Riding A ‘High Tide’
Shannon Whitworth was a middle schooler in Washington, D.C., when her mother let her hop on the Metro by herself to see Chris Isaak.
It wasn’t Whitworth’s first concert — her father had taken her to see James Taylor and folk singer John Prine when she was younger — but Isaak, who had a monster hit in “Wicked Game” in the early 90s, represented Whitworth’s first true concert … the first one she had to see.
“Getting myself there and seeing that concert … it was like hearing music on a whole other level,” said Whitworth, who is headlining the kickoff concert for the first Sanford Arts & Vine Festival Friday night at the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center (opening acts begin at 6 p.m., with Whitworth and her band set to perform after 9 p.m.)
Fresh off the release of her newest album, “High Tide,” Whitworth has been touring the country, headlining shows and appearing in several large-scale music festivals. The Brevard native began her career in music as the anchor voice and songwriter for the lauded North Carolina ensemble The Biscuit Burners before venturing off on a solo career that began with the 2007 release of her first album, “No Expectations.”
Her follow-up in 2009, the critically acclaimed “Water Bound,” drew comparisons to Emmylou Harris’ Wrecking Ball and garnered praise from outlets ranging from People Magazine to Garden & Gun.
“Water Bound” also led to an invite in 2011 to open for the man who had vaulted her love for music to new heights … Chris Isaak himself.
“I was asked to open for him — on my birthday, coincidentally — about a year or so ago,” Whitworth recalled. “My first response was, ‘Are you kidding me?’ The experience was so awesome, and Chris and his band were so nice.”
The band performing with Isaak that night was the same band that performed with him 20-plus years ago, Whitworth said, but she resisted the urge to tell them about her experience in the eighth grade.
“I wasn’t worried about coming off [as a giddy fan],” she said. “I just didn’t want to make them feel so old.”
Whitworth has spent much of 2013 on the road performing and promoting her new album. Her show in Sanford Friday night is part of a four-night pass through her home state that includes a show Thursday in Winston-Salem and Sunday at Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro. She then heads off to Texas for three shows in three days — including a show in Dallas with Wisconsin rockers The Bodeans — before returning east for concerts in Augusta, Ga.; western North Carolina and Pineland, S.C.
“I love playing North Carolina,” she said. “The crowds always make me feel at home.”
Her home state has played a big part in getting Whitworth some national notoriety over the past year. Her voice was featured in three national commercials for N.C.-based Belk Department Stores, and that gig led to a recently signed three-year contract to have her music featured in Starbucks stores all over the world.
“The commercials allowed me to take some time off from touring, and through that came the Starbucks deal,” she said. “It’s great, of course, because people hear you on TV or in the stores, and they go and research you. Just recently we were asked to have our music in a movie … it’s been really cool.”
Whitworth got her start in bluegrass, but her sound today has been compared to everyone from R&B legend Sam Cooke to country legend Patsy Cline. If she puts herself in any genre, it would be “Americana,” a healthy blend of folk, blues, R&B, rock and bluegrass.
“I’m a songwriter,” she said, “and my music pulls together a lot of different sounds. I have roots in a lot of different kinds of music.”
Her latest album has more of a positive vibe than her previous releases, Whitworth explains on her website, because, “so many of my songs were penned from darkness, and ‘High Tide’ came from a place of light.”
Concert goers in Sanford Friday night will see a show that fuses many of her originals with different takes on classics like “Bring it on Home to Me” by Sam Cooke, “You are My Sunshine” or “Moonglow.”
“I’ve surrounded myself with exceptional players,” Whitworth said. “No one in this band is out for themselves … it’s a team effort.”
Every band she’s performed with or toured with … Whitworth has picked up something along the way. The vibe an audience gets from her live shows today is the result of years of “soaking it all in” from some of the best bands in the world, she said.
“Everyone I’ve played with, I’ve picked up or learned at least one of their Miyagi skills,” Whitworth said. “It’s all happened unconsciously … I’m merely absorbing their greatness. I don’t ever seek out their secrets or take notes … I’m not that business-like. I just think if you have good intentions, are true to yourself and align yourself with good people, it all works out.”
Scarlet has built a reputation for powerful vocals, driving rhythms and tight guitar leads, playing Top 40 hits from the 80s, 90s and today. Huckleberry Blue blends Americana, real life and honest-to-goodness fun and mixes it all with an exciting country/rock show. Crush is a band that “transcends the barriers of style and taps into the timeless elements in music.” All three will open the Arts & Vine Kick-Off concert beginning at 6 p.m. (gates open at 5) Friday night at the Civic Center. Food, beer and wine from some of the Arts & Vine vendors will be available for concert-goers throughout the night. For more information, visit www.sanfordartsandvine.com.