Exclusive Interview: Jamie Lin Wilson

Jamie Lin Wilson is an ever-growing presence in the Texas/Red Dirt scene, with the Gougers, the Trishas and most recently as a solo artist, with 2015’s excellent Holidays and Wedding Rings. For more detailed information, you can read her Female Friday, featured here about a year ago. This interview was conducted by myself and Jennifer Lane during the 4th Annual Medicine Stone, discussed in detail here. Jamie Lin was gracious enough to sit down with us, in a casual skirt and tank top, hair still wet, in short giving the same comfortable, down-to-earth impression reflected in this photo. She was happy to tell us about Medicine Stone, the Texas/Red Dirt scene, and her unique story in all of it.

Country Exclusive: So is this your first time at Medicine Stone?

Jamie Lin Wilson: No, I came last year. Last year was my first trip here.

CE: Were you playing at the bar then, or were you on the main stage?

JLW: I was on the main stage last year too.

CE: What do you think about this event, and what the Turnpike Troubadours have started?

JLW: Man, it’s, it’s beautiful. There are people camping out all over the place, inviting everybody to their campsites, sharing…like last night, I got here very late last night, so I caught the end of Randy Rogers’s set, and then Mike and the Moonpies’ after party show. And then we just kind of walked around, and there were hamburgers being cooked…I stayed up till 4 AM, and I wasn’t even trying to. (laughter) It was like, all of a sudden, it’s 4 AM, how did that happen?

CE: So you would definitely come back.

JLW: Oh, I’d come back as long as they’ll have me. I love it. And the Turnpike boys, I mean, I’ve known them for a long time. Since they were in a van, which actually wasn’t that long ago. (laughter)

CE: NO, it wasn’t.

JLW: But I’ve just been so proud of them, watching them blow up, and I tell Evan [Felker] all the time that people out there are screaming the words to his songs, and like, there’s four thousand people in the audience,dancing and singing to all of these songs, and they don’t even know that they’re getting smarter. I’m like, “Your songs actually raise people’s IQ’s.” Because he writes so smart, and that’s the thing with all of these people that are here, like the lineup here is so great. And there’s so many more that aren’t here that are also in this scene, in the Texoma thing.

CE: I like the Texoma, because it’s usually Texas or Red Dirt, but Texoma’s good for an Oklahoman.

JLW: It’s the same, it’s the same, you know? Like there’s a definite influence with everybody of where you’re from, you can tell. If you listen to my songs, you can tell I’m from south Texas, I’ve got that. I’ve got that in me. You listen to Turnpike [Troubadours] and [Jason] Boland and stoney [LaRue] and Mike McClure and all those guys, you can tell that they’re from Oklahoma. There’s a thing. But, because of the quality of song and the give-a-shit that is put into it, that’s where it all comes together.

CE: Do you think that is unique to this scene, to the Texas scene? The uniqueness, or as you said, the give-a-shit?

JLW: I think that what is unique to Texas is…being someone who’s toured nationally, what’s unique to Texas is the passion that Texas and OKlahoma have for music, the fans. There are at least three or four venues in every major market that anybody can go to. You can go to Dallas, Oklahoma City, Austin, San Antonio, Houston, Tulsa…you can have your pick. If you’re a large band, you get a 2,000-seat venue. If you’re a small band, you get 500 and below, you know? But in other states, there’s not that option. Like if you go to Georgia, you can play this, this, this, or this. (laughter) And in Texas and Oklahoma, the scene is so supported, and the fans are so passionate, that you can play any night of the week. You can go anywhere, any night of the week and see good music. Good songwriting, good musicianship, and that is just not normal everywhere else.
You know, the scene though, the songwriting and the quality of the music is pretty similar to what’s happening in the Americana world right now, where people are confused about what happened. and we’re the same. There are people coming here who were at the Americana festival too, they’re coming from Nashville. Like Randy was there and came here last night, Red Shahan’s coming, I did it last year, I did the shuffle. Like, we’re all a part of the same deal. People ask what makes something Americana too, because all the bands sound different. The sound is not the same; the thing that’s the same is the care that’s put into crafting a song, and the care that’s given by the fans. Whenever the fans want to hear good music, then the people put out good music. That, that is specific to the Americana scene as well as the Texas scene, and that’s why they go hand in hand. That’s why those Americana bands, [Jason] Isbell and Sturgill [Simpson] and the Black Lilies and American Aquarium and all those bands that aren’t Texas bands can come through Texas and have just as great of a turnout as locals, as people who were raised here. And it’s because the fans just want to hear good songs. How hard is that?

