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A Conversation With Matt Magill from The Magills & Co.

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By Johnny Griffith

Matt and Megan Magill love the stage. From the moment they met on stage in Oklahoma City years ago, through a decade in New York City, and a return to roots in East Texas, theirs is a marriage of music and ministry. As the “Magills” portion of The Magills & Co, the husband and wife duo take the stage singing songs of life, love, faith, failure, triumph, and trust. They like to call their music “grace music,” an honest conversation with the listener rooted in transparency, compassion, and music that flows from the lives they live together.

I sat down with Matt this month to get a better snapshot of who The Magills are and what’s coming up for them in the near future.

Johnny: When did you each start developing an interest in music, and what was really the moment when you realized this was something you wanted to do as more than just a hobby?

Matt: Ursula K. Le Guin said that “the creative adult is the child that survived.” Megan and I didn’t develop an interest in music. We just never left our childhood behind. We are children, and so making music is both hobby and vocation. It isn’t work to play. A child at play is unconcerned with things like deadlines or obligations. His/her life is an expression of possibility and joy. When considering “moments” that we realized music was something that was sacred to us, it’s more that there were moments that could have crushed us, that could have caused us to withdraw; rejection, failure, and discouragement did not have their way with us. Instead, our marriage has been a great gift to each of us – a friendship based on the mutual determination to remain open, expressive children, receptive to what we’re given and faithful to give it away to others.

Johnny: You two have a great story about meeting, whirlwind romance, marriage, and off to the Big Apple to “make it” where you persevered through struggles, eventually finding your way back to East Texas. How much of what you guys had to endure during that time period, going through the crucible of maturity and experience, influences how you approach the music today?

Matt: New York City was transformative for us because it’s an incredibly difficult environment to endure but also because we moved there two weeks after getting married. Cut off from our respective communities and parents, we had to learn who we are in light of our new city and new marriage. It changed us forever.

People often ask us, “Why would you all move (or stay) in Tyler, Texas?” or “Don’t you want to make it?” Our response is always that we’ve already made it, and we’re finally home. We dreamed dreams and lived lives in New York City and became a married couple there. We walked through “the fiery furnace of affliction” that is choosing to stay with someone who inevitably fails you from time to time. The commitment fuels the passion and as you look in the rearview mirror (which is all you have) you see that God was faithful to provide you the tools emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually that you needed to keep walking through whatever “valley of the shadow of death” you were enduring. Gratitude becomes the response, and hope springs eternal. Artists need to be critical of the status quo but hopeful about the future. Otherwise, what’s the point? If you’re not critical, then there’s no need to speak truth. If you’re not hopeful then you’re resigned to silence expecting truth won’t be received. Music is a means of truth in our lives both when it comes to us (and through us) as a cultural critique or an expression of hope. The roots of our commitment to and appreciation of this path were forged in our earliest days and darkest nights of our marriage together in NYC.

Johnny: When did you decide you wanted to make music as a duet instead of pursuing individual musical paths?

Matt: From the day I met Megan I knew my life would be better with her than without her. I feel the same way about our musical lives. I’m better when she’s beside me. Our sound is better when she sings with me. I’m a more honest performer when she’s there with me, and the reason is that I am who I am because she is my help-mate. I have become who I have become because of her help, and she has become more fully alive in that role. She is such a fully-realized woman….and probably because of how much help I needed! I HAVE to have her beside me.

Johnny: Do you primarily perform as a duet, or do you utilize a full band?

Matt: We love to play with our band. Collin Anderson (bassist and Meg’s brother), Chris Foreman (guitar), Loren Roe (drums), and Andrew Lindstrom (keys and trumpet) are brothers and are the most generous guys I know. We love to play with them as often as possible, but we also dig the intimate moments around town playing as a duo.

Johnny: Who are some of your most significant influences musically to this point?

Matt: I go through phases. When I was a kid I was crazy for Paul Simon, and I still am. Then I went nuts for The Black Crowes through high school, and then I got into southern California hippy folk rockers Gram Parsons and David Crosby type stuff, and then I got super into all the Tulsa Sound JJ Cale music and Leon Russell and Delaney and Bonnie. Currently Megan and I are huge fans of Dawes, and lately, an Ontario duo called Kacy and Clayton have caught our attention. We also really love Blitzen Trapper and their whole Portland, Oregon music scene. It’s so super rich right now (Fruit Bats, Vetiver, Blind Pilot, Laura Gibson just to name a few). And on the Gospel tip I still listen to old school stuff like Larry Norman, Andrae Crouch, and The Staple Singers – before the Christian music machine made everything sound the same. Don’t get me started on all that.

