By Matt Wickstrom
This Friday at Al’s Bar, mountain music and bluegrass will collide as local bands Moonshine District and The Wooks join forces for what will continue a fantastic week of music around Lexington. The show is the start of a busy summer of festivals and new destinations for Moonshine District, a band with deep roots in Appalachian music.
The group formed shortly after guitarist Maggie Noelle met banjo and fiddlist Katie Didit at 2014 Super Moon Music and Arts Festival in Whitesburg, Kentucky, where both performed as solo artists. One day, the two began jamming with mandolinist Jared Hamilton, later adding Eric Smith on washtub bass after he approached them following a show Moonshine District did at Summit City in Whitesburg, expressing his interest in being in a band. In recent months, the group rounded out their five-person lineup with Mike O’Malley on lead guitar.
Recently, an opportunity arose through one of Didit’s employers, Pro-Art in Virginia. This would allow the band to visit and play for schools in Virginia. The group had to put together a video for the program application, and they decided to highlight the women of Appalachian folk music.
“We had to come up with a lesson plan, so we chose to highlight the women of Appalachian folk music,” Stanley said. “We picked out six or seven women who’ve written songs that other artists popularized. We wanted to highlight those women and give them the credit they deserve.”
Stanley’s soulful voice is inspired by female singer-songwriters Susan Tedeschi of the Tedeschi Trucks Band, Bonnie Raitt and Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks. According to Stanley, her mother introduced her to those artists, which was surprising since everyone in her family was a bluegrass music fanatic.
Moonshine District and Stanley’s powerful voice will echo throughout the Virginia mountains when the group makes their debut at the widely-known Floydfest in Floyd, Virginia, from July 27-31. The five-piece will play three sets throughout the weekend, sharing the festival spotlight with the legendary Gregg Allman, who plays in Lexington on Thursday at the Lexington Opera House, Keller Williams, Bruce Hornsby and many others.
“It makes my heart beat fast and stomach turn just thinking about it,” Stanley said. “I guess everyone had to start somewhere.”
Other than Floydfest, Moonshine District will be performing at a number of Kentucky festivals, including Mountain Groove Music Festival in Irvine in June, Super Moon in July, and the inaugural Patchwork Music, Art and Unity Celebration in Nicholasville at the end of September, taking place at Astounding Estates, owned by Dereck Oldham of local funk outfit Driftwood Gypsy.
For many, music is fascinating, not only because of how limitless the possibilities that lie within its figurative walls seems to be, but because that it’s always teaching artists something about themselves, the world, and life in general. Stanley and the members of Moonshine District are no exception to the rule.
“It’s definitely taught me that I need to slow down and understand that everything doesn’t have the instant gratification that I’d like it to,” Stanley said. “It makes you grateful to understand your surroundings and take everything in a little better.”
Stanley recalled a recent moment when she and Didit were jamming late night with members of Cincinnati’s Rumpke Mountain Boys, which helped to put in perspective for the up-and-coming musician just how far she’s come in such a short amount of time.
“Two and a half years ago, I never would have thought that would happen, and I wouldn’t have done that either because it was intimidating, but now they’re just people to me,” Stanley said. “They’re learning too, they’re just a couple of stages ahead of me.”
Doors open at 8 p.m. for Friday’s show. The Wooks will take the stage from 9 to 10:30, with Moonshine District following around 11 p.m. The show is for people age 21 and up, and there’s a $5 cover charge.
You can also view this article in the Kentucky Kernel, and check out another video below for Moonshine District’s song “Appalachian Firestarter”, along with more pictures from Kim Blackburn. You can also read my full conversation with Maggie Noelle (Stanley) here.