Making Festival Goers Sing and His Banjo Ring: Brian Swenk

For a place as remote as Ashe County, NC, you could be forgiven for overlooking it as a wellspring for musical talent. But music seems to flow naturally out of the Appalachian mountains in and around towns like Sparta, NC, where artists like Brian Swenk grew up. Our recent episode on banjo player Tray Wellington gives another example of how the region punches above its weight with its long track record of producing great roots music artists: Frank Blevins and his Tarheel Rattlers, the Carolina Night Hawks, Clarence “Tom” Ashley, and Ola Belle Reed all hail from Ashe County as well.

Even though many artists mentioned above moved away, they never forgot their homeplace. Recently I witnessed both Tray Wellington and Brian Swenk returning to the mountains to make music and give back to the cultural traditions that gave them their start, when both were a key part of the inaugural Boonerang Music & Arts Festival in nearby Boone, NC in June 2022. There, Brian came back to the town where he attended Appalachian State University as a key part of the team that produced the festival, which went swimmingly. Town Mountain and Acoustic Syndicate, both featured on previous episodes of this series, were headliners, and along with many other artists and bands with connections to the region, they helped make the weekend a winner with fans and critics alike. Brian’s work was all behind the scenes there, but he is no stranger to the stage, with years of experience playing banjo in the band Big Daddy Love.

Brian Swenk

Here, Brian talks about the music business, his rock and roll roots and how they find their way into Big Daddy Love’s music, we pick up on a conversation started in our episode on Tray Wellington with the influence of rap and hip hop in roots music, and more, including Brian’s story about how a painting of his band playing live sold for six figures. Plus, we sample several songs by Big Daddy Love, which describes itself an “Appalachian Rock” band.

Songs heard in this episode:

“Smoke Under The Water” by Big Daddy Love, from This Time Around

“Down From the Mountain” by Big Daddy Love, from Let It Grow, excerpt

“Air Bellows Gap” by Big Daddy Love, from Let It Grow

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Southern Songs and Stories is a part of the podcast lineup of Osiris Media, with all of the Osiris shows available here. You can also hear new episodes of this podcast on Bluegrass Planet Radio here. Thanks to Corrie Askew for producing the radio adaptations of this series on public radio WNCW, and to Joshua Meng, who wrote and performed our theme songs. This is Southern Songs and Stories: the music of the South and the artists who make it.   – Joe Kendrick