my questions!!

125 Miles West of Charlotte.

Jesse Langlais of Town Mountain & the importance of music among friends.

Travel 125 miles west from Charlotte and you’re bound to start hearing banjos. Talking to Jesse Langlais(Banjo & vocalist for Town Mountain), evidence of this statement could be found at any given street corner in Asheville.

Asheville is Home.

Asheville was home for Town Mountain even before the group had formed. Jesse explained “We had all lived in Asheville long before Town Mountain was a band.” Town Mountain came to be out of the different open jams around Asheville. The culture of Asheville lended itself to musicians meeting out of these different events. It also fostered the strong sense of collaboration that brought on many new faces and ideas to the band. As Jesse said

Collaboration is a really big part of bluegrass music, with friends jumping in and out of each others bands…

Music Among Friends

With their latest album New Freedom Blues, collaboration was at the forefront of its creation. Friend Caleb Klauder(mandolin & fiddle for the Foghorn Stringband) was at the helm as producer. Miles Miller(drummer for Tyler Childers & Sturgill Simpson) provided the drums for the album, although his impact was more apparent as the band rehearsed a few songs with him. Jesse explains

“Miles came into the studio and we rehearsed a few songs, and it ended up that almost every song on the album had Miles on drums”.

With Miles came Tyler Childers(a good friend of the band) who co-wrote and provided vocals on the last song on the album Down Low. Recording the album in Echo Mountain Studios in Asheville, the band felt perfectly at home experimenting with different ideas.

A Busy Schedule

Town Mountain, like a lot of other working bands, tours heavily. Jesse gave me a ballpark range of over 120 dates a year. I was able to catch them live as they stopped in Charlotte at the Visulite Theatre July 25th. Playing close to a 2 hour set, the energy and tenacity of this band is relentless. Zac Smith(bass) provided a solid foundation for blistering solos courtesy of members Phil Barker & Bobby Britt. Jesse Langlais incorporated a great hand on banjo, while Robert Greer sang the truth in song. The musicianship of this band as a whole can’t be overlooked.

The crowd stayed eager throughout the whole set, getting rowdier as the night progressed, hollering after each solo and song. Town Mountain put on such a flawless show that they even did two songs after the encore.

As far as shows coming up, there is a big one on their minds. Red Rocks, with Tyler Childers. “Were really looking forward to Red Rocks” Jesse said enthusiastically.

125 Miles west of Charlotte is where Town Mountain came to be. They continue to be a band that works hard and plays hard. Hats off to these NC natives for making great music and being even better people. Special thanks to Jesse Langlais for taking the time to talk!