Moonshine District readying for new faces, new places on summer tour

By Matt Wickstrom

Last week I had the opportunity to sit down for a chat with Maggie Noelle (Stanley), guitarist and vocalist for Lexington-area appalachian folk group Moonshine District. We discussed everything to the band’s beginnings, women of appalachian music, Floyd Fest, and much more. Check out the full interview after the break.

Matt Wickstrom: “How long has Moonshine District been around? I thought I saw somewhere recently you guys just celebrated two years together.”

Maggie Stanley: “It’s been about a year and a half actually, so not too long.”

MW: “So how did the band come together? Did you all know each other beforehand or…”

MS: “Jared and I actually met in Elkhorn City (Ky.). He graduated (from Western Kentucky University) in Bowling Green and went on a little travelling expedition doing his photography and journalism and stuff and went on rainbow gatherings and went to Oregon then came back and decided he wanted to play the mandolin. He’s only been playing for about a year, well about a year and a half since we’ve really been getting at it.”

“So he and I had just moved back from Asheville (NC) and we were hanging out where he lived in Whitesburg (Ky.) and that year was the second Super Moon and Katie (Didit) and I both got booked as solo acts which was weird because we had never met each other before even though we are both from the same area around eastern Kentucky and southwest Virginia. Then when Jared and I started hanging out he was like “I just think y’all need to get together” and so we all sat down and drank some beers one day and it went along from there.”

“Then E-Dog, Eric (Smith), was at our show with New Old Cavalry in Whitesburg at Summit City (in November 2014). We needed a bass player really bad and he really wanted to play in a band so he was like “I’ve got a wash tub…”

MW: “So you said Jared does photojournalism? I had no idea…”

MS: “He is really good. He does a lot of his own projects. He just finished up, or maybe not finished up, but somewhere close to Corbin (Ky.) got hired on privately doing some project about trains and what not in the area, so he had to put together a video and go interview all these people. He does his photography with all natural lighting. It’s just not your average stuff…”

MW: “That is awesome! I’ve been meaning to get into photojournalism a bit myself, especially with all the shows I’m at. Now you mentioned earlier that you and Katie are from the same area in eastern Kentucky?”

MS: “Yeah. She’s from Letcher County. She lives out in Whitesburg, but works in southwest Virginia, around where I used to live…”

MW: “Is she the only one in the band who’s not based in Lexington? Does that present any difficulties for the band?”

MS: “She busts her ass to make it out here on time and I’m proud of her because she works for Pro-Art, which is a non-profit organization out of Virginia. They basically preserve appalachian folk music and they put on theatre productions. She also teaches kids throughout the week along with her work at Pro-Art. She does all that during the week and then makes it out here on weekends and you know, she kicks ass at it!”

MW: “How long a drive is that?”

MS: “Three and a half, four hours…”

MW: “That doesn’t seem too bad, although I’m sure doing it regularly wears on ya.”

MS: “Especially through the winter months we decided that we were gonna slow down and focus on each other’s individual things, especially Katie because they did a lot of holiday stuff at her work, so it slowed down in the winter months, but we’re starting to pick things up now for the spring and summer and we plan on travelling out her way some to practice too so she’s not having to drive here every freaking time.”

MW: “Haha fair enough. Now I know you’re a big Susan Tedeschi fan Maggie. What other female singer-songwriters or musicians in general really inspire and influence you musically?”

MS: “I grew up listening to Bonnie Raitt and Susan Tedeschi. My mom put it in my head at a really early age. Stevie Nix and all that good stuff. It was weird, because my mom was the only one that had that type of music influence on me. Everyone else in my family played bluegrass. She definitely made it a point, and I think I’m a little more soulful in my voice, but she obviously heard that too and wanted to make it a point to make sure that I studied Bonnie Raitt because there’s countless times where I would get aggravated trying to learn a song that Bonnie Raitt wrote…”

MW: “How young were you when you first started playing, when you picked up your first instrument and stuff?”

