New Year, New Music

For the first time in my life, there was no “happy” New Year. 2017 started out on the toughest note possible, with the death of my best friend and guitarist, Thomas Estep, who was killed in a head-on collision on New Year’s Day. I will have more to say about Thomas, real soon. For now, my band and I are pushing forward, rehearsing and preparing for our shows coming up this spring and summer. I am also excited to be working on a new EP, which I hope to release before summer. 

After almost four years of not having new music to showcase I’m really looking forward to jumping back into the studio. It gives me the ability to bring my songs to life, it’s really a beautiful thing. I have been spending a lot of time writing and working on some new material that I have brewing up. Sadie (my 2-year-old Border Collie) hears all my latest tunes before anyone else. I believe she is diggin’ them, so I hope you all will, too! 

My latest single, “To Pieces,” has been climbing the MusicRow CountryBreakout Chart for the last few weeks. In case you don’t know, MusicRow is an important chart in the country music world, so it is an honor to be on it. I worked extremely hard promoting this song on radio tour and I am so thankful to all the stations that have been spinning it. I also was really happy to see “To Pieces” has been on Europe’s HotDisc Top 40 chart for 14 consecutive weeks. 

I have been really enjoying this process of writing and being creative with this upcoming project! I am just so dang ecstatic about releasing new music! 

Until next time, 

XO

-KB

Tears and Cheers: My Top 10 Memories of 2016

As the year draws to a close, social media is buzzing with comments about the unusually high number of iconic personalities we have lost this year—Carrie Fisher, George Michaels, Prince, Merle Haggard…the list is depressingly endless, or so it seems. Like most people, I have been reflecting on my own highs and lows of the past 12 months. Thankfully, most of my personal experiences (in music) have been positive, but there was one particularly painful event that I still am not completely over. Here are a few memories of 2016 that I will hold forever.

1. Fred Brooks: Business Partner, Friend, Mentor

The loss of my business partner, Fred Brooks, was devastating. We had worked together since meeting at a music festival in 2013. Fred was once in a band, so he understood the music business in ways that most business people do not. More than an investor, he was like a second father to me. I spent many days with him and his wife, Sherry, at their home in North Carolina. They honestly treated me just like another daughter, especially Fred. He helped me in so many ways, and we were looking forward to accomplishing new things in 2016. In March, Fred and Sherry invited me to spend a week with them at their second Florida home. Fred took me to Walt Disney World and and all three of us spent time doing other fun things, together. I flew back home to Virginia on a Saturday, only to receive news 48 hours later that Fred died from a sudden heart attack. I still remember vividly the smile on his face while I boarded my plane. He actually went through security with me just so we could have a short breakfast together before I went home. My heart shattered. I cried for days, not knowing how to process what had happened. As often happens when one loses a loved one, I felt that I could not go on. But I had to. Fred would have wanted it. 

2. Reds Opening Day Parade

It was an honor to be invited to ride in the annual Opening Day parade! However, when Fred Brooks passed away two weeks before the parade, I thought about canceling. How could I appear in a parade, singing and smiling in front of thousands of people, when I felt so upset? Fortunately, my friends encouraged me to do it and I am glad they did. I rode on the 911Steel.com float, which is the country’s only traveling 9/11 memorial, and sang my song “Don’t Push.” The song has a line that says, “Don’t push, somebody might just push right back.” That’s what America did, after 9/11. We pushed back, against the bullies of the world! Later in the year, I was asked to perform the National Anthem before the Reds game! Of course, this was exciting and is a top moment as well.

3. "Heart of Appalachia"

Before “Heart of Appalachia” became the theme song for Southwest Virginia tourism, it was just an idea. I had written the song with my friend Scott Arnold more than a year earlier. When we played the rough demo for the Heart of Appalachia Tourism Authority board members, they loved it. In April, I went into the Gorilla’s Nest Studio just outside of Nashville, to re-record the vocals. Bluegrass legend Larry Cordle produced and engineer Chris Latham handled the mix. Larry also sang background vocals, along with Val Storey, a great singer in Nashville, who has worked with many other artists, including Dolly Parton. After we had finished the final recording, I spent four days shooting the music video throughout Southwest Virginia. Even the great Ralph Stanley II made a cameo appearance in my video! I sang “Heart of Appalachia” in public for the first time at the Ralph Stanley Festival, with Larry Cordle & Lonesome Standard Time, which was a pretty amazing experience. I love being from Southwest Virginia, and feel extremely honored that my song is the official theme song for the region. One of my top 10 moments, for sure!

