Scene&Heard: Magnolia Boulevard at the Burl

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It’s a given: when Magnolia Boulevard takes the stage, the crowd immediately starts dancing. Whether their songs swing from folky to blues or funk, the crowd is always movin’ and shakin’ with this band. The organic connection between band and audience is part of the energy that is propelling Magnolia Boulevard along a path of promise. And somebody is paying attention to this. Only two years old, the band has already gained the attention and sponsorship of Paul Reed Smith guitars.

The Burl filled quickly on this August Friday evening in anticipation of a three-band lineup. Warmed up by Boscoe France, another PRS band that got the crowd moving with some astounding guitar work, everyone was ready to keep going when Magnolia Boulevard took the stage. The opening jam made the audience bubbly and perfect for when lead singer Maggie Noelle stepped up to the mic and began singing.

Compared often to Susan Tedeschi, Bonnie Raitt or Janis Joplin, Maggie’s deep and flawless voice commands the room. With Gregg Erwin on guitar, John Roberts on bass, Ryan Allen on keys and Todd Copeland on drums, Magnolia Boulevard creates a solid platform of funky jams in support of Maggie’s voice and soulful lyrics. 

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Each instrumentalist is a master of his craft. The keys converse with the guitar, the bass slaps out its funky beat and the drums keep them all going. It’s impressive. The crowd happily takes it all in as they dance together. This is the vibe the band loves best.

“What we experience is genuine, and the crowd experiences that…the crowd’s got a lot to do with it too,” said bassist John Roberts. “The crowd is a member of the band, if you keep coming we’ll keep putting it out there. You gotta feed off that energy.”

The crowd clearly agrees with these sentiments. And they aren’t the only ones. After playing at Wilcutt Guitar’s 50th-anniversary show, in a slot right before the PRS guitar presentation, Magnolia Boulevard managed to capture the attention of Paul Reed Smith himself.  After their set, and the good luck of Maggie winning the prize PRS guitar out of the raffle, the connection was made. As Gregg had predicted to Paul Reed Smith, “you’re gonna fall in love with Maggie.”

Before they knew it, PRS was flying the whole band to Baltimore to play at their music festival and to record some songs at Smith’s personal studio. During that brief four-song set that was “easy” according to the band, Paul Reed Smith was apparently found standing off to the side, all by himself, mesmerized by the band during their performance. They hope to fly back out to continue working toward a full album under Smith’s guidance and sponsorship.

A creole of folk, bluegrass, funk and rock, Magnolia Boulevard serves up variety from song to song, but the sound of the band is its own, and even the blusier, funkier, slightly darker songs still make the crowd dance. The soul is obvious, and deep, and each instrument holds an equal place in the songs. Balanced. Some songs belt out a near Prince and the Revolution style funk, while others bemoan the deeply felt sorrow of blues. Then they slide funky-like into a jam-band piece that sends the vibe of the room into a frenzy.

Most of the lyrics are written by Maggie or Ryan, but Gregg has written some songs as well. Maggie claims to be “the baby of this band” in terms of professional musical experience. She clearly adores her band family. “I am grateful for this, I am learning so much in this process, they are great teachers.”

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It is not common enough to see local musicians with great talent get the recognition they deserve. The music game isn’t an easy one, for sure. “Be prepared to work for it,” John comments. He and Todd go back to previous bands such as Tribe called Lex and have been immersed in the scene for a while. To be picked up by PRS and have such sudden success is a dream come true. They have been playing festivals and shows all over the region, including Master Musician Festival in Somerset and FloydFest in Virginia.

What’s next? “The stars,” Maggie smiles back. Here’s hoping, y’all…

Listen to Cara’s backstage conversation with members of  Magnolia Boulevard:

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