Johnny: How would you describe your musical style, and how much of your current set list is original versus cover songs?

Matt: We play songs we like to listen to as well as songs that I write. I’m a super record freak so I’m always discovering old tunes that I want other people to hear. So we learn them and play them. Learning the newest cover song that everybody is listening does not interest me at all. Megan loves the Standards (Great American Songbook) so we’re always mixing those in, and I’m always bringing the band songs from early Clapton or Spencer Davis Group or Steely Dan or Traffic or Sam Cooke. But, if people are listening, I’m apt to play more originals. So listen up, and you’ll hear them.

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Johnny: Faith is a big part of your lives and by extension, your music. Is that a deliberate decision to utilize music as a ministry tool, or would you describe it as simply an organic expression of your core selves?

Matt: We play with the same band that plays at Bethel Bible Downtown campus (above The Foundry Coffee House), so musically it’s like a “Farm to Market” band. We live lives alongside these guys; we pray with these guys; we break bread with these guys; we drink wine with these guys, so it follows that we would make music with them. Before we met, Megan and I were both trying to be something we weren’t yet. That’s what kids do. But God gave us one another to learn to become comfortable with who He created us to be and accept love. Because we have accepted that love (first from God and then from one another) we have become increasingly at ease with who we are. Whether it’s Saturday night music or Sunday morning music we are us – receiving love and giving love. We’re the same; our band is the same; our sound is the same. We’re not trying – we’re just being.

Johnny: What has been your best musical memory to this point in your journey together?

Matt: Watching the curtain close on Megan’s musicals each year fills me with so much pride. She has a musical theatre studio and teaches about 80 kids throughout the school year imbibing them with so much confidence and encouraging such profound character and emotional honesty in these kids. She writes these musicals that are just beautiful and so much work. When they come to completion it just fills my heart. As far as rock n’ roll goes, getting to play with Marc Ford of The Black Crowes, and probably the baddest guitarist ever, was THE highlight of my musical life. Period. (Not to mention he played guitar all over our new record, “Down is Up is Down” available on itunes, spotify etc.)

Johnny: What have been the biggest challenges to this point?

Matt: Megan and I don’t always agree. And mostly because I don’t want to be wrong. Our challenge is the same that any married couple working together experiences. I want her to think that I am strong and dependable and wise (the list goes on). But the trick is, when I fail her, I don’t want to admit it because it makes me feel weak and dependent and foolish. Vulnerability is the key, and it doesn’t get easier, but through the years we’re becoming more aware of our need to exhibit it. You didn’t know this was going to turn into marriage counseling, did you?

Johnny: What kind of experience are you hoping a first-timer gets when they come to a Magills concert?

Matt: On the best nights, they’ll get us talking into the mic saying things about our lives and laughing with the band. If we’re feeling good, giving grace to one another in the moment, then our music will sound great, our hips will be shaking, and I’ll probably be sweating. Those are the good nights – when the folks in our community are soaking up what we’re pouring out.

Johnny: What’s on the horizon in 2018 for you guys?

Matt: We’re thinking about taking all of our gear down to Meg’s folk’s lake house and setting up for four or five days with all the wives and kids and just working out some new tunes and writing together and living together for a while. The tribute shows at The Foundry will continue (we do four or five a year), and February 23rd-24th I’m putting on The 4th Annual Mockingbird Conference in Downtown Tyler. This year our musical guest will be Eric Earley of Blitzen Trapper. I’m a huge fan of this guy, and it will be an honor to host him in Tyler. Megan will put on another musical in May, and we’ll play all year long with the band that goes by “& Co.” on our never-ending “Stick Around Town Tour.” Why would we ever want to leave?

For more info on The Magill’s go to www.themagills.org or www.facebook.com/themagills.

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July 27th: SFO, A Journey Tribute Band at Bergfeld Park

The City of Tyler will host the annual Bergfeld Summer Showcase at Bergfeld Park, located at 1510 S. College Ave., on Friday, July 27. The event kicks off at 6 p.m. with fun and food trucks and live music beginning at 7 p.m.

This year, SFO – A Journey Tribute, a Nashville native band will take the stage. SFO recreates the experience of a 1980’s concert, playing all the Journey hits that you know and love with a special salute to Kansas and Foreigner. The band is made up of top-notch musicians from Nashville, Florida, and Minnesota who bring the highest level of musicianship to the audience.