4. Country Jam Colorado

I have sung in front of large audiences before, but never as big as 2016 Country Jam Colorado. The festival takes place every June in the desert outside of Grand Junction, Colorado. When I was invited to perform, how could I refuse? A couple of weeks before the festival, the promoters asked if I would be interested in doing another performance, earlier in the day, in the V.I.P. tent, so I agreed. Following that performance, the festival director asked if I would be interested in singing the national anthem later that evening, before Brad Paisley’s show. To say I was nervous would be an understatement. Whew! Throughout the day, I had been experiencing nosebleeds. I couldn’t figure out why, because I had never had that problem before. Of course, I was flipping out. However, a nurse in the First Aid tent said a lot of people had been suffering nosebleeds because of the high altitude (the festival site was over one mile above sea level). I was trembling but I knew this was not about me. This was about honoring our country. As it turned out, the festival organizers were honoring our troops that night. There were soldiers on the stage when I stepped out to sing the anthem. 

5. Picking Up the “Pieces”

“To Pieces” is a breakup song I wrote with my friends Janet Miller and Scott Arnold. I shot a music video in the fall of 2015 but, at that time, decided to hold off on releasing it until spring. When Fred passed away in March, suddenly, everything we had previously discussed was put on the back burner. I went ahead with “Heart of Appalachia,” because that song was already in the works with the Heart of Appalachia Tourism Authority, and it had to be finished by June. Toward late summer, I realized “To Pieces” needed to come out before the holidays, or it might be too late, for several reasons. So, I then started working with a radio promotion company in Nashville to start putting the song out to radio stations and set up a radio tour.

6. Huffington Post's Top 10 Artists To Watch List

When I found out I was included in the Top 10 Artists to Watch for in 2017 — I felt so honored! I admire all of the artists that was included and I am so thankful that Huffington Post included me! 

7. Radio Tour: On the Air and On the Road

My radio tour gave me an opportunity to see and experience so many great new places that I will never forget, and also to make some incredible new friends. I went to radio stations in several states—West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin—to promote my single “To Pieces.” The lack of sleep was certainly worth it, I had a blast!

8. Attending the CMA Awards

For years, I sat at home, watching the CMA Awards on television, dreaming of just being there. Forget about performing on the stage—I always just wanted to sit in the audience. Well, in November, I got the chance, when ABC Television offered me tickets to the 50th Annual CMA Awards! I was a ball of excitement the day of the show. If I could describe the awards in a few words, this is how it would go — a big ole’ puddle of country glamour! Dolly made my whole night, I think she is amazing! I still dream of making it onto that stage one day, but you know what? I was pretty dang close to the stage, so I’ll take that for now! Hehe!

9. Lights, Camera, Action: Filming Born in Bristol

So, this actually happened in 2015, but since it was the end of the year, the excitement carried over into 2016! I am including it on my current list of Top 10 events. Born in Bristol is a documentary film about the historic Bristol Sessions, a series of recordings in 1927 that marked the beginning of the country music industry. When I found out it was going to be filmed in and around Bristol, TN/VA (not far from where I live), I wanted to be involved. The problem is, I did not find out about the project, until after auditions were over. My publicist submitted me, anyway, and the director, Chusy Haney-Jardine, agreed to see me. A few days later, he offered me a small part. Talk about being out of my comfort zone! I had never been in a movie! I was to be one of a small group of female singers performing a song at a funeral written by 2-time Grammy-winner Carl Jackson. I did not realize it at the time, but the movie was inspired by Carl’s album “Orthophonic Joy,” which had been released earlier that year. Carl was the musical director on the film, and he could not have been nicer to work with! I spent two days rehearsing with him (along with other singers, including the Church Sisters, Dani Flowers and Delnora Reed), and then one day shooting our scene. We filmed the scene in Acuff’s Chapel, a church built in 1786 in what is now Blountville, Tennessee. Being December, Lord, it was COLD. I had a small little black dress, heels, a hat, and no make-up on. Each note I would sing you could just see my breath freeze in the air. I got so caught up in the moment, I cried real tears during the scene. Born in Bristol premiered as a work in progress at the 2016 Nashville Film Festival. I am only on screen for a few seconds, but I felt so proud of myself for stepping out of my comfort level and trying something new.

