Singing for Grandma and for Joey’s Pancake House: The Maggie Valley Band

The Maggie Valley Band is an Asheville area bluegrass quartet that sinks its roots deep in the region & speaks to today's widespread isolation and sadness.

On SCENES Live Sessions on June 9th, 2017, in a rustic living room, The Maggie Valley Band played with the same vigor they would bring to any stage. Lead vocalist, Whitney Miller, has a sweet but haunting voice. Imagine if Lorde hailed from Appalachia. Caroline Miller accompanies her sister on bass, adding in her harmonies so deftly that it seems they share a musical mind. Their band mates, Cam Williams on mandolin and Colby Guyer on drums, contributed their accomplished skills to nicely round out their quartet.

Their first song of the day was “Don’t Go.”  Simple and pure, it’s an ode aimed at salvaging a love on the rocks. With its romping chorus “You won’t like it better there, we just need to work it out” it’s one of those that plays on repeat in your mind long after listening. The next selection, “Good Lord,” mourns the loss of the Miller sisters’ grandmother.

Caroline Miller explains:She died when we were young but she made a big impact on us. She was the perfect grandmother you hear about in stories. We wish we could have her today helping us and guiding us. When we play this song I can’t help but feel closer to her.”

The Hardest Thing,” the final selection of the concert, was dedicated to Joey’s Pancake House. That beloved local haunt recently closed after feeding Maggie Valley residents for 51 years.

In a time when few artists roots can be clearly deciphered, The Maggie Valley Band clearly sets out to chart an authentic musical map of the lands from whence they came. If you know much about Maggie Valley itself, you’ll know it’s a quaint North Carolina mountain town with many long-standing traditions. It also has the ebb and flow of a seasonal tourist’s destination. Though the band drew from the bluegrass roots of their area, they resist the Haywood County slant of most local bands, and have gone more for the traditional bluegrass feel. (To get a feel for how lively the Asheville area music scene is check out this local events calendar.)

When asked how their origins affect them, they had this to say: “Our roots are what ties us together, but we each bring our different experiences to the project. Our roots and our values grow from commitment, hope, people, and struggles that make us stronger. We hope that we never lose sight of that.”

Every group has reoccurring themes they to address and this group is no different. Caroline admitted that the band’s songs tend to be about hopelessness and brokenness.

“One of our friends said about us that we’re a ‘sad sandwich.’ Sometimes we are, but we write about those dark topics because we want people to know they’re not alone. We all get there. Every single one of us experiences darkness in one form or another. Whether it’s a broken relationship, a longed-for relationship, loneliness, directionless, or questioning in general we all do it. We write about it because it’s real, it’s what we’ve dealt with personally.” says Caroline.

On their previous traditional folk EP, Bring Us Back, songs like “Lonesome Road echo these sentiments. Their follow up EP, titled Don’t Go, also waxes melancholy. Elegant and sorrowful, “Fish or the Water” is a well -balanced track about swimming upstream and going against the grain. The mandolin and violin add the perfect backdrop to the Miller sister’s pure resounding vocals, showing that they’re not just singers but more than apt composers.

The band is currently working with Grammy-nominated David Mayfield, and this is an invaluable chance for them to learn and grow as musicians. Here’s how they sum up their hopes for their future:

We hope that our music will connect with people, that it will identify with their both their sorrows and joys and point them to truth when they need it. Music is emotional and can be fleeting but we want our music to make an impact even when the song stops,” Caroline said.

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Suzanne Crain Miller is a screenwriter, poet, novelist, teacher, reporter and music blogger who resides in Raleigh, N.C. She lives with her husband,...
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