Jeremy Garrett: A Session in The RV

The RV Sessions - Jeremy GarrettNestled in The Festy backstage area in scenic Nelson County, Virginia sat The RV. You know which one.

The one that should be declared a national park just like the ones it has been rolling past this year. To music-lovers, it is hallowed space not dissimilar to Grand Mesa and other American vistas that have inspired the ever-talented Jeremy Garrett in his unending quest and delivery of pure, meaningful, original music.

Best known as the fiddle and vocal phenom of The Infamous Stringdusters, Jeremy Garrett and his gifted wife, Connie, traded in their Tennessee home for life on the road in this RV. As they rolled from the Redwood Forest to the Gulfstream waters, Jeremy developed a repertoire of soul-catching songs, recorded them in his mobile living room, and bestowed upon us another national treasure: The RV Sessions.

With the Stringdusters, Jeremy is outright on fire. His energy is brilliantly extreme and infectious. His resplendent voice belts out hordes of Dusters’ hits, holding those notes with such strength that the next county over takes notice. He back-bends to catch impossible notes during blistering fiddle solos and tosses his bow off stage mid-set because he has worn it bald.  No one would be surprised if the fiddle came next, having been sawed in half from his vivacious playing.

Jeremy picked up that fiddle when he was only three years old. His 101-year-old beauty came to him from his bluegrass musician father who received it by way of an elderly neighbor whose fiddle-playing wife passed away. The neighbor could not abide the sad memento, handed it to Jeremy’s Dad and told him he would know what to do with it. Thank goodness he did! He gave it to Jeremy who absorbed the century of musical wisdom and tradition within it and honed his indelible craft we now witness. Jeremy is deeply-rooted in bluegrass, Americana, folk and Gospel. He has utmost respect for the song and understands what music can do to people. And, man, oh man, what his music can do: the tone, the tunes, the tenor and the tales together all make his listeners reflect, accept, give thanks, strive and love.

Jeremy’s collection on The RV Sessions does just that. His striking talent and firm reverence for what is true are fully on display on his new CD. There is no way not to be in awe. This Stringduster fireball strips it down. He rips the fiddle just the same, but also shows off his soulful guitar and mandolin skills. All the while his spot-on voice swathes you with sincere and stirring lyrics. Together, it is pure poetry that hugs your heart and seizes your soul.

Jeremy GarrettHis bouncing mandolin bundled with low guitar and honest lyrics make it impossible not to agree with his enticing proposal on Just Hold Hands For A Little While. On Only You Can Say, Jeremy displays his knack for getting right to the core. He draws us in with catchy guitar before hitting us with encouragement and raw truth. Jeremy’s instrumental, Grand Mesa, is stunning. Cascading guitar runs take us to a beautiful place before his fiddle settles into that sweet spot, just beckoning us to take notice of the world around us. Our spirits soar and gratitude pours out of us. And, you just know Lean on Love is an anthem for the ages the moment that sustained fiddle note opens it up. Our heads nod in agreement with the guitar rhythm and when Jeremy’s classic voice kicks in we fully embrace his perfect message. His mando showers us with grace as we joyously jump around, and as he builds that chorus of the now definitive Jamily motto, we cannot help but sing along at the top of our lungs.

Tingling with awe and swearing I could hear echoes of Lean on Love from the walls, I sat down within the revered RV, the birthplace of so many musical gems, to ask Jeremy a million questions about The RV Sessions, his life and The Festy.

BT:    How did The RV Sessions project come about?
JG:    I met the Dusters while I was writing songs in Nashville. I did about 13 years there. I did a lot of co-writing and learned a lot about songwriting so, I decided to develop my own show. I have more talents than what I get to use in the Dusters and I am a firm believer in having to keep those going or you lose them. So, that is kind of what it stemmed out of: to continue to try to challenge myself musically. As a fiddle player, trying to sing and play fiddle, it is super intimidating to try to keep the whole crowd’s attention for an hour or more. So, I brought in other things like guitar and mandolin and some of my songs that I have written or co-written with other people around Nashville. I added this variety in with some of the fiddle stuff I do. It is not looping, though some people ask me that. It is a pretty grassroots, home-grown show. My wife sometimes will sing harmony with me.

We had a dream that one day we would be full time RVers when we got old and then we decided why do we have to wait until we get old? We ended up buying our rig and now we have made a complete circle around the United States. We have seen some amazing country along the way: national parks, the oil boom in North Dakota. In a band, you have to drive past all that stuff. It is nice to take some time. It has inspired some music and songs along the way. My wife sort of pushed me; she said you have all these songs, why don’t you put out a record? I got to thinking: I have all the recording gear here in this RV. I started doing some tracking of some of these songs, and basically did the whole record. Wrote everything, recorded it all in here, and, thus, The RV Sessions.

BT:    So, were some of the songs written on the road?
JG:    Some of them were written on the road. Some were in my back pocket. Most all of them were written here in The RV with friends. We did some living in Nashville in The RV before we launched. We wanted to make sure we knew how to run all the systems rather than get out there and have problems. So, I would invite people over and we would meet up in Nashville and co-write. Grand Mesa is an instrumental on the record and that was just inspired by the scenery and the surrounding of what was going on. A few of those things happened along the way. I am hoping to come out with a Volume Two. Maybe under a different title but the same principle: all recorded in The RV. I have got a bunch of songs and I just want to get some more music out there.