10. Song of the Mountains

Song of the Mountains is a nationally syndicated television concert series, hosted by Tim White. Tim is also a well-known bluegrass artist, promoter and radio host. I taped his TV show back in 2014 at the historic Lincoln Theatre in Marion, Virginia, but because of a complex distribution schedule, my episode did not start airing until February of 2016. The show airs on many PBS affiliates throughout the country, so I have heard from people in many cities, who saw me for the first time on Song of the Mountains. I am so grateful to Tim White for his support!

WOW! Huffington Post's Artists To Watch List

I woke up this morning to the incredible news that Huffington Post chose me as one of its Top 10 Country Artists To Watch in 2017! They also highlighted my song, "Coal Train," as a "song you need to check out right now."

It's such an honor to be on this list with artists and friends I admire so much. I'm the only artist on the list from Virginia, which makes me even more proud to represent the Heart of Appalachia region. The author of the article wrote, "With a new EP slated for early next year, 2017 is poised to be this real-life coal miner's daughter's best year yet," and I couldn't agree more! I'm so excited about everything in the works for next year. I can't wait to share new music with everyone. Thanks, Huffington Post, for helping me end 2016 on a high note!

Heart Of Appalachia

Growing up in the mountains of Southwest Virginia has molded me into the person I am today. Country and bluegrass music have always been close to my heart. Living in a small town, there isn’t much to do for entertainment. Music was always my go to activity. I never imagined that one day I would write and record the official theme song for the area!

When I wasn’t playing music with my family, I was wading in a stream or a lake while dad was catching some fish. My childhood home was once a strip mine on the side of a mountain, and later a junk yard. My dad saw a vision of this property becoming beautiful again, so he bought it and the whole family went to work. Many days after school, I helped clean the yard that would eventually become our front yard. We found tires, broken glass, bottles—even fossils (which later we added to the rock wall around our home).

Once we got it all cleaned up, Dad built the house. He spent many sleepless nights drawing up the blue print and making other plans. My papaw was also a big part in building our new home that would later bring so many memories. 

A few years ago, the coal industry began to suffer. Thousands of people lost their jobs and had to leave the area, which resulted in many businesses closing. It was heartbreaking to see and I wanted to find a way to help. 

One day, I shared a newspaper article on Facebook about all the beautiful places and things to do in Southwest Virginia, with a comment about how proud I was to be from there. That led to a local tourism official responding with a message thanking me for sharing the article. That simple exchange of messages led to a series of conversations about creating a possible theme song for the Heart of Appalachia Tourism Authority, the nonprofit organization that promotes tourism in the region.

I took my love for music, love for the Appalachia Mountains, and started to create a song with my longtime friend, Scott Arnold. Although Scott is from East Tennessee, he has known me since I was a small girl and he truly understands me and my love for my home. As we wrote the song, we knew the focus had to be on “home.” Even though our ultimate goal was to attract tourists, this region is not glitzy. What makes Southwest Virginia special are the people and the natural beauty.

After the Heart of Appalachia board members approved the lyrics and melody, I jumped into the studio and started working with the legendary bluegrass musician, singer, songwriter and producer Larry Cordle. I have been a fan of Larry’s for many years and now I can call him a great friend. He produced the song and sang background vocals on the project, along with Val Storey, with help from engineer Chris Latham.

Once we finished in the studio, we started working on the video. It was the most amazing experience, getting to film in many familiar places, as well as places I had never visited in Southwest Virginia-- Breaks Interstate Park, High Knob, Stony Falls, the Pocahontas Exhibition Mine, Back of the Dragon and much more. Our videographer, Brian Volland, was incredible. He had spent years on an outdoor TV show called “Kentucky Afield,” so he was used to wading through streams and hiking up and down steep hills to get some of the shots we needed. He worked tirelessly, and never complained!

