A Williamson Branch on the Bluegrass Tree
by Shelby C. Berry
The click of asphalt, radio humming, touring the open road—every artist’s dream. This is what it’s all about. But the 2020 challenges our world faced this year turned the music industry upside down, restricting travel and gatherings everywhere. Even so, at the time of this interview, Williamson Branch was on the road to a last-minute show.
“We are touring a little bit in areas that have lowered their restrictions,” said Melody Williamson. “We also had a mini Christmas tour with 6-7 shows, but other than that, it has been mostly last-minute shows and events for us lately.”
Williamson Branch hasn’t allowed the lack of touring to affect their success. This year the band’s social media pages grew to almost 142,000 likes and multiple videos received 14 million views.
“It’s really all about the people you meet along the way, the people whose lives are made better by your music,” said Kevin Williamson. “In the last six months, we’ve really interacted with our online following. In March after we got shut down with touring, we started going online and encouraging people. We’ve been able to pour into the lives of our fanbase, and we are doing that as a family.”
Made up of accomplished guitar picker Kevin on guitar, his wife Debbie on mandolin, and their three daughters – Melody on fiddle, Kadence on guitar, and Caroline on mandolin, their single Blue Moon Over Texas reached #1 on the Roots Music Report’s Contemporary Bluegrass Chart for 7 weeks in a row and the Bluegrass Unlimited Top 30, garnering the band the 2020 award for Valley Star Family Vocal Group.
This year, Melody, the oldest of the Williamson Branch girls, received the IBMA Momentum Awards for Vocalist of the Year, becoming the first IBMA win for the band. The band was also featured as Official IBMA Showcase artists in 2020.
The closeness of this third-generation family band shines through with beautiful blend of bluegrass, country, Gospel, and dance music. Newcomer Anthony Howell, on banjo, has become an integral part of the family band.
Since the 2017 Bluegrass Standard feature on Williamson Branch, the band signed with Pinecastle Records, released two albums with them, and are preparing a third release, Heritage & Hope, which is available for preorder on their website. It will be released in early 2021.
- The Bluegrass Standard (BGS): What does the new album tell the world about Williamson Branch?
Kevin: Gospel music is so much a part of bluegrass. Most people who grew up on bluegrass grew up in the church. Faith is such a part of who they are, and it shows. This particular album is very reflective of this. Heritage is songs we all grew up singing in church, maybe a part of our soundtrack growing up. Hope is the second disc, and it is songs we’ve written and other writers we know have written. It’s almost like Hope is saying “here is who we are as a result of our faith.” It’s the best of both worlds.
- BGS: With everything going on in the world, how has 2020 changed the way you look at your band and its experiences?
Kevin: It’s been a step-by-step process. Every year, we’ve laid the groundwork. We keep doing what we are doing. From the musical and business standpoint, we try to act like the people and the band that we want to be. We may go to a festival and be the low man on the totem pole, but we try to act like we are the top dogs and be professional in every way. When the success starts to happen, that’s just one more step. It’s kind of cool with the online following, though. We had several videos that had millions of views. Our Palm Sunday worship service has about 13 million views. It’s fun to watch people know who we are.
- BGS: Melody, how does it feel to win the IBMA Momentum Award for Vocalist of the Year at such an early age?
Melody: It’s pretty amazing! The vocalist category this year was full of a lot of people I really respect. So, to even be nominated is an honor. It’s not fan-voted, but it’s chosen by members of the IBMA. It is very cool. Everyone is complaining about 2020, but for us, it was pretty great! I won the biggest award of my life, so I think I’ll keep 2020. I told everyone since I didn’t get to be in person for the IBMA awards this year, next year I’m carrying my award around with me.
- BGS: What do fans see at a live show?
Melody: Not only do I build the show, but I host the show as well. I’m the front man, kind of. Everything is polished and very high energy. It is well-rehearsed with a bunch of time. We are all in almost every song. There is a lot of music where people can really connect with us, connect with what we are doing. They can see their own life experience connected with what we are doing in a fun and entertaining way. And we are connecting with the Lord and bluegrass traditions. We even clog, too!
- BGS: Our first interview with Williamson Branch related to your involvement with Tomorrow’s Bluegrass Stars. Are you still involved?
Melody: Yes! After you guys joined on as a sponsor of TBS, it became an organization led by a committee headed by Larry Smith. I am the secretary for that committee currently! We are all about making footprints and encouraging the younger bluegrass audience. Williamson Branch is proud to be a part of things like that.
- BGS: If you could work with any artist, who would that be and why?
Melody: Our family really loves The Issacs. To record something with them would be close to #1.
BGS: What is the ultimate dream?
Melody: The ultimate dream for Williamson Branch is that people would be able to connect with our music and connect with us and that we would be together doing what we love. And play the Grand Ole Opry in the winter at The Ryman Auditorium!
- BGS: What’s going on in your world other than releasing a new album?
Melody: The album is the biggest thing. It’s a huge double project that we’ve spent a really long time working on. The first single is hopefully being pushed toward Collaborative Recording of the Year. We’ve got some surprises coming!