Frontman Gabe Jacobs delivers powerful vocals to his audience by closely emulating the vocals and stage presence of legendary Steve Perry.

“This band will transport you back to the 80’s with all the songs you know by heart!” said Adriana Rodriguez, event coordinator.

The local favorite food trucks will be present for quality dining including Say Cheese, Weinerland, Lupita’s, Kona Ice and Pokey O’s.

For more information, contact Adriana Rodriguez at (903) 595-7248 or at ARodriguez@TylerTexas.com.

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The Haggertys: Hey Hey We’re The Haggertys

By Johnny Griffith

There are times when things just click with someone and you know it from the start. Then, years later you come back across them and it’s almost as if no time has passed. That’s kind of what is like for local Tyler favorites The Haggertys. Having all been members of different bands, some together and some collaborative, over the years, the lineup of “Patrick James” Freden (guitars, vocals), Brad Thurston (bass, backing vocals), and Clint Hiltz (drums/percussion) have been together as The Haggertys since 2013 and have been exciting audiences ever since with their setlists of 90’s standard rock covers as well as reinterpreting some classic songs along the way.

We sat down with the guys recently to get some more history on the band and a better snapshot of the members.

Johnny: How about we start with a brief bio of yourself and your background in music.

Patrick: I was born in Minnesota, moved to Tyler in 1974 and then left in the summer of 1977. I basically grew up in Ocean Springs, Mississippi playing Dungeons & Dragons, riding BMX bikes, and listening to albums over at a friend’s house. My first band was a punk band called Spastic Fury in high school. After that, I did some college in Mobile, Alabama, and eventually came back to Tyler in 1988. I played in bands all through the 90’s and started a solo acoustic project in 2005. I’m a self-employed graphic artist by day building websites, designing logos, etc., and music is my second business. I’m a full-time dad and husband, a professional tinkerer who likes craft beers, Les Pauls, Orange Amps, and hanging out in my favorite music store, Action Sound in Hawkins.

Brad: I’ve been playing music since I was 15 when I purchased my first guitar. It cost me $50 and was in a brown paper bag in pieces. After getting it put together, I started looking around for a band. No one needs a guitar player, so the next year I went and bought a bass, found a band, and the journey began. The start of my high school music career included rock bands like Conspiracy, Guardian, and Blue Steel. After high school, I branched out and did a did brief stint in a country band.

The call of the Hair Bands drew me to California, Hollywood to be exact. I moved in with a friend from high school, joined a band, and played the Troubadour on Santa Monica Blvd. within the first 3 weeks of being in California. I played in other bands there, like Hammer Lane. I did shows at The Roxy Theater and The Whisky A Go-Go. After wrapping up my California time, I moved back to Tyler, found an alternative band, Center Mass, which was later known as “Did Lee Squat?” (DLS?). That’s where I met “Patrick James.” We played venues in Dallas, Houston, Austin, and even Shreveport, Louisiana.

This too ended and I started my family, got a job, and put the band on the back burner. After some time, I started playing with Livid, a cover band around the Tyler/Longview area. This project just kinda wound down and I took a job out of town. More time passed with both family and job changes. I started playing bass in a praise band for Pollard United Methodist Church and did that for a few years until one day Patrick called. No, it was not the “I’m getting the band back together” kinda call. He wanted to redo his current project. I think he said he wanted to play more electric guitar and just rock out…so here we are.

Clint: I’m the baby of the band, born in Austin in 1974. I lived in Alvin, Texas through my 5th-grade year and moved to East Texas in 1986 where I joined the Union Grove percussion section in junior high and continued throughout high school. I played in the band and every sport Union Grove offered. As I got into high school, I was fortunate enough to be allowed to play football then at halftime, I’d take off my shoulder pads and march in the marching band. In 1992, I moved to Tyler and was offered a scholarship to join the Tyler Junior College drumline, better known as the Apache Punch. My hobbies are hunting, fishing, shooting guns, and working out. Currently, I work at Suddenlink as a Commercial Sales Supervisor.

Johnny: Who would you say was personally responsible, individually, for instilling that love of music you’d take the rest of your lives?

Pat: My mom for sure. She was the one that got me going as a kid…from playing Johnny Cash records to buying me a guitar and taking me to lessons.