CE: It’s not.

JLW: (laughter) How hard is that to just give me something good? Just give me something I want to hear?

CE: I take it from hearing this, but I’ll ask anyway. A lot of texas artists try to get into Nashville scenes, to make it there. Is there any interest in that for you?

JLW: I mean, I love Nashville. I love it. I go there to write a few times a year. I’ll start doing that more next year since I’m not pushing a record right now. But I would love for those girls who wear short skirts to like, cut my songs, that would be cool. (laughter) But I don’t have any interest. I’d like to play the Opry, that’d be fun. But I don’t have any interest in being on the CMA Awards or doing that. That’s not really me. I mean, if that genre, if the top 40 genre started playing songs that I think I could write, then sure. You know, if that’s where the stardom goes, then more power to them, I’d love that. But I’m not interested in being famous. I like to sing and have my kids be proud of me for putting things out that have integrity, I think. I don’t know, does that sounds snobby?

CE: NO, not at all. It sounds the opposite. I was going to ask this later, but you led me to it. You said you’re not pushing a record, so when can we expect some new music?

JLW: Man, I’ve got things happening. I’m writing a lot right now, but I just don’t know. I haven’t figured out what I want to do with it. I’ve got some projects. Like, I want to write this record that has this and this and this and this, and then I want to write this record that has these songs on it. So we’ll see where all those land and how it happens, but I’ll probably record something next year, even if it’s just a few songs to put on Spotify or apple Music. I’m not sure that i’ll make a whole record, but you never know, I might.

CE: I look forward to it. I did really enjoy Holidays and Wedding Rings, that was one of the better albums of 2015.

JLW: Thank you, I was really proud of it.

CE: You should have been. When did you know you wanted to pursue music as a career?

JLW: Yeah, that’s a thing that just kind of happened. I got a guitar whenever I was a sophomore in college, and learned some chords, and I always knew that I could sing pretty good. I would just sit in my room and sing these songs, and eventually I started going to this open mic night. And probably the third one, someone asked me to be in their band. Hey you wanna come open for us and be in my band? sure. And that ended up being Shane Walker, who was in the Gougers with me, and then I was in a band. It just kind of became what I did, and then I enjoyed it, and I just never stopped. So here I am. (laughter)

CE: So here you are. Do you have anyone that influenced you musically?

JLW: Oh everybody. I mean, I can listen to things that I grew up listening to like Highway 101 and Dolly Parton and Kathy Mattea and Mark Chesnutt and Merle Haggard, George Jones and Ray Price and Bob Wills, all of these people that I listened to as a kid, and then I listen to them now and I go, Oh that’s where I got that from. I listen to Dolly and Emmylou [Harris], and I’m like, That’s where my voice came from, that’s cool. I pick it apart. Musically, I go through stages. I’ll just listen to something for three months, one record. And then I’ll find someone else, and just dive into it, and then I’ll listen to another guy. So as it turns out, I end up having all of these certain types of music. I go, Yeah that was the first half of 2003, I remember that, when I was into that record. You know, Gillian Welch and Lyle Lovett got me into Guy [Clark] and Townes [Van Zandt] and John Prine. And then I went to Tom petty and Tom Waits, and then you go to Jet. Jack White and all of his things. You pick it apart, and you get something from everybody.
And then, people ask me what I’m influenced by now, and honestly, it’s my friends. That’s who I listen to. People who are piers of mine put out records. Turnpike Troubadours and Drew Kennedy, Jack Ingram, have you heard Jack Ingram’s new record?

CE: I have not, I’ve been told I need to.

