ELENOWEN AND CAROLINA STORY WITH SPECIAL GUEST, PARKE AVERY
Thursday, March 21st
7:30pm / doors at 6:30pm
Advance general admission: $10
At the door: $14
Tables of 4 reserved seats: $50
It’s called ‘chemistry’, an elusive quality that can be part history, part mystery and all intangible until the moment that you feel it. It’s a meant-to-be melding of the emotional and creative that can happen between songwriters, performers, best friends or life partners. For Josh and Nicole Johnson – the duo ELENOWEN – that connection is all of the above and much more. And on their self-titled EP, the chemistry they share is as rare – and real – as it gets.
Though emerging from the same Nashville-based Americana-folk scene as The Civil Wars, Elenowen deliver a sonic glow all their own. Amidst haunting harmonies and elegiac lyrics, their songs flow with an undercurrent of yearning, surrender and unexpectedly sharp edges. “We strive to maintain a certain vulnerability in our music,” Josh says. “We write a lot about our own lives as well as the truths about relationships that we relate to. We think it creates an intimacy that’s totally connected to the music.” The sound itself is roots-driven, with accents of cello and pedal steel cutting a deeply evocative facet. Even the name Elenowen is an authentic nod to heritage, with Ellen being Josh’s mom’s middle name and Owen being the middle name of Nicole’s dad. “They’re the sides of the family we each got our music from,” explains Josh. “What’s in our hearts will always come out in what we do.”
The singular power of Elenowen comes from the bond that can only exist between two people who’ve known – and loved – each other for most of their lives. “We were 15 and 16 when we met,” explains Nicole. “We dated for a year, broke up for a year and a half, then got back together and have been together ever since. After that first breakup, I think we both still knew that we were meant for each other, but we also knew that we weren’t what each other needed at that point in our lives.” At 18, Josh moved from Knoxville to Nashville to be with Nicole, writing songs and pursuing a music degree at Belmont University while Nicole worked as a homecare attendant, back-up singer and barista. Within a year of Josh’s graduation, the starkly candid debut album Pulling Back The Veil chronicled their first year of marriage with songs that were subsequently showcased on TV shows like ‘One Tree Hill’ and MTV’s ‘World Of Jenks’. Josh and Nicole began filming impromptu performances in their small basement apartment, with the resulting clips – called ‘The Basement Sessions’ – quickly garnering a following on YouTube and the No Depression website. In 2011, Elenowen made their national television debut on the top-rated premiere season of NBC’s ‘The Voice’. But it’s the five tracks on their new EP that now mean the most to the couple and convey what’s most real to audiences.
“We wrote all these songs around the same time,” explains Josh, “when Nicole and I were walking through similar issues and feelings. Most marriages are not all lovey-dovey, like most love songs claim. For us, these songs are as much about love as they are about the struggle of keeping love alive.” The EP’s opening track, “Flying For The First Time”, is co-written with acclaimed singer/songwriter Trent Dabbs and soars with uninhibited vocal harmony and lyrical beauty. “Blood And Bones”, also co-written with Dabbs, is a towering paean to the physical and emotional bonds of desire. “Head To My Heart”, co-written with EP co-producer Philip LaRue, reconciles intuition with passion via Nicole’s potent vocals. “We Were Better Off” is a shimmering reflection of lost innocence and mislaid dreams. And “Bittersweet” is a hushed and moody twist on traditional love songs in which a couple affirm they are ‘all I want/and nothing that I need’. “I absolutely believe in true love,” explains Nicole. “I also believe,” she adds with a laugh, “that true love is never easy.”
More and more, Elenowen are discovering that the truth of what they do is bringing them new fans nationwide. “I think audiences respond to our honesty,” says Josh. “When we perform these songs, people get the feeling they know who we are, because that’s what we’re putting out there. We are the heart behind our music.” For Nicole, the journey both starts and grows in a place of instinctive sharing. “When it’s 3 AM and I have an idea for a song,” she explains, “my best friend/music partner/husband can grab his guitar and the idea takes off. The songs that come out of those moments are part me, part him, and all us. When we formed Elenowen, I realized that I’m no longer a singer in the shadows. I’m now a half of something that means so much not only to us, but to other people as well.”
But what about that thing called chemistry? For Elenowen, it’s a one-of-a-kind formula that is about to become bigger than the both of them. “I think our chemistry is what keeps us going,” says Nicole. “We fight for it in our marriage, in our friendship and our music. These songs are so much a part of us and the emotion is so real, that every time we sing them its almost as if we’re feeling them for the first time. What Josh and I ultimately want is for people to get inspired and connected by what we do.” And for Elenowen, it’s a promise you can take to heart.
If you happened to find yourself at a recent CAROLINA STORY show, you quite possibly might have mistook your initial, first-glance impression of Ben and Emily Roberts as just another married musical couple that is happy to call Nashville their home. But if you took the time to listen closely to their earnest lyrics and melodic tones, and then met with them afterwards to hear the story behind their music and origins, then you more than likely found out firsthand that they are the genuine exception to the Music Row-mass produced rule. Carolina Story is the real deal; making their personal dreams real even without a record deal so far if you will … and they certainly have and will. The more you find out about Ben and Emily, you begin to see that although they are doing what they truly love and believe in all they are that they are meant to be doing it, they are nonetheless making a fulfilling, full-time music career happen despite the odds stacked against it. That said, at the very heart of what Carolina Story stands for lies nothing but numbers that tell their entire story up to this point.
