By Dan Cullinane
Hometown legend in the making Kody Norris is hitting the stage at Heritage Hall on Saturday May 14 with his band The Kody Norris Show. I’ve had the chance to talk with Kody, and look forward to doing so again, but before this show I wanted to learn a little more about the band. Mary Rachel Nalley-Norris grew up playing bluegrass music in Bowling Green, KY before joining the band in 2015 as a fiddle player, and then ended up marrying Kody to boot! Josiah Tyree, 23, who has been the band’s banjo player since 2017, also grew up playing bluegrass and old time music in his hometown of Carthage, TN. Charlie Lowman, 20, from Evanston, IL fell in love with Bluegrass at 13 on a trip to Gatlinburg, and joined the Kody Norris Show in 2020, while he was a senior in high school. As they drove through Georgia playing the kind of high energy bluegrass music that has earned them multiple awards and multiple hit records, Mary Rachel, Josiah, and Charlie took time to answer a few questions for me about spectral roadside sightings, favorite songs, haunted hotels, and plans for the Grand Ol Opry.
What is the biggest thing you’ve learned about yourself as a musician over the past few years with the band?
Mary Rachel: Every show matters! There are a lot of shows we arrive to just worn out. However, the fans have paid to see a good, genuine show and It’s not fair to them for us to slack off just because we are tired! We want them to have a show that’s worth remembering!
Josiah Tyree: That hard work, plenty of practice and putting your heart in the music will make you better! From there, you start creating your own style of playing before you even realize it.
Charlie Lowman: When I started playing, I played the banjo. When I started with the band, I went from playing banjo and guitar to just playing the bass. It was a big change, but I’ve found that playing the bass is really what I love doing.
What is the most unusual experience you’ve had out on tour?
Mary Rachel: The one that stands out to me the most is when we were coming home from a show, through Damascus about 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning. Kody was driving, I was in the passenger seat and the guys were in the back. We all four seen a guy walking towards the car on the yellow line. We turned our heads to follow him as Kody swerved to miss him but there was no one there! When we got a little further down the road, I called the rescue squad, but I never heard anything else about it. But every time we travel through there, whether it’s individually or as a band we all harken back to that night!
Josiah Tyree: I don’t know if you would call it unusual, creepy or just downright weird but several times a year we would find ourselves passing through Mineral Wells, TX. During our stay there, we would visit the Baker Hotel. It has been abandoned since 1972.
From the broken windows, smell, and just all around atmosphere that surrounds this building makes for the most eerie and unsettling feelings I’ve ever had.
Charlie Lowman: I remember back in the spring of 2020, pre-Covid, when I was still in High school, we played a show in Arizona on a Saturday and Sunday. I had a flight booked out of Las Vegas at 1 am Monday morning to get me back to Chicago in time for school. I walk into class at 8:30am, and told everyone I had been in Las Vegas that morning. No one believed me at first, but I had pictures to prove it!
What is your favorite memory of performing on tour?
Mary Rachel: My favorite thing about being on tour is I am able to travel with my husband, doing something we both thoroughly enjoy with our best friends! What more could you want out of your job?
Josiah Tyree: A couple years back, I was between banjos. I had been looking for one that would help me create my sound and establish myself. We were in The Rio Grande Valley of Texas and a lady came to me wanting to sell a banjo she had bought her husband. He was unable to play any longer and wanted to sell it at a “very”reasonable price! I bought the banjo, added a couple of my own touches and it became the instrument that every musician looks for… the right one! It’s certainly helped me create the sound I wanted and I can’t wait for many more years playing this one!
Charlie Lowman: Probably playing for the Song of the Mountains TV show in Marion, VA. The theater was really beautiful, and we met a lot of nice people. It was the first time I really remember being proud of the music I played. I like that it’s recorded for people to watch for years to come.
What is your favorite song to perform, and why?
Mary Rachel: I love to play Love Bug.
With that being our first single released to radio, a lot of people know it. It’s really amazing seeing the crowd light up when we kick that song off, and then they start singing along!
Another song I really enjoy playing or singing is Ole’ Carolina. The groove that song has is just perfect!
Josiah Tyree: Swinging the Nine Pound Hammer. I’ve always loved the speed of that one and how it comes right together when Kody, Mary Rachel and Charlie join in. Just straight forward driving bluegrass!
Charlie Lowman: Still Write Your Name in the Sand. We always play it on our second set, and the song is just a simple, straight forward, bouncy bluegrass song. I love to play the old standards!
What is one thing you really hope to do musically this year?
Mary Rachel: We have several goals in place for the next year or two. One of those is playing the Grand Ole Opry. That’s every musician’s dream and there’s nothing I’d rather see more than Kody being able to take the show he has created to that stage!
Josiah Tyree: The Grand Ole Opry… just that plain and simple!
Charlie Lowman: I hope this year, or just at any point, that we’ll be able to go overseas to Europe to play music. I love traveling and going new places, and Covid has really put a damper on the more exotic traveling.
When the world gets back in the swing of things, I hope we can see more of the world.
The Kody Norris Show will be playing Heritage Hall in Mountain City, TN on Saturday, May 17 at 7 p.m.
For tickets or information, visit heritagehalltheatre.org.