JLW: Oh, please do. It’s so good, so good. Just he himself is inspiring. But, Courtney Patton, Jason Eady, Kaitlin [Butts], all of these people who are friends of mine. Wade Bowen. We have this little group of friends that we all send each other songs. Like, hey I wrote this song, listen to it. A few weeks ago, one of my friends sent me a song that was new, and I listened to it, and that inspired me to write this other song. And I sent it to my friends, and that song inspired them to write these songs. It’s like this web of inspiration and influence. The Texas scene, in general, is so supportive of each other. We all build each other up and we love each other and we send each other pictures of babies and go to each other’s weddings.

CE: You’re family.

JLW: We’re a family. It’s cool, and I don’t know if it’s been like that forever, but it is like that now. I’ve got a hotel room over here and I was just walking through and I was like, “Oh, Kaitlin! You slept in a tent? Come take a shower in my room.” (laughter) Like, I’ve got three girls that are in and out of my room showering because we all love each other. Yeah, I’ve got a room, take it. Come sleep, take a nap. We all help each other, and that’s how it’s supposed to be. We jump up and sing with each other.

CE: There has been a lot of talk about the lack of female representation in Nashville and on radio. do you feel that in this scene?

JLW: This scene is weird regarding girls, and it’s nobody’s fault, I don’t think. I think that the thing with girls here, and in general…the scene in Texas and OKlahoma is driven very much by beer. There are these really big venues, and the definition of success is higher than like, in the Americana scene, for example. You go around and play all of these rooms, they’re 200-seat venues, 200-seat rooms. You sell it out, that’s a really big deal. Well, in Texas, there’s a 2,000-seat venue in every market! And if you’re not Randy Rogers or Wade Bowen or Turnpike or Boland, people selling out those big venues, then you’re not considered successful. But my band, the Trishas, sold out Gruene Hall, and that’s 700 people. And we sold out the Kessler, and we fill up rooms all over the state. But if it’s a 400-seat venue, then it’s like, Oh well that was just a little room. But anywhere else in the world, that’s success. And to us, that’s success. That’s what we want to do. So the lack of female representation…there’s Kelly Willis, there’s Robyn Ludwick, all four of us Trishas individually play by ourselves, there’s Kaitlin, there’s Courtney, there’s all these new girls coming up in Texas and I don’t know, we’re fine. Like it doesn’t offend me. I don’t want to play Midnight Rodeo, that’s not what I do. My songs don’t translate in venues that are 2,000-seat, everybody have a party. Like most guys, 80% of guys…most statistics are made up on the spot, but I would say the majority of guys who start playing music start playing music because they want to impress a girl. They want to be in high school sitting on the back of a pickup truck, the one with the guitar at the campfire, to get the girl. So inherently, guys want to have attention with them with their guitar, like, Look at this solo! So that’s how they start. Then, some of them become thoughtful, poetic songwriters, and some of them go, hey let’s party. And both things are cool, both things are good, both serve a purpose. But women, we pick up a guitar and start playing songs because we have something to say. But women are thoughtful way before men are thoughtful, not that they’re not both thoughtful as grownups, but when they start…it’s therapeutic for me. Like all my women friends, they write songs because it makes them feel good, or because I have to get this out of me right now. And sure, once you figure out how to craft it, you can write a party song, and that’s awesome, that’s great. But inherently, we’re just different. And that’s cool. And it shouldn’t hurt anybody’s feelings. (laughter) You know, Courtney Patton’s thoughtful, beautiful songs that make people cry, aren’t going to be played at the Texas Hall of Fame. That crowd’s not going to say, Wait she’s playing something beautiful, let me put down this quarter pitcher of beer and go listen to her. (laughter) But in a theater or listening room, that’s where that kind of songwriting shines. And so we choose to play venues like this. And people like Evan who write both kinds, you know, he writes super thoughtful songs that also make you want to party. I don’t know how he does it, but they’re great, he can go in either one. He can go play in a listening room or he can play this other venue. So it’s song-driven, and style-driven, and where you get the crowds. Like my crowd is older. My crowd goes out at 8:00 and goes home by ten, and they buy expensive wine and drink scotch and pay a $25 ticket to be quiet and sit there and enjoy a show. And I’m not saying there aren’t guys like that too, like Kevin Welch. I’m not saying only women play listening rooms and only men play parties.