MS: “I’m not sure how old I was when my mom bought me my first guitar. I was really little, but I’ve always sang, so she knew I needed an instrument. I think I personally decided I wanted to pick up an instrument around eight or nine (years old).”

MW: “Now I know in recent months you all have made a couple of music videos. Is that a sign of more new music, perhaps an album, in the future?”

MS: “We recorded our first EP last year, and that was just trial and error starting out, but we wanted to do something. Eventually, maybe once we put some stuff together we’d like to put another one into it, but as far as our music videos that we put together, we did that mostly to highlight certain things for Floyd Fest, which we got booked for, and we’re hoping to get this gig through Katie’s work in Virginia, and that’s why we did the whole “Women of Appalachia” video. So they’re kind of sporadic in a sense, but we’d love to get back in the studio, I just don’t want to rush at all, because I feel like the first one was rushed.”

MW: “I feel ya. You want to make sure it’s done well is all. You said the “Women of Appalachia” thing had something to do with the state of Virginia?”

MS: “So there’s an opportunity that came about through Pro-Art and the state of Virginia that would basically pay us to play any school in Virginia that we want to, or maybe any overall, and maybe later expand into Kentucky and Tennessee. Basically we had to come up with a lesson plan, and we chose to highlight the women of appalachian folk music, and for that video we picked six or seven women and basically those women have so many popular songs that we hear today that were popularized by other artists but written by them, so we wanted to highlight them and give them the credit they deserve.”

MW: “Gotcha. Now you guys are headed to North Carolina to play soon. Like you mentioned earlier you’ll also be playing Floydfest along with Super Moon and some other stuff. It seems like it’s going to be a really big summer and festival season coming up for Moonshine District, seeing a lot of new faces in new places. What are you most excited for this upcoming summer?”

MS: “Well last year I feel we did a little bit too as far as travelling goes, and this year we’re travelling and we’ve gotten booked at a lot of places. My experience from last year was I met so many musicians and learned so much that I can only imagine what it’s going to be like this year. I’m super grateful that we’ve gotten the opportunity to play these super big festivals like Floyd Fest. It almost makes my stomach turn. Just being able to be a part of something that’s not necessarily a show for me.”

MW: “On the topic of Floyd Fest, I think I remember talking to Eric a while back and he said that came about through one of Katie’s connections…?”

MS: “Yeah. Paul Kuczko. He’s friends with Jim Webb on Pine Mountain and all of our friends at Super Moon. He’s been on the mountain since I was a little kid, but he’s always been one of those people who’s been really supportive with Katie’s music and my music and ready to throw us to the wolves basically. He really stuck his neck out and got this for us. He’s always done promotions for Floyd Fest and stuff like that, and I was super happy he was able to give us this opportunity.”

MW: “What’s it mean to you to be sharing a stage, or rather festival with the likes of Gregg Allman, Railroad Earth, Leftover Salmon, and all the other amazing artists at Floyd Fest?”

MS: “It makes my heart beat fast just thinking about it; makes my stomach turn. I guess everyone had to start somewhere…”

MW: “My last question for you is, in all of your years playing music, what’s one big lesson or thing music has taught you about yourself?”

MS: “Definitely patience. Being little and playing music, especially with my family, I would get so aggravated when I didn’t do something like them, and I wanted it so bad and it’s the same as now. It’s definitely taught me that I need to slow down and understand that everything doesn’t have that instant gratification, and I’d like it to, but it definitely makes you feel a little grateful to understand your surroundings and take everything in a little better.”

“It’s intimidating too. I remember this past summer Katie and I were up around 2 a.m. jamming with the Rumpke Mountain Boys. Two and a half years ago I would’ve never thought that would happen, and I wouldn’t have done that either because it was intimidating, but now it’s just like they’re people. They’re learning too, they’re just a couple stages ahead of me.”

MW: “Thank you so much for your time Maggie!”

Check out a condensed piece on Moonshine District accompanied with pictures and video here.

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