Framed on a wall beside the front door, right when you walk inside the first home Ben and Emily have ever bought (which is located in East Nashville), what appears to be a random list of numbers to anyone passing by is a sacred map for Ben and Emily to remind themselves daily of where they came from, where they have been, motivation for inspiration in the moment, and where they aspire to be tomorrow. Long story short, this is not a locker combination … this is the Carolina Story.
Before there ever was a Ben and Emily, both Ben and Emily traveled far and wide, up and down, and all around the country away from their childhood homes before independently and luckily finding the same location for higher education. It was 08-03-07, smack dab in the middle of Visible Music College in Memphis, TN when Emily and Ben first met and locked eyes. You could say it was love at first note because of how quickly each fell for a mutual love and respect of the other’s musical tastes, style, and abilities. When both sensed the timing and talent together felt right, Ben and Emily equally believed that they could be more than your average duet. Trying to keep this story family friendly, it was 02-29-08 when the two leapt beyond being just friends and first kissed-on a leap year of all times.
After working hard in classes and spending even more time on their own musical homework, Emily and Ben, budding solo singer/songwriters in their own right at the time, went on a camping trip in North Carolina. It was 10-06-08 to the day, while on that very camping trip, after spending a lot of time talking together about what each wanted for their lives separately and collectively, when Ben and Emily officially started singing together as the name Carolina Story.
Returning from the Carolina camping trip, Carolina Story had a deeper purpose and a newfound focus. Close to finishing school, as if you didn’t already know where this story was heading, 06-13-09 was the day they got married and legally became Ben and Emily Roberts. A few months later, they traded in their cap and gown gig for a full-time show on the road. They co-founded The Traveling Troubadours and hit the road playing their music the way they envisioned. The Traveling Troubadours is a “More Than A Show” tour which consists of a revolving line-up of artists that have an “independent” spirit, strive for artistic excellence over commercial success and have a heart of service above all. The various artists that agree to be a part of this group step out of the normal touring box and often exchange spots in big ticket venues just to seek numbers for playing places such as homeless shelters, nursing homes, and less traditional places-on top of home concerts, small clubs, and more traditional venues. Point being, Ben and Emily set out to create their story, music, and journey to be a success how they define it instead of always worrying about success in numbers. It’s not that they didn’t or don’t care about commercial success (that is also a main goal in their hearts too), they just decided from the start that if they were going to dedicate all that they are to Carolina Story that it will always be something that makes them proud.
In between booking their own shows, touring every chance they could (over 350 shows independently booked since they began in January 2010), and looking for a home of their own, Ben and Emily recorded and released their first LP called “When The River Met The Sea.” They took their first record and their first dog with them everywhere they went. The reviews were stellar, people that made it to their shows all loved them, but the constant grind began to wear the dynamic duo down. I digress back to numbers.
06-10-10 is the last set of numbers in the frame at Ben and Emily’s home, and it is the defining moment for Carolina Story to this point. After a time period of constant touring, doing everything on their own, still living with family while trying to find a home of their own, the duo began to notice that a lack of commercial recognition and creative opportunities was starting to spark a natural set of arguments for anyone who has ever tried being married and a musical act at the same time (as if either separately are easy).
It was on 06-10-10 when, after a small morning argument before coffee, Ben and Emily set out to the grocery store to run daily errands after deciding that that day was to be the last day they would perform as Carolina Story. Wouldn’t you know that fate would intervene again? There must have been a blue light special on isle 5 because while Ben and Emily passed by what seemed like another stranger, it was in fact an unsuspecting fan that recognized them. She could have passed them by as well, but she turned around and asked them, “Aren’t you two Carolina Story?” Ben and Emily picked up their heads and confirmed the question. Then the lady went on to say, “I have seen you guys play before and my husband and I just love your music.” The random positive comment out of the blue lit up Ben and Emily’s smiles for the moment, but it also made them feel guilty that they were about to end their run as Carolina Story in order to keep their marriage a happy one. A few seconds later, the fan seemingly sent from above popped around the corner yet again. She got their attention and said, “I hope I’m not bothering you, but I just had this feeling come over me that I should tell you two not to give up on your music for some reason. Y’all have a great day.” That was it. There was not going to be an end to Carolina Story.
Soon after that trip to the grocery story, the tides began to change. A foreclosed home in East Nashville pretty much fell in their laps, another friend had a cute puppy that needed a home and family too (fact: puppies make any story, Carolina or not, better), and Ben and Emily attacked their schedules on the road with a new approach that allowed for more breaks in between long runs of shows to keep their sanity and creative inspiration going strong. In the midst of this positive transition period, Carolina Story wrote, recorded, designed, and packaged their second LP … appropriately titled “Home.”
This is a very exciting time for Ben and Emily Roberts, Carolina Story, and family (Huck and Banjo included) and friends that have tagged along for their amazing trip. It is often said that HOME, like life, is what you make it. In this case, like every other case Ben and Emily experience, Carolina Story is well on their way to making a long-lasting, beautiful, sound neighborhood for others to live in and experience.
As for now, please take a little more time while you are here to enjoy the Carolina Story website, the story, the music, the journey and check out the next times and places for Carolina Story tour dates. It might be close enough to you for all of us to make a date. Who knows, it might be the next date in the Carolina Story frame!
Thank you for the time and the visit.
From our HOME to yours,
Ben and Emily Roberts—Carolina Story