Two of the bigger success stories that have come out of St. Joseph are the folk groups The Center State and Under The Big Oak Tree.
Combining catchy pop sensibilities with home-grown bluegrass and folk influences, both have made names from themselves outside the area and into other states like Nebraska and Iowa.
• • •
Performing as part of “The Bluff Session — Americana Show” at River Bluff Brewing, the two groups will team up with native Missourians Magick K Acoustic for an all-day folk event starting at noon Saturday, May 11.
Under The Big Oak Tree
2018 was a season of change for the normally sunny, optimistic quartet. It released its third album, “The Ark,” a darker meditation on dealing with loss and learning to heal.
The band performed throughout St. Joseph and Kansas City, with upcoming spots on the popular Boulevardia music and beer festival and the “Bank of America Celebration at the Station” presented by the Kansas City Symphon
As the band prepares for those upcoming shows, it’s been busy writing music as a unit and pursing its own projects. Guitarist Jason Riley toured Europe with The Nova Project and teaches budding musicians at the St. Joseph Arts Academy. Vocalist Kristin Hamilton toured Germany. Bassist Doug “Sluggo” Ward has been performing with singer-songwriter Andy Grooms. Guitarist and songwriter Simon Fink is busy prepping his album and book “Lullabies Till Dawn,” set for release on June 8 in Kansas City.
“It’s been a period of growth. You know, ‘You go and do some things and then let’s see what happens when we all bring it back to this table,’” Ward said.
In addition to all those projects, the band is working on a holiday album and a folk operetta. This is all to say that whatever break they’ve been taking in between “The Ark” and their next project hasn’t been a period of rest for the members.
Hamilton said touring with other performers was a much-needed break for her own creative process.
“That’s actually some advice I had received from a girlfriend. She said ‘It will only make your band better. You need to get you to get out on your own ... You’ll grow and you’ll bring it back to your band and it’ll make your band better.’ And I think that’s really good advice,” she said.
When the band comes together to perform, Ward said, they sense how those creative explorations have improved their confidence and dynamics in the band.
“(Kristin is) very much able to articulate what it is that we’re going to do and guide the audience into where we’re going. And that’s been a lot of fun,” Ward says.
At the Americana show, the band will perform a variety of songs, both old and recent
“We’ve been working on some new songs, some of which will be ready for this weekend,” Hamilton said.
The Center State
With an already established buzz in St. Joseph, The Center State saw its popularity rise with one music video.
In October, it premiered the visual for its cheery pop tune “Sunrise,” a song lead singer Jeremy Sharp wrote with Sixpence None The Richer’s Leigh Nash and her husband, Stephen Wilson. Teaming with the popular homestead vlog “White House on the Hill,” created and operated by St. Joseph residents Jake and Becky, it took off.
“Every video that they put up now, they’re using our ‘Sunrise’ song at the end of it. So we get probably like, five to 10 subscribers a week on our YouTube channel saying, ‘We heard you on ‘White House on the Hill,’” Sharp said.
Off its second album, “Wilderness,” the tune became the band’s biggest hit to date and another feather in its cap. Touring in support of it, the band performed at events as big as the Plaza Arts Fair in Kansas City to house shows in Des Moines, Iowa. “Wilderness” won the National Traditional Country Music Association’s award for Progressive Folk CD of the Year, which came as a surprise to the band.
“Yeah, we’re progressive folk. I always wondered what we were. iTunes says we’re country, but I’ll take that one,” bassist Brad Davidson jokes.
Similar to their friends in Under The Big Oak Tree, The Center State also has been undergoing a series of changes in life. Singer and violinist McKenzie Davidson is back in school, Brad Davidson has been busy with real estate and Sharp has been helping raise his family.
“We have our own personal mountains to climb,” Sharp said.
Having performed both with Under The Big Oak Tree previously and at River Bluff Brewing, the band said it’s excited to re-team with two of its favorite local establishments.
“More and more, (River Bluff) is making it some place that you want to be,” Brad Davidson said.
While it won’t be premiering any new tunes, it will debut a few new covers and a mash-up, if the feeling is right.
“I think we’re going to attempt a mash-up,” Sharp said. “Can I say what it is?”
As the band looks over at McKenzie, she wants them sworn to secrecy.
“No, it’s a secret. They have to come to hear it,” she said, laughing.
The concert will kick off River Bluff Brewing’s Summer Concert Series, which includes folk band Good Morning Bedlam (May 22), Artimus Pyle from Lynyrd Skynyrd (June 15), pop-country artist Uncle Kracker (June 22) and country singer David Lee Murphy (Aug. 10).
Tickets for the upcoming concerts are available at Eventbrite.com. News-Press NOW is the flagship sponsor of the series.
— Andrew Gaug | St. Joe Live