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The WDVX Blue Plate Special – 11/2 – Zach Willdee / Shawn Williams

November 2, 2023 @ 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm

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Outlaw Country singer Zach Willdee combines energetic performances with his raw talent to bear a voice bigger than his body and stories older than his boots. Growing up in Massachusetts, writing beneath the shade of the New England pines, Zach Willdee began his musical career busking on the street corners of Provincetown, Massachusetts at 14 years old. By age 16, he earned the name “The Barefoot Brother.” Lifeguarding on the Atlantic coast during the day and street performing at night he reflects, “They called me that because I didn’t wear any shoes when I performed on the tarmac. They thought it was the funniest thing that this barefoot lifeguard was playing music.” It wasn’t long before Willdee moved from playing on the tarmac to playing local bars, with lines of people wrapping around the block, waiting to get in.

But long before that, Willdee would attend the annual Grey Fox and Joe Val Bluegrass Festivals in New England with his father. He fondly remembers jumping in on a picking circle at age 12, and then realizing he was playing with the Steel Drivers and Chris Stapelton. “They were all so welcoming it really sparked something in me and spurred me on,” Willdee laughs.

Inspired by writers like Steve Earle, John Prine, and Merle Haggard, he began writing his own songs at the age of 16. Willdee later apprenticed under Darrell Scott (songwriter for The Dixie Chicks, Travis Tritt, Beyoncé, Zac Brown Band, and others) in 2016, which ultimately sparked him to move to Nashville to pursue his own career singing and writing country music.

Influenced heavily by the depth and honesty of the greats, Willdee conveys simple truths through dynamics in his music and writing. His voice and lyrics, echoing from the golden age of country music, are often compared to Johnny Paycheck and Waylon Jennings, writing from the depths of his soul about life’s trials and tribulations––bearing the good, bad, and ugly through stories and songs that gain deeper meaning with each listen.

Willdee says, “I write and perform my music to help myself mentally––as a form of therapy, you could say––and hope that I can help someone relate and know there’s someone else out there sharing their experience.”

It’s not uncommon to see members of the audience singing along to Willdee’s songs at his shows––and they haven’t even been released yet! The slow rollin’ rambler has been captivating audiences for over a decade and shows no signs of putting the breaks on now. Finally laying his fans’ favorites down, Willdee will release his debut singles, “Take the Sign” (June 9), “Lately” (July 7), and “Shadow Riders” Fall of 2021, with his first album dropping later this fall. Listeners can look forward to tracks layered with the talents of musicians like Adam Duran of Kelsey Waldon’s band (electric and acoustic guitar), American Aquarium’s Neil Jones (pedal steel), Nashville local legend and country singer Tim Bolo (bass), Lucy Cochran (fiddle, backup vocals,) and Chris Weisbecker (drums, producer, and engineer) as well as his own. The multi-talented musician plays guitar, mandolin, bass, and harmonica as well. When he’s not playing the iconic American Legion Post 82 or Dee’s Country Lounge, you’ll find Willdee cooking, gardening, or exploring the great outdoors of Tennessee.

Hailing from the melting pot of New Orleans, Shawn Williams makes music that’s every bit as diverse and hauntingly soulful as her hometown. She calls it “alt-rocka countrybilly, serial killer blues,” carving out an atmospheric sound that blends amplified guitars, rawly honest lyrics, and nocturnal arrangements into her own brand of Americana-noire. Sulking In Love, her fifth full-length record, adds a new dimension to that musical mix, unfolding like a soundtrack to the long, lonely hours after midnight. It was produced by GRAMMY award-winning producer Mark Howard (Bob Dylan, Neville Brothers, Neil Young…).

“Her throaty rasp, sardonic lyrics and the confidently pugnacious band behind her combine, at best, to suggest a spiritual sister to both Lucinda Williams and Chrissie Hynde.” – Uncut Magazine

“Voice alone and you might get that nostalgic feeling from Shawn Williams that is an aching twangy southern soul that is more often mimicked than authenticated..the real deal, undisputed soulful artist category: destined for a shot as a career artist.” – Glide Magazine

“I’ve always been drawn to dark themes,” she explains. “Maybe it comes from being in New Orleans. Maybe it comes from my love of the desert. It just flows out of me from somewhere else.”