Brad: My mom, she had me taking piano at the age of six, and we loved Elvis.

Clint: Hands down, my father. He played drums as well and he got me started gigging at the early age of 13 when I would sit in for him and play Wipeout.

Johnny: When did you three first meet?

The Haggertys: During the 90’s, Pat and Brad were playing in a band called DLS? and Clint was in a band called Affinity. The two bands did several shows together, including one at the Oil Palace in Tyler with DLS? as the headliner and Affinity providing support…the friendship and collaboration grew from there.

Johnny: How did the idea of starting the Haggertys come together?

The Haggertys: Sometime in the summer of 2013, Pat was doing his solo acoustic thing and had done some earlier shows with Clint and Brad as the Patrick James Band but these were still “acoustic” shows. After playing these kinds of shows for so long, Pat just got the itch to play with electrics and amps again, and Clint was on board to “get loud.” A permanent bass player was recruited and the band was formed. Really the Haggertys morphed out of the Patrick James Band and the guys started rehearsing so the song list grew. The band covers lots of material but kinda focuses on 90’s rock. The old “If it’s a good song, it’s a good song….doesn’t matter what genre it’s from” always applies.

Johnny: Okay, so the name. Where did it come from and whose idea was it?

The Haggertys: During one of the early rehearsals the idea of a band name came up and of course lots of stuff was thrown around. Pat noticed that all the band members had some righteous beards going at the time and this got him to thinking about people with beards and the one person that came to mind was a childhood hero from the show Grizzly Adams. Pat said, “the best beard ever, in my opinion, hands down, was Dan Haggerty, let’s call the band that!” So originally he wanted the band to be called the Dan Haggertys which morphed into the Damn Haggertys which quickly changed, for obvious reasons, and the band settled in with The Haggertys.

Johnny: When and where was the first Haggertys show?

The Haggertys: The first show was March 22nd, 2014, at Shoguns (#2) under their black tent outside. It was an alright turnout, and the band had fun. We later learned that many people were turned away or had to wait to get outside under the tent because of limited seating and fire codes.

Johnny: How would you describe your sound to a new listener?

The Haggertys: Straight-up, no-frills, fun-having, 3-piece rock cover band with a few surprises.

Johnny: You guys move in and out of different genres and decades of music pretty easily. Would you say there is one you’re more comfortable with than the others?

The Haggertys: Being a 3-piece with everyone doing something, we kinda gravitate towards 90’s rock songs we can easily play and cover well. More complicated songs with multi instruments tend to be harder (or impossible) to pull off with just three instruments, so we shy away from them. However, the art of taking a song and “making it your own” remake/cover is what we strive to do. Really any song we can cover well and make our own stays on the set list.

Johnny: Are you primarily covers or are you throwing some original stuff in the mix?

The Haggertys: We all played in what we called “Showcase Bands” back in the 90’s…all original songs and we all made albums, struggled to get gigs that paid, rehearsed a lot, tried to get signed, etc. Today we just play covers, play a lot, rehearse way less often, don’t care about getting signed, and get paid to play, which is nice. We won’t rule out that one day we might start writing songs again, but it isn’t on anyone’s radar anytime soon. We have done some reunion shows by combining Did Lee Squat? and Sand Dollar band members into a group called Did Lee Dollar. This allowed us to reconnect with old bandmates and fans and play some of the old originals. Come to think of it, it’s probably time for another one of those shows.

Check out The Haggertys online at:

www.facebook.com/thehaggertys

www.instagram.com/thehaggertys

www.thehaggertysband.com

 

Shows:

  • Thursday, July 12th – Razzoo’s, Tyler, 7-10pm
  • Friday, September 14th – Gregg County Fair on Dennis Hiltz Memorial Stage, Longview
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Bands

Southern Charm: Small Town Girls With Big Time Sound

By Johnny Griffith

So there’s an old saying that has something to do with ‘dynamite comes in small packages’ and that certainly holds true with the two talented, dynamic artists in the East Texas duo Southern Charm. Both hailing from small East Texas towns, Shelby Ballenger and Billie Jo Sewell have been making a name for themselves both as successful solo artists and the fast rising duet, Southern Charm. Both artists have honed their crafts on many local stages and along the way found they had a knack for harmony and similar musical interests. Borne of a shared passion and great timing, Southern Charm takes advantage of each artist’s unique vocal ability and is greater than the sum of its parts…which is saying something because Shelby and Billie Jo both have burgeoning solo careers in their own right. So much so that Southern Charm as a duet has to book six months in advance and then they have a seven show run in seven east Texas venues.