CE: But it’s the songwriting that lends itself to them.

JLW: yeah! If I played party songs, then I’d want to go to Midnight Rodeo. But I don’t. I like doing that sometimes, opening for the guys and going, “I’ll play my most up tempo 45 minutes right now, and make everybody feel good, and then Turnpike’s gonna come out.” That’s cool, but I’m not going to headline there. It doesn’t hurt my feelings, and it does not offend me. At all.

CE; OK. As I said, we do features on women because people do know them less. So what women would you recommend we listen to? Obviously Courtney.

JLW: Oh yes, do you know Courtney’s stuff yet?

CE; OH yes, I’ve reviewed it, and I love it. So who would you recommend so that we can know them?

JLW: Well, there’s Kaitlin Butts, she’s here today. There’s Kayla Ray, I’m sure you know her too. She’s awesome. There’s Kelley Mickwee, Trisha with me. There’s some new girls coming up in Texas like Jackie Darlene…I’m sure you’ve already done Kelly Willis, and the big guns…Robyn Ludwick, do you know her?

CE; Yes. I know of Kaitlin, but I’ll maybe get to hear her today. I have two other questions that are just general. What does country music mean to you, what is it for you?

JLW: Country music. Let’s see. Country music. I think the thing that is specific to it and made the genre happen, when it came to be at all, is that it’s about real life. And that is also what’s dying right now on the vine is country music that’s pushed to the masses isn’t about real life. I think there’s a shift happening back around, everything’s cyclical. But country music started for grownups. It’s about hard times and real-life situations, and that’s cool. It’s always been pop music’s for kids and country music is for grownups, bruce Robison told me that one time and I was like, Yeah that’s true! And e said, “Country music’s not for grownups anymore.” Now radio is being pushed to younger kids. That’s what’s changed, and that’s why it’s all party songs and bonfires and shit. But, whenever a song comes out that they let out, like “The House That Built Me,” for example…that song had zero production, there’s not even drums on it, and it was, like, the most successful song in a decade because it’s real! It had real emotion, and people were like, Finally a song that’s real! And authenticity, you can feel it. Country music’s always been authentic and real. And it still is, with people that are making real country music, it’s just that’s not what you hear.

CE; The last question will probably be difficult for you with all these influences. Give us one album you would pick if you could only listen to that for the rest of your life.

JLW: one? The rest of my life?

CE; You can pick three.

JLW: Three, I can do three. Tom T. Hall, The Year Clayton Delaney Died, Lyle Lovett, It’s Not Big, It’s Large, and…this is hard. I think, the Trio record. Those are my three today, ask me again tomorrow…oh wait, fourth runner-up, Tom Petty, Highway Companion.

Concert Review: The 4th Annual Medicine Stone

Last weekend, I had the great opportunity to attend Medicine Stone, known by its web site as “the fastest-growing Red Dirt experience in Oklahoma.” Started in 2013 and organized by Turnpike Troubadours and Jason Boland, Medicine Stone is a three-day event held on the Illinois River in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, featuring Texas/Red Dirt music in all its forms–from the more traditional country sound of Jamie Lin Wilson to the rock sound of Cody Canada and the Departed, and everything in between. The sounds in Red dirt music and at Medicine stone are quite diverse, but there is a common thread running through it all, the quality of the music and the care that these artists put into their songs.

It was impossible to see everyone, due to artists playing in different locations at the same time, but I tried to experience as much as possible. I’ll only cover the artists I heard, but here is a link to the complete lineup of artists. It is quite an impressive and diverse list.