Wallowin’ in the Night, Williams’ fourth full-length record (May 2022), shines its light on the darkness of the human experience, its songs detailing Williams’ experience with heartbreak and hangovers, breakups and booze, vices and vulnerability. Released on the heels of 2020’s The Fear of Living, The Fear of Loving, it’s an album about the people who leave and the hard habits that stick around, written and produced by a songwriter who isn’t afraid to shine a light on the skeletons in her own closet.

“A lot of these songs have a nighttime atmosphere,” explains Williams, a former radio programmer who launched her songwriting career with 2017’s Shadow and its acclaimed follow-up, 2018’s Motel Livin’. “The nighttime is when we’re mostly alone by ourselves, stuck with whatever’s going on, whether that’s sadness or happiness. When I was writing some of these songs, it was mostly sadness.”

From country ballads laced with pedal steel (“Don’t Go”) to angry, alt-rock standouts with overdriven guitar solos (“Everything You Stood For”), Wallowin’ in the Night explores the universal theme of heartbreak with Williams’ singularly genre-jumping approach. The sexually-charged “Buzzed” begins like a haunting folk song, its acoustic guitar chords punctuated by Williams’ invitation to a would-be lover to come spend the night, then builds into an anthemic, full-band salute to the carnal desires that keep us awake after hours. “Fireworks” finds her channeling Neko Case — another country-adjacent rock & roll siren who traffics in the nocturnal and the nuanced — while “So Tired” mixes fuzz guitar riffs and stomping percussion into a proudly pissed-off declaration of hard living and inebriation. Williams mixes humor with heartbreak, too, delivering biting lines — “I really do hope that you two live happily ever after, but who am I kidding? I was never good at telling jokes,” she snaps in “Someone Else” — with the stinging swagger that’s already made her a hometown hero in New Orleans.

Other hometown heroes appear on Wallowin’ in the Night, too, with Williams reconvening her studio band of regional all-stars. John Fohl, a veteran of Dr. John’s band, plays guitar. Casey McAllister (Peter Murphy/Langhorne Slim/Hurray for the Riff Raff) handles keyboard duties, as well as guitar on a few tracks. NOLAmericana solo artist Lynn Drury sings harmonies, NPR-celebrated instrumentalist Dave Easley makes a cameo appearance on pedal steel, and The Iguanas — longtime staples of New Orleans roots-rock scene — serve as the rhythm section, matching Williams’ sharp songwriting with deep grooves. Working with engineer Tom Stern at Blue Velvet Studio, Williams produced the recordings herself, spotlighting the combination of creative vision and do-it-yourself drive that’s earned her shows alongside fellow roots-music mainstays like Wanda Jackson and Sarah Shook.

“The unbridled Williams sings of lust and longing at the dark end of the street,” gushes The Advocate, alternately describing the songwriter’s sound as “hillbilly-post-punk-goth-rock” and “Hank Williams meets The Smiths meets Siouxsie and the Banshees.” Defying categorization, Shawn Williams wears her broken heart on her sleeve with Wallowin’ in the Night, unafraid to detail the lengths to which she’ll go — from quick fixes to long benders, from last calls to first moves, from self-examination to boozy self-annihilation — to get some much-needed relief. It’s an album of dynamic shifts, its full-throttle highs and lonely lows mirroring the rollercoaster ride of heartbreak itself, and Williams sings each song in a voice flecked with both the twang of alt-country and the pissed-off power of alt-rock. She makes her home there, in the gray area between genres, planting her flag in territory that runs beside her influences, yet is still distinctly her own.

Yes, there’s darkness at the end of that street. But there’s also melody, guitar-driven muscle, and the cutting insights of a songwriter who, like her New Orleans home, isn’t afraid to embrace both the wild thrills and dangerous possibilities that come with a life lived after sundown.


November 2, 2023
12:00 pm - 1:00 pm
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301 S. Gay Street
Knoxville, TN 37902 United States
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