Scene&Heard: Josh Nolan

In a setting that once knew no electricity, in pastoral a village that was built by hand and faith and love and rang out with the a capella songs of the unique Shaker faith, on a picturesque sun-soaked day, the serene landscape suddenly came alive with the electric sounds of rock music. Starting his set down on one knee, twisting the knobs of his sound-shaping foot pedals to send a drone-like rhythm bouncing off the two-hundred-year-old buildings, Josh Nolan commanded the attention of the blissing crowd and took over the soundwaves for his part of the fourth annual Well Crafted Festival.

Josh Nolan band at Well Crafted Festival | Photo by Cara Blake Coppola

Born and bred in Stanton, Kentucky in the foothills of the Red River Gorge, Josh is the essence of rock and roll.  His sound is pure and real, and just damn rockin’.  His premiere CD Fair City Lights opens with Josh’s main instrument, his guitar, strumming hard chords while his deep voice delves into a story you are immediately sucked into as you start moving your hips and head to the beat.  It just rocks, and then keeps getting more intense. “If you’re gonna do me wrong, do it right”. Lyrics as smooth as Springsteen, with the gravelly gentle voice to match, Josh Nolan is a solid sound.

Multi-instrumental from a young age, most of the instruments and all the vocals on the CD are Josh himself. At Well Crafted, however, Josh appeared with his band consisting of Chris Brown on bass and harmony vocals, Riley Mulholand on lead guitar, Ryan Allen on keys, and Josh Anglin on drums. Well Crafted is a daytime festival, Josh and his band took the stage mid-day as the sun filtered through the trees.  People clustered like cows under the shade trees, filling their customized Well Crafted glasses filled with cold craft beers and ciders as delicious smells from the various food trucks wafted by in the warm air.

For four years, Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill in Harrodsburg has hosted Well Crafted, one of the prettiest festivals in the Bluegrass. The site is nestled in the village itself, and the rolling landscape provides a gorgeous backdrop; the addition of amazing music and local craft beer is almost too much. Having previously boasted artists such as Ben Nichols (of Lucero), Lera Lynn, Langhorne Slim, Margo Price, Kelsey Waldon, and John Moreland; this year’s lineup was another offering of great music.

Main Stage at Well Crafted Festival | Photo by Cara Blake Coppola

Every year, Well Crafted provides two stages.  The main stage hosts larger touring bands, often with one or two local bands included.  The second, smaller stage presents all-local artists displaying original songs, with a few personalized covers thrown in. The stages alternate so there is never a gap in music during the day. This year’s local stage hosted David Napier, Chelsea Nolan, Senora May, Ethan Hunt and Brian Combs, each winning over the crowd with unique and meaningful original songs that testified to the wealth of musical talent we have here in the Bluegrass area.

The main stage this year opened with William Matheney and the Strange Constellations, followed by Lexington’s beloved Coralee and the Townies. The touring lineup also included Nikki Hill, The Dexateens, and Tyler Childers finished off the night as the sun set gloriously behind the stage.  The second local band to grace the main stage that stunningly sunny day was Josh Nolan and his band.

Some folks say America is apple pie and fireworks. I don’t know about that; not exclusively anyway.  To me, it is cold drinks and rocking live music out in the sunshine on a summer day. The crowd at Shaker Village that day definitely agreed.

Mixing in a few new songs from a promised second CD, Josh and his band hit all his crowd’s favorites from Fair City Lights.  The beat brought out the dancers into the sun, and the band responded in that beautiful relationship between bands that love to play live and the folks who love to be in their crowds, singing back every word they may know, moving with joy to the musical energy the band gifts to them. 

The mixture is truly addicting to the festival goer. So true are the memes and jokes about the devotion to being in a favorite band’s crowd; of selling plasma for concert tickets; of knowing every word and singing them back during the shows; of knowing the musicians you love and buying them a beer and thanking them for the work they do. Well Crafted this year was a serene backdrop to witness that love. 

Josh Nolan and his band are friends, neighbors, family; he and his sister Chelsea, who played the local stage, know and play with several other of the musicians there that day, and the intertwining of the relationships, both personal and especially musical, made for a very comfortable, familiar and extremely talented reunion that represented some of the region’s best. A patchwork of phenomenal Appalachian talent, and just darn nice people as well.

Josh Nolan | Photo by Cara Blake Coppola

Josh is in the midst of producing his second CD with plans to release it early next spring. He is self-producing in his home studio and hopes to tour not just regionally but nationwide.  “I’ve put all my life into this.  I’ve spent a lot of time and women and love and houses…I’d like to make it my profession. It’s a long road…I don’t understand the business but maybe one day I will.  I’m trying to get a gang of people together who understand different parts of it, take over the world and whatever.”

Josh Nolan is a musician. Some folks in this gig do it after work, on nights and weekends when their life affords it; but some make it their entire lives.  Josh has the talent and the drive to do that, and to take his love for and songs of the hills he grew up in out in America, to share his stories and his rocking sound and hopefully come back home to the hills often to recharge and write new songs and see old friends and family.

For Josh, songwriting is very personal, very spiritual. “Even if it’s not a personal song, it’s a personal process.” It is an “organic” process that he likens to serious fishing. “It’s like fishing.  They’re always there, you’ve got to know where to find them, and they always move so you can’t just go to one place, you have to know how to do it.  You have to know what you’re doing.  You have to know how to tie the lure and throw it in your bucket. It’s easy to miss a song”

I wish Josh many successful fishing expeditions.  And America loves and needs more great festivals like Well Crafted, with friends dancing in the sunshine and simply feeling good.

Listen in as Cara chats with Josh:

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