We caught up with them in the middle of this latest run to get some more background on these ladies and their “Southern Charm.”

Johnny: When did you two first take up an interest in music?

Shelby: From the age of 13 I began singing at The Wylie Opry. From there, I was self-taught to play the guitar. I eventually began going to open mic nights all around north Texas to make a name for myself. About 2 years ago, I was fortunate enough to be able to quit my day job and pursue music full time. I haven’t looked back.

Billie Jo: I started singing when I was 4 years old and grew up singing in church. I went from singing at church to Opry’s, restaurants, and festivals, to opening for people such as Ray Price, Gene Watson, Justin Moore, Mike Ryan, and Stoney LaRue. I had the honor to be on “The Voice” where I made top 150 on season 6 and recently I made top 100 on “American Idol.” I just recently signed to TXM Records and am currently in the studio working on my first country single!

Johnny: Who were some of your early influences?

Shelby: I always looked up to dominant female singers growing up. My lead inspirations were Shania Twain, Lee Ann Rimes, and The Dixie Chicks. When I began songwriting, I leaned on lyrics by Chris Stapleton, Miranda Lambert, and local artists such as Meredith Crawford and Matt Grisby for inspiration.

Billie Jo: I was raised by my grandparents so I was inspired by the oldies but goodies, as I like to call them, such as George Jones, Ray Price, Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, and many others.

Johnny: When did you decide music was more than just another hobby and was something worth pursuing?

Shelby: Once I began taking the stage with my guitar, people began talking about the talent and potential I had. I tried to make an impression at every new venue and began to see the joy it brought to people listening. I began entering songwriting competitions once my repertoire grew and placed with within the top four each time out of hundreds of hopefuls.

Billie Jo: I knew at a very early age that God didn’t give me this voice to just sing at home. I just knew that He gave me this voice to share with the world and that one day this would be my full time career which, gratefully, I’m very close to being able to say. I’ve always wanted to use my gift that God gave me in hopes that the audience may come to know Him through my music and testimony.

Johnny: How did you two first meet and when did the idea of a duo project come up?

Shelby & Billie Jo: We met at an East Texas singing competition a little over four years ago. From there, we became instant best friends.

Johnny: When and where was your first show as Southern Charm?

Shelby & Billie Jo: Our first official show was at The Foxhole where we won a karaoke competition. We took home $2,500 which made it our first paid gig together. From there Southern Charm played The Forge in Ben Wheeler and then our solo careers started taking off. We now book six months in advance for the Southern Charm East Texas Tour.

Johnny: How about the name? Where did that idea come from?

Shelby: Billie Jo’s son Chandler won most handsome baby boy at the Emory Rains pageant in 2014. I saw Billie Jo make a post on Facebook needing a car to ride in the parade with. I offered her convertible slug bug for the event. While we were in the car, we started trying out songs to sing together. I mentioned that I’d always wanted to put a duo together and name the act Southern Charm. Billie Jo loved the idea so we ran with it!

Johnny: How would you describe your sound?

Shelby: Southern Charm’s sound has a pure tone and the harmonies blend extremely well. I [Shelby] have more of the bluesy tone and Billie Jo brings the powerhouse country twang. Together, our voices mesh to create a unique country sound.

Johnny: What do you feel you bring to the table individually that compliments your partner on stage?

Shelby & Billie Jo: We know the dynamics of music. We never try to overpower each other onstage and that’s something every duo needs in order to be successful.

Johnny: About how many originals do you try to work in during a show?

Shelby & Billie Jo: We try to work in all of our most favorite originals at each and every show. Usually there’s about four to five each.

Johnny: You’ve had a busy summer already, what’s coming up on the radar the rest of the year that you’re excited about?

Shelby: I’m currently working on my full album with Joe Austin as producer. I’ve written 12 brand new songs and my new single “Heartbreaks & Hangovers” will be released late July while the album will drop next summer.

Billie Jo: I have a big secret I’ll be able to announce in a couple months about where I will be on the National Stage. Currently I’m in the studio with Chad Mauldin and Mauldin Productions working on my new single that will be released in early August.

Johnny: What can a first timer expect at a Southern Charm show?

Shelby & Billie Joe: Harmonies that give goosebumps and two best friends shining, as they do what they love onstage.

Keep up with Southern Charm online at facebook.com/southerncharmmusic.

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