June 19, 2013

We were recently featured in the summer issue of Penguin Eggs in the Big Buzz pages. Article by Tom Murry. Click on the link to read the article.

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Devil Train Steams into 2nd Place at MerleFest in Wilkesboro — May 30, 2012

You could hear the mountains of North Carolina in Doc Watson’s music. The rush of a mountain stream, the steady creak of a mule in leather harness plowing rows in topsoil and the echoes of ancient sounds made by a vanishing people were an intrinsic part of the folk musician’s powerful, homespun sound. Chris Talbott, The Associated Press

We just heard that Doc Watson died in Winston-Salem. We were honored to have seen the “godfather of all flatpickers”, as Sam Bush called him, play at MerleFest one last time.

The Trip

We arrived in North Carolina after two shaky and decrepit plane rides, repeated readings of Go Dog Go, and a stop in Chicago. On an airport television screen an interviewer was asking the Dali Lama, “What was his view of America?” Unfortunately our flight was called before I heard his answer. But before we left we saw a lot of fast food joints — which somehow seemed really sinister at that late hour.They also had plastic coverings on the toilet seats that refreshed if you held your hand over a sensor. We watched as a group of young men and a woman huddled together to pray after exiting their plane. It was all interesting and surreal.

Next morning it was a hilly trip from Charlotte to Wilkesboro, with a car window view of pristine landscapes; some of the homes were humble, but always so tidy and well-maintained, like it was a cultural phenomenon — a woman from Boone, NC, later confirmed this. Even the ditches were flowering and spotless.

At MerleFest all the contestants gathered in a room to practice their songs before the big event. I knew one song inside and out because the gal was quartered in the room next to ours at the Best Western. She later won first in the general category. (I never did get to ask her why she kept her down jacket zipped up tight even when it was 80 degrees). Anyhow, we’re lucky because Devil Train is the only song Sam will let us practice without complaining and asking us to hang up our guitars. When it was our turn, in the middle of the performance we heard the little guy crying at the top of his lungs (my mom was looking after him), I think because he wanted to get up and be part of the group, at least as the dancer. He likes to put on his Dad’s straw hat and do a jig.
It was thrilling to be part of the contest, claim second in the gospel category, and to meet so many talented folks from all over the U.S. Plus we traded CDs with many of them and are currently enjoying them at home in our kitchen.

The festival was amazingly well-run and we were glad because we were there 12 hours a day. Some of the highlights were the Boy Scout chicken, plus Sam Bush on the main stage Friday night with Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi sitting in. Mel unfortunately missed Los Lobos. Loved the dance tent too, watching the square dancers and young and old doing the two step in their tap shoes, plus a 10-year-old clogger, who was incredible. Saw Doc Watson play with Sam Bush and a few other players, and it was a real honour to get to see him. MerleFest also had this really neat tent where you could buy heritage crafts, like antique silver spoon earings (I really regret not buying those!).

Mel and the other contestants also hung out with North Carolina musician-singer/songwriter and contest judge, Jim Lauderdale, for a songwriting mentorship hour. He showed up for lunch in a blue suit and was a complete ham with his goofy jokes, plus he dished out some useful advice about selling songs.

The only other music related experience was in Charleston (incredible architecture, She-Crab soup, swimming in the ocean, watching surfers) where we found a bluegrass jam (hosted by the Folly Beach Bluegrass Society) on the pier next to our hotel. We put Sam in the Thai baby wrap on our back and got up to sing a couple of songs with a borrowed out-of-tune guitar, and were gratified to receive wild applause from the folks enjoying the music. Plus we found the best t-shirts in Folly Beach.


Song Devil Train a Finalist in North Carolina Songwriting Competition!

Just got word that Devil Train is a finalist in the Chris Austin Songwriting Competition, part of North Carolina’s music festival MerleFest this April. This is the same songwriting competition that Gillian Welch won in ’93. Mel is absolutely honoured to be a finalist. It’s one of the biggest music festivals in the U.S. — attracting about 80,000 folks to hear traditional and contemporary roots music.

MerleFest began in 1988 in Memory of Eddy Merle Watson, who died tragically after he rolled his tractor down an embankment. Eddy was the son of legendary guitar player Doc Watson who is still going strong at age 88. Some of the featured musicians at this year’s MerleFest include Alison Krauss, Tony Rice, Bela Fleck, Vince Gill, Sam Bush and Deep Dark Woods.

Anyhow, we’ll be packing up our three year old and flying to North Carolina and performing in Wilkesboro at the end of April. Wish us luck!

Latest Reviews

April 2012, Babysue says: “Cool refreshing music that is genuine and real.”

Milkwood Dreamers is the Calgary, Alberta (Canada) based-duo comprised of the husband and wife team of Mel Smith and Marti Smith. Hellfire & Bone is their debut, and it’s a nice smooth ride through some soft groovy territory. The Smiths write and record soft pensive moody folky pop with threads of country running through it. Their songs are subdued and gentle, and the focus is on vocal melodies and lyrics. These songs are a far cry from the world of commercial music…we get the idea that Mel and Marti are making music mainly because they enjoy it and want to express themselves. This beautifully packaged album (housed in a cardboard foldout sleeve that features some lovely art by Kathy Cook) features eleven simple soothing tracks. Our favorites include “Hellfire & Bone,” “Beautiful Girl,” “Star Promenade,” and “How Long.” Cool refreshing music that is genuine and real.

Milkwood Dreamers release debut CD Hellfire & Bone!

Pick up your copy on CD Baby, i-Tunes, and Bandcamp!

Well, we managed to pull it off despite being newish parents and Mel with his day job and 4:30 am alarm clock wakeups. It took a week to record at the Station Recording Studio with Craig Newnes and Spencer Cheyne, in Caglary’s West Hillhurst neighbourhood. Then we must have listened to that CD a thousand times (our 2-year-old thought the songs were riveting) until we thought we couldn’t stand to listen to Devil Train or Briar Hill one more time.

So, I suppose the music is a collection of love stories in a way: it’s about family bonds, unrequited love, kindred spirits, things that don’t work out and things that do, and some of the places and landscapes we cherish along the road. Alberta has been good to us. It feels like the perfect place to be songwriters. When I first moved here from Vancouver–such a beautiful, movie-set kind of place–I was struck by austerity of Alberta. Every once in a while you’d find the skeleton of an animal — like a cow or a horse, and when a crocus bloomed in the coulee you’d want to tell all the neighbours because it was the only one you’d seen or would see for several days. Then of course there was the spectre of the northern lights that you could enjoy while sitting in a claw-foot tub on the front porch. And sometimes you might come home and find a cow licking the window. Bits of sagebrush in your pocket, wild rosehips in your tea. The sky so big it’s like a giant ten-gallon hat.

Anyhow, enjoy!

Marti Smith
from the Milkwood Dreamers