The event kicked off on Thursday with artists playing in a bar on site before the main stage area opened. I was impressed with my first exposure to Bleu Edmondson, who performed his Red Dirt hits such as “$50 and a Flask of Crown.” Shane Smith & the Saints, of Austin, Texas, opened on the main stage–with their harmonies, smart lyrics, and unique sound, they were definitely one of the highlights of the whole weekend. Shane Smith mentioned that they had come to Medicine Stone in 2015 and played in the bar, and that they had been invited to play on the main stage this year because of the tremendous amount of positive feedback and requests to hear more. I think they have a bright future in the Texas scene, and I highly recommend getting to know this band. William Clark Green and Stoney LaRue followed, both of whom have been established in the Red Dirt scene for years. Green performed many of his hits, as well as snippets of the Beatles and the Rolling stones. Stoney laRue made his mark on the event with what he described as the song that made his career, “Oklahoma Breakdown.” There is something special about hearing this live in Oklahoma, with thousands of fellow Oklahomans all singing along to it. The night closed with the excellent Randy Rogers Band, a more laidback, country sound after the rock leanings of both William Clark Green and Stoeny LaRue. The thing that impressed me the most about the Randy Rogers Band was how much their live music sounds like their recordings; it is a testament to the commitment to live music throughout this subgenre of music.

Friday offered the best lineup, and the attendance reflected this. Before the main stage opened, I had the opportunity to see two artists I’d never heard of, Kaitlin Butts and Midnight River Choir. Kaitlin Butts is a name you should check out if you like more traditional country–she sang many times with just her guitar, and when her band broke into Merle Haggard’s “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink,” she had the entire crowd dancing. Midnight River Choir is a name you should check out if you like the more country rock sound of Texas music; I regretted that their performance overlapped Kaitlin’s because most people missed one or the other, and both were unsung standouts of Medicine Stone.

The main stage opened that night with the increasingly popular Jamie Lin Wilson, whom I also had the pleasure of interviewing during the festival; you can read that interview on Country Exclusive in the coming days! Wilson’s set was the most country of the weekend on the main stage, and a highlight of her time onstage was the murder song “Roses by the Dozen,” before which she advised us, “If you need someone to come creep out your festival, just call me.” Micky & the Motorcars followed, bringing a mix of country and rock, with more upbeat material. Reckless Kelly, another household name in the Red Dirt scene, came out next and performed many songs from their new album, Sunset Motel, released Friday and available for the first time at Medicine Stone. This band was another standout, singing everything from Merle Haggard to Bruce Springsteen covers and doing justice to both. They easily offered the most diverse sound within their set, and because of this, everyone could have found something to like from them. The Americana band American Aquarium, from Raleigh, North Carolina, followed; they seemed slightly out of place among the many Texas and Oklahoma-based artists, and theirs was the only set that I didn’t enjoy throughout. However, the quality and care in their music was much the same, and they showed it on highlights like “Losing Side of Twenty-Five.” The lead singer, BJ Barham, stated that “if we can get 6,000 people to come to the middle of fucking nowhere just to listen to some music, it proves people still care about music.” The night closed with Turnpike Troubadours, and I could have devoted an entire article to their performance alone–all I can say about them is please, please go listen to them live. Nothing I can say will do them justice. From the moment they kicked off with “Doreen,” until they closed with “Long Hot Summer Day,” they had the attention of everyone in the crowd. I heard a lot of great music each day, but the Turnpike Troubadours are on another level.

There were several artists on Saturday that I didn’t experience. I got to hear Cody Canada and the Departed, the most rock-leaning group there, and probably in the whole Red Dirt scene. It impressed me how many different sounds the organizers of Medicine Stone incorporated into the event. The Departed played some new songs and some of the Cross Canadian Ragweed hits. Also, I just want to point out, as rock influenced as they are, fiddle and steel were featured prominently in several of their songs–take note, mainstream Nashville. The night closed with Jason Boland & the Stragglers, another band you should absolutely see live. They, like Randy Rogers Band, sound very similar live to their recordings.

Texas/Red dirt is very hard to define. It can be country or rock and is usually a unique mix of the two. Cody Canada said onstage that “it is a community of people who share each other’s songs and love for music.” However you define it, there is something common in all of it, raw honesty in songs, the quality of the material, and the unwavering commitment to live music. Turnpike Troubadours and Jason Boland have accomplished a great thing by creating an event to celebrate this unique subgenre, and anyone with a love for country, rock, or just real, quality music should consider attending Medicine stone.