At Peach Fest, rising star Maggie Rose talks changing genres, Bill Murray, and Top 3 albums
Change can be good, even great, especially if you ask rising Americana music star Maggie Rose.
NEPA Scene had the chance to catch up with Rose before her performance at last weekend’s Peach Music Festival at The Pavilion at Montage Mountain in Scranton. The annual event originally centered around The Allman Brothers Band but has since evolved into a four-day festival featuring artists representing genres as diverse as bluegrass, funk, reggae, country, rock, blues and, of course, jam bands. This year’s gathering from Thursday, July 25 through Sunday, July 28 was headlined by artists such as Phil Lesh & Friends, the Trey Anastasio Band, The String Cheese Incident, and Joe Russo’s Almost Dead.
While almost everyone on the mountain was familiar with those artists, those looking for something new had no shortage of opportunities to find the next big thing on either of the two side stages. Topping that list for many attendees this year was Maggie Rose, who took the Mushroom Stage at 7:45 p.m. on Saturday night.
Though I referred to this Maryland native and current Nashville resident as a rising “Americana” star in my opening sentence, I also could have chosen soul, funk, country, pop, or even gospel music to describe her style. Following up 2013’s “Cut to Impress,” her latest album, “Change the Whole Thing,” released last September, is a dynamic blend of all of those genres rolled into one.
During our chat under the high mid-afternoon sun, I asked the singer about her wide-ranging styles as well as what it’s like to perform at the Peach and other festivals. With music festivals, she said that she is always honored to know that she can share the stage with the likes of Joan Jett or Sheryl Crow, Robert Plant, John Fogerty, Sturgill Simpson, and others and that it’s just an amazing feeling to know that she can fit in with these legendary performers. To be able to play Bonnaroo, Peach, and the upcoming Bourbon & Beyond festival in a year’s time serves as a testament to that fact that Maggie Rose’s talents make her one of the most versatile performers on the scene today.
My next question was about her decision to record “Change the Whole Thing” live in a studio with a 13-piece band. She explained that the band would do a full song a few times and then choose the one they like the best. “They all had little quirks but, similar to life, that’s what made them real for me,” she explained. Known for her energetic live shows and dynamic vocals, the decision to record the album this way seems like a no-brainer in retrospect, and in an era of auto-tune and Pro Tools tweaks, this too would seem like just another of the many changes that make her who she is as a performer.
When asked about her writing style, Rose explained that, “It’s always different. Sometimes it starts with just a title. Sometimes it comes to me at night and I make a note of it and hope it’s still ‘there’ in the morning, but it’s always different.”
“With this album being such a departure for you and proof that you can span many musical genres seemingly with ease, what can your fans expect in the future?” I asked. “Continued change, I hope. I want to keep evolving,” she replied. As far as the immediate future, she mentioned that her next album is being recorded at the legendary Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Alabama and that she will be heading out on tour with Sheryl Crow and Heart this fall.
If all of this seems ambitious, you’re right, but I had a feeling there was more, so I decided to ask about a track from “Change the Whole Thing” called “Hey Blondie.” I asked about its lyrical inspiration and what it means to her. The song references cat calls and wage inequality but, according to Rose, it’s really a rallying cry to women to remind them that they are more than some “blondie” and they need to stand up for what they deserve in today’s society.
In addition to supporting women through her lyrics, she is also a strong supporter of the Human Rights Campaign, so in August of 2018, to celebrate Women’s Equality Day, she partnered with Land O’Lakes and Grammy-winning songwriter Liz Rose to rewrite “Old McDonald” (a track they called “She-I-O”) for a national ad campaign highlighting the plight of female farmers.
As the sun was starting to feel like it was melting us into the macadam on this beautiful July afternoon, I had just one more question or two that I had to ask.
“In doing some research before the interview, I stumbled upon a few videos of you with Bill Murray on stage singing together. How does this happen?” After a good laugh, she said she met him at a golf event, after which he invited her to his annual Caddyshack Charity Golf Tournament. For her first time there, Murray gave her a piggyback ride onto the stage and stayed to sing a few songs with her and the band, a moment she says she will never forget. Since then, they have been invited back each year as the house band for the event.
“Bill is a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan. I saw that you recently sang the National Anthem at Wrigley Field before a Cubs game. What is more nerve-wracking as an artist – singing your own material in front of a crowd and hoping they love your songs or singing the National Anthem at a Major League Baseball game?” I asked. Without hesitation, she noted, “Singing the anthem. It’s everyone’s song. It’s really important and nobody wants to mess it up. So, yeah, that’s way more stressful.”
In an attempt to leave her with a chuckle and get a little insight into some of her musical influences, I ended with an absurd hypothetical question.
“You find out tomorrow that you’re going to prison for life. The warden tells you that you can only bring three albums with you to listen to for the rest of time. What are they?” With a laugh, Rose immediately responded with, “A lot of Beatles. Oh, wait, it’s only three albums. This is hard.” She then proceeded to list “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” Stevie Wonder’s “Songs in the Key of Life,” and Carole King’s “Tapestry.”
“People love to say never change,” I left off. “If asked, I think your fans would say to you, ‘Feel free to keep changing.’” She said, “Hey, I love that!”
This consistent change was evident in her live performance that day. During sound check, fans tried to keep up and mimic her vocals, a fun moment that didn’t last long as the crowd quickly realized what they were about to hear. Her soul-shaking vocals were backed by an amazing eight-piece band, resulting in a set that left all in attendance with no regrets that they chose to stay at the side stage to check out this artist in lieu of the headliner playing at the same time nearby. It seems pretty obvious that this too will change for Maggie Rose, as she is destined for the main stage not just here, but everywhere.
Find her summer tour dates now at maggierosemusic.com and see her with Sheryl Crow and Heart at Jones Beach State Park in Wantagh, New York on Sept. 26, the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on Sept. 27, and the Huntington Center in Toledo, Ohio on Sept. 28.
Read NEPA Scene’s other Peach Music Festival interview with Grammy-winning reggae musician Stephen Marley here and see all of the photos from the 2019 Peach Fest here.
Scott is a photographer, Teamster, and all-around music nerd. He loves antique and vintage items and people. He is a sucker for a carnival, fair, or freak show. He loves a good burger but has never eaten a steak.