I am honored that the Heart of Appalachia Tourism Authority chose my song to be the official theme song. I love my home, my mountains and, most importantly, the people. I could not feel more blessed. Southwest Virginia will always have a place in my heart.

To learn more about the area, visit HeartOfAppalachia.com.

Gatlinburg Benefit Concert: #SmokiesStrong

Gatlinburg, Tennessee, has been a vacation destination for my family for many years. I remember, as a little girl, being mesmerized by the musical shows, the tourist attractions and the breathtaking scenery. I have family and many friends in that area, so when I heard about the wildfires that blazed through Sevier County, my heart ached. 

Being from the mountains I can tell you that the love we have for our friends and neighbors runs deep. It was only a few short weeks ago that Pine Mountain in Kentucky, which is just across the state line from my home in Southwest Virginia, caught fire. While that fire started in Kentucky, it was so close that I could see the mountain engulfed in flames from my home. The fire started spreading and eventually worked its way into Virginia and was a little over a mile from my home. I was filled with fear for our community and the firefighters who were working so hard to put out the blaze. We were lucky. damage in my area was minimal and there were no fatalities. Then, a few weeks later Gatlinburg was nearly destroyed because of the lack of rain and dryness we have all been experiencing here in the South. 

I mourn for the victims in Gatlinburg.  I have such love for the Smoky Mountains, so I started thinking of ways I could give back and help volunteer for the community. It so happened that my friends at Pepper Palace are planning a fundraiser called the SMOKIES STRONG RELIEF BENEFIT, to take place at Hard Rock Café in Pigeon Forge on Sunday, December 18, from 2:00-6:00 p.m. I will perform, along with Stephen Goff & The Royals, a great band from that area. Santa and Mrs. Claus will be on hand to talk with the kids. Everyone is invited, so please spread the word throughout the Gatlinburg area! Admission is free, but donations of cash, non-perishable food, clothing andpersonal items will be accepted. For more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/PepperPalace1HotShop.

#SmokiesStrong  #Gatlinburg

Radio Tour

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I am not a morning person. But guess what? Sometimes you have to get up at 5 a.m. when you are going to be interviewed on a radio show. Lately, I have been getting up at 5 a.m. a lot! I’ve been promoting my latest single, “To Pieces," and I have spent several weeks visiting radio stations in Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Iowa and Wisconsin. Most radio visits involve an interview with the DJ and a live acoustic performance of one or two songs. One of my guitarists, Thomas Estep, usually accompanies me. Not only is a great guitarist, but he also helps make things more fun while driving from one town to the next, for hours at a time. 

Being from Virginia, I was already pretty used to traveling through Kentucky and West Virginia, but Iowa was a totally new experience. Never in my life have I seen so much corn! Actually, the corn had already been harvested by the time I got there, but there were fields full of stalks for miles and miles in every direction, as far as the eye could see! It was really kind of spectacular. 

Another new experience for me was traveling through Wisconsin. They don’t call it America’s Dairyland for nothing! There were cheese shops everywhere, some of them with a statue of a giant mouse out front. I stopped at a cool little place called The Cheese Store and More in Hillsboro, Wisconsin, where the owner, Jan Levy, introduced me to CHOCOLATE CHEDDAR CHEESE! Yes, y’all, this is a REAL thing. It was absolutely delicious! It actually had the consistency and taste of chocolate fudge, but with far fewer calories. Jan told me that Jennifer Nettles had stopped at the store recently and bought chocolate cheese. If I ever meet Jennifer, I will have to ask her about that.

As hectic as a radio tour can be, I try to find time to stop and visit interesting things along the way. For example, I toured The Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, the last place Buddy Holly performed before he was killed in a plane crash in 1958. It is still a music venue, but also a museum dedicated to Buddy and many other legendary musicians who have performed there.

Another very somber place I visited was the American Legion Veterans Memorial Park in Richland Center, Wisconsin. This park consists of hundreds of American flags, each one honoring a veteran from the area who paid the supreme sacrifice. In Muskogee, Oklahoma, I toured the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame, which has all kinds of memorabilia related to Garth Brooks, Carrie Underwood, Toby Keith, Kristin Chenoweth and countless others musicians and singers from Oklahoma. (Thanks to Jim Blair, executive director, for showing us around!) Just a few miles from Muskogee, in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, I spent some time at the Cherokee Heritage Center, which has many fascinating dedicated to the history and culture of Native Americans in the region.

