In the spring of 2016 Gregg Erwin moved to Lexington from Knoxville and began searching for like-minded musicians to perform with.
Soon, he stumbled upon a songwriter’s night nestled within the beer garden at Al’s Bar and decided to go, though he went armed only with an electric guitar, and he didn’t sing.
“A friend of mine in Richmond sent me a link to it,” Erwin said. “It’d been about a month since I moved to Lexington and I’d been dying to get out and meet others in the local music scene. Something came up that day that almost prevented me from going.”
But he made it, and much like Derek Trucks, whom Erwin has drawn countless comparisons to, he let his guitar tell a story.
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Maggie Noelle listened.
She was performing inside the bar that night with her band, Moonshine District. Blown away by the intricacies and precision of Erwin’s playing, she was intrigued by the prospect of collaborating with him. But it wasn’t until a few months later she built up the courage to reach out to him on Facebook.
With that leap of faith, Magnolia Boulevard was born.
The band is comprised of familiar faces in Lexington’s music scene: Born Cross Eyed and The Other Brothers drummer Todd Copeland, journeyman Ryan Allen on keys, John Roberts on bass and the aforementioned Erwin and Noelle.
After a few months of trying to coordinate a time to jam, Copeland helped organize a time and space to meet and was invited to participate. Allen later joined the fray after being introduced to Erwin at a November show at Willie’s Locally Known with Kristofer Bentley of Sundy Best and his project The Revival. Roberts came aboard less than a month ago, and will play his first show with the group on Sunday at The Burl. Joe Schlaak has filled the group’s void at bass as the band searched for a permanent replacement.
I’ve never met a group of people that can flow so easily together on a musical level. I was super nervous at our first practice, because I wasn’t well acquainted with anyone in the band other than Todd, and I showed up late. Everyone was already jamming and there was a mic set up for me, so I just walked in and started singing.
Magnolia Boulevard’s first gig was on February 26 at Cosmic Charlie’s opening for local jamgrass outfit Restless Leg String Band during their weekly “Sunday Service.” The group has only played around 15 shows since, most of which have been at The Burl. But band members say even they’re surprised by how much the group has gelled and honed its sound in that short amount of time, settling on a blend of rock, blues and jam that falls between the Tedeschi Trucks Band and The Allman Brothers Band.
“I’ve never met a group of people that can flow so easily together on a musical level,” Noelle said. “I was super nervous at our first practice because I wasn’t well acquainted with anyone in the band other than Todd, and I showed up late. Everyone was already jamming and there was a mic set up for me, so I just walked in and started singing.”
The group already has a handful of original songs such as “Ride,” a psychedelic and blues rock soaked tune with a beat similar to The Grateful Dead’s “Franklin’s Tower” and “Sister,” an intimate and emotional number written by Noelle and often performed as a duo with Casen Baumgardner of Restless Leg that has taken on a new life with the band.
Despite growing up a fan of Bonnie Raitt, Stevie Nicks, Susan Tedeschi and other powerful female artists Noelle often found herself surrounded by bluegrass and other traditional music in the hollers of Virginia. After growing up performing largely bluegrass and old-time mountain music, Noelle says she’s finally found a group of people and musical identity that best allow her powerful voice and stage presence to shine.
“I feel like it’s opened up a whole new book of stories to be told,” Noelle said. “Bluegrass was never really my niche, but now I’ve found it. With all the riffs and lyrics that Gregg and Ryan come up with, it’s like they have a skeleton of something that sparks an idea that makes it easy for me to take off with especially with my voice, because that’s something I haven’t been able to expand on as much in the past.”
Matt Wickstrom: @wickstromwrites
If you go
Summer of Sundy
What: Sundy Best hosts an afternoon jam with area musicians
Bands for July 30: Rhyan Sinclair and Kristofer Bentley (11 a.m.), Chelsea Nolan (noon), Brett Horton (12:40 p.m.), Trippin Roots (1:20 p.m.), Emma Hern (2 p.m.), Sean Whiting (2:40 p.m.), Home Grown Head Band (3:20 p.m.), The Local Honeys and friends (4 p.m.), Grayson Jenkins (4:40 p.m.), Leah Blevins (5:20 p.m.), If Birds Could Fly (6 p.m.), Magnolia Boulevard (6:40 p.m.), Brother Smith (7:20 p.m.), Nicholas Jamerson (8 p.m.), The Revival (9 p.m.)
When: 11 a.m. July 30
Where: The Burl, 375 Thompson Rd.
Admission: $5-7, for ages 18 and older. Free entry before 2 p.m.
Other area Magnolia Boulevard dates
Aug. 3: With Sean Whiting and Short and Company at The Burl, 375 Thompson Rd. $7. Theburlky.com.
Aug. 5: With Brother Smith and Josh Nolan at the Southgate House Revival — Santuary, 111 E. Sixth St. in Newport. $8-10. Southgatehouse.com.
Aug. 18: Kickin’ it on the Creek pre-party with Arlo McKinley, Bryan Minks and the Kentucky Sons, Josh Nolan Band, Luna and the Mountain Jets and more at The Burl, 375 Thompson Rd. $10. Theburlky.com.