BT:    Can you tell me a little bit about your songwriting process? Is music just in your head all the time? How does that work?
JG:    It has definitely evolved over the years. I have been playing and singing since 3 years old or before. So, I have been exposed to music my whole life, and there is an element when a melody comes to me it is totally inspired. It just comes to my mind. Sometimes I’ll record it on my phone or get my guitar out for it. Whatever it is: a fiddle tune, I will play it. A lot of times it is just an idea of a melody, and that comes from nowhere. I have no idea where that stuff comes from. It seems like it does not come from my own brain. It is definitely me, but is not like I am figuring out a math problem or something. It comes from a different place. It is what some people would call spiritual. I would not call it divine inspiration or anything that heavy, but there is something about music that comes from a different place than anything else.

That is where the song develops for me instrumentally a lot of times and sometimes lyrics will come to me. And, then when I co-write with people, I can write with people who are good lyricists. I have learned a lot from people who are good lyricists. I have written plenty of my own songs, but it is a challenge to come up with different ways to write. There is no one way to do it. Everyone whom I have written with has a different way. You would think there is some program but there is not. It is just being creative, and how do you do that? You have to compromise. You might have something you really like and somebody else wants to change it. And, if you don’t go with the flow, well, that ain’t co-writing.

BT:    As far as co-writing, how does it work to come up with a Stringdusters’ song?
JG:    We all have songs we bring to the table and we will spend a few days doing what we call pre-production. We rent a cabin or a place downtown, and we will just hang out for a few days and show each other what we have been working on: riffs and different musical ideas. We start putting some of that stuff together.

We always have a lot of fun. I have a skeleton or they have a skeleton and we put it out there and then everyone provides their input. We all have input into how we think this part should go, how we can make this part better, or let’s try this little riff or harmonies. That is one of the most fun parts: sitting in that room when that is going down — the very beginning stages. Having a song that I wrote that I think goes one way and by the time it is done, it sounds totally different, but way better and more awesome. It is just really fun.

BT:    Are there certain songs that even though you play them over and over they still sort of catch you or stop your heart?
JG:    Sure. My catalog is starting to grow. There are a handful of songs that I keep returning to and some of them I don’t play at all even though I wrote them. They don’t fit my style. I feel proud that I wrote them, but I don’t necessarily find myself wanting to play them. But, I have other songs that are easy and not a struggle. Sometimes, those are the best ones. I like the simple songs, and things that translate well. There is definitely a handful of songs that separate themselves and feel like they were more for a higher purpose. There was something about Let It Go. I wrote that with Jon Weisberger. It is just something more for a higher purpose.

We wrote another one called Lean on Love that I do on The RV Sessions and Connie and I sing that together a lot when we are out. Some people have gotten tattoos that say “Lean on Love,” and it is like: wow! That really has an impact on people and that is something that people really need to hear and think about these days because there is a lot of ugly stuff in the world. To be a part of that inspiration of making our world better, that is what makes it important for me.

BT:    You have been doing solo shows and house concerts around the country with The RV Sessions. Is this the first time you are out there solo?
JG:    Yes, this is the first time I ever tried any performing solo. I never thought as a fiddle-player I could do a solo show. After about 3 or 4 songs, people would be tired of that, I would think, no matter what you do. I feel confident in my abilities to play fiddle. It is just as a solo instrument, the fiddle is not really the right thing. You cannot hold people’s attention forever. Maybe if you have looping and different things. Never say never. But for me, I did not see myself trying to hold people’s attention for a whole show with just a fiddle.

So, I learned from Tim O’Brien and Bruce Molsky and people that had some chops and singing at the same time. I thought that was cool, so I learned how to do a little bit of that and tried to incorporate some of that into my show. Also, to me, it is about the songs. I have played guitar my whole life, so it was nice to have an avenue to put that out there.   am not like Falco; I am never going to be a guitar player in a band, but, I really enjoy playing it. And, it is really satisfying to me and challenging which is important to musicians like me because otherwise you get burnt out. You need these new things. Mandolin has also been another new thing. Although I have dabbled in mandolin over the years, I really got serious about it the last few years. So, I have added more of that into my show, and that has added a lot of variety. For an hour or two-hour show I have enough variety to make it interesting.

This year has really been about launching the solo show, and trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t. I have done a lot of stuff for The Jamily. They have been super gracious and opened their houses to me around the country. They invite their community to come see a part of a band that they are fans of. It is cool. They are gracious to do that. It has been good training wheels for me to really work things out. They have provided a nice opportunity for me. I have done some theaters and shows in the park as well. I hope to work my way up to more festivals and, of course, more higher-profile gigs.

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About the Author

Jen Hughes

Jen Hughes is a devoted bluegrass enthusiast. An Upstate New York native who resides in Washington, D.C., Jen attends shows in and around the Nation’s capital, a bluegrass haven. She also makes the trek to as many festivals as possible each year. The sweet sounds of New Grass Revival took hold of her in high school and she has studied up on the genre backwards and forwards since then. Her hope is to get even more people hooked as she is on bluegrass music and its extraordinary artists and community.