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Volume 24, Number 8 — August 2017

Former "closet' musician takes to the stage at BR&RR

Amythyst Kiah
Amythyst Kiah

By Leslie Grace | A! Magazine for the Arts | August 28, 2013

Amythyst Kiah says she was a closet musician during her adolescent years, and didn't start performing until her junior year at East Tennessee State University. While at ETSU, she played and sang in the Celtic band and then switched to the ETSU Old-Time Pride Band. That experience led to local bookings and her ultimate goal to perform nationally and internationally within the next 10 years.

"I am an independent artist, so there is much legwork and much to learn on the business side of things. I am balancing that with grad school, so things get tricky sometimes. It is a learning process, and it has been worth it.

"I released my first EP in 2011, which was recorded by Grammy-award winning recording engineer Martin Walters, and I've been pretty successful at selling those over the past couple of years. I just recorded an album last week at ETSU with recording lab manager Ben Bateson, and we will be wrapping up the mixes in the next few days. The new album will be out by September, in time for Rhythm and Roots. I'm still contemplating a name for it."

She may have come late to performing, but her introduction to music came early through her father. "He was always playing music in the house; and as an audiophile, he had an excellent sound system. He played anything from Miles Davis to Carlos Santana to Prince to the Allman Brothers. My taste for multiple genres and ability to sing definitely came from him.

"Not only are my influences eclectic, but they span decades. I've drawn a lot of inspiration from older music, such as the Carter Family, Mahalia Jackson, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Dolly Parton, and Olla Belle Reed to name a few. My most recent inspirations have been Rev. Gary Davis, Jessie Mae Hemphill, Susan Tedeschi, Joss Stone, Son House, Gavin DeGraw, Hanson, Amos Lee and Adele. Bottom line, I am attracted to songs that have insightful lyrical meaning, and/or have compelling, powerful vocals."

Kiah says she plays music that resonates with her, and she doesn't pigeonhole her musical expression or physical presentation. She will characterize her music as Southern roots music.

"I fuse traditional roots music with a fresh, contemporary flair, and I've recently started to seriously write songs, which will continue to reflect what I've learned from arranging traditional songs," she says. During the past four years she's played in Washington, D.C., Charleston, S.C., and throughout Southwest Virginia. She is looking to book more shows farther outside the region so she can promote her new album. She will be performing in Savannah, Ga., the Saturday before BR&RR with Matt, Patrick, Taylor, and Andrew of This Mountain at the Revival Fest. And, they will also be her backing band for one of her sets at BR&RR.

"Rhythm and Roots was really the beginning for me as far as establishing good relationships with the people of Bristol and Southwest Virginia. I've gotten many event-based gigs and gigs at venues through word of mouth since that time, and I've been very fortunate to be able to get my feet wet with performing in that area. The Chamber of Commerce, the Birthplace of Country Music, Believe in Bristol and the citizens have been very good to me. They know and love music, and I feel it every time I play at BR&RR," Kiah says.

Kiah's involvement with music isn't limited to her studies and her performance schedule; she is also working as a research assistant for the Birthplace of Country Music Museum.

"I am helping curate a couple of exhibits that will be in the museum," she says. "One of the exhibits will have a mixing station. We recorded a few tracks at ETSU and hired faculty and students from Bluegrass, Old Time, and Country Music Studies to record. Visitors will have a simulated mixing experience through use of a touch screen, and they will be able to control the volume of each vocal and instrument to see how the different components of instrumentation, rhythm and melody work together to complete a piece of music. It was an exhilarating experience to be able to lead part of a project that was so big. It has been an honor to be part of it."

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Topics: Festival, Music