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One day, while traveling through northeastern Iowa, we saw a sign advertising a place called Spook Cave. It sounded interesting, so we decided to check it out. We took a boat ride through a cave, which wasn’t really all that spooky, but it was super fun! The place has a really great campground with lots of ducks running around. Great for families and of course, I was feeding the ducks before we left. 

When possible, I enjoy performing for kids. On my recent radio tour, I had the privilege of performing at the St. Louis Children’s Hospital and also at two schools—the Garner-Hayfield-Ventura Intermediate School in Ventura, Iowa, and also at Sadler Arts Academy in Muskogee, Oklahoma. The kids always seem to enjoy getting out of class to listen to live music, but I think I have just as much fun meeting them! Thanks to all the students, teachers, cheese sellers, DJs and the many other interesting and nice people I have met along the way! I hope to meet many more of you very soon!

50th CMA Awards: A Night to Remember!

My love for country music runs down deep to my core, so being able to attend the 50th Anniversary Country Music Awards in Nashville, Tennessee was an incredible treat for me. I was so thankful that my friends over at the ABC Network gifted me with tickets.

I started the day getting my hair done and then going back to the hotel to fix my make-up. Surprisingly, I ended up getting dressed in a parking garage…yeah, I know what you are thinking…is this girl serious? Well, yes I am! You see, I knew the traffic downtown would be crazy and there would be a huge crowd at Bridgestone Arena, so it was important to arrive early. However, I did not want to wear my gown in the car and wrinkle it. I was not staying in a hotel downtown, so I had to find someplace to change into my gown. That’s how I ended up in a restroom in a parking garage.

ACM-GettingReady

While getting dressed, I could not fasten the hook in the back, so I asked my publicist to do it for me. He’s a guy, though, and knows nothing about women’s fashion, so he ended up tearing one of the hooks. Luckily, the garage manager (a woman) came to the rescue and helped fasten my gown. I was not very enthusiastic about getting dressed and touching up my hair in a stinky parking garage bathroom, but I was happy to be on my way to the CMA Awards!

After arriving, I noticed the excitement in the air and utter joy that was flowing from everyone! I was in awe of all of my idols as I watched each take the stage. It was truly an unforgettable night. As many of you know, I am a huge Dolly Parton fan so being able to sit in a place where I could clearly see Dolly  — well, you know… that made my whole night. You know what they say-- the bigger the hair, the closer to Jesus… and Miss Dolly, she has that down pat! I thought each performer was truly remarkable and I felt so lucky to be a part of an extraordinary night of country music. More importantly, I was over the moon that the CMA honored and respected the legends who truly built country music!

Shooting "To Pieces"

I was up bright and early ready to start the filming process. I arrived on the set just outside of Nashville, at a quiet little house back in the country, overlooking a pond in the backyard. Yes, I would have loved to start fishing when I saw that pond, but girl gotta work!

It was a beautiful fall day and the wind was blowing softly, leaves were falling from trees. This song is clearly one that pulls at your heartstrings and that’s exactly what it did to mine that day. I had my friend and business partner, Fred Brooks, with me that day. We had envisioned this video for months. Halfway through the day, rain sets in. Oh, the rain! Naturally, I am flipping out thinking that it is going to destroy our filming. The crew started searching for alternative ways to make it work without damaging the equipment and not getting drenched.

We lucked out and found a sweet older man who allowed us to use his boat dock ramp for filming. It had a nice little roof over it to keep me nice and dry. It was so calming and peaceful sitting on the boat dock watching the rain hit the water. It was actually a powerful moment and we all knew that the rain was going to enhance the video. I remember, as the night started to fall and we were  losing daylight, I knew that despite the worry we all faced, we had a productive day.

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Sometimes things don’t go as planned, but you know what? That’s okay. The film crew was so patient and helpful during the whole process. I think that it is really what made the day go smoother. I had great people surrounding me and working hard to make the best of the day.