In the mountains of McDowell County, a still relatively new band is making haunting and deeply felt music that is resonating with listeners far and near. And according to western North Carolina’s popular public radio station, Yellow Feather is putting Old Fort on the Americana music map.
Yellow Feather is an Americana, roots-oriented band based in Old Fort. The three members of Yellow Feather are Hunter Begley (on guitar and vocals), Casey Kristofferson (on vocals) and Charlie Willis (on lap steel).
In just a short period, Yellow Feather has made a sound that cuts deep with listeners.
“It’s not been a long time,” said Begley to The McDowell News. “It’s been a year.”
Born in Black Mountain in 1988, Begley spent much of his young life dedicated to schoolwork and athletics and didn’t pursue songwriting until he began rewriting pop songs on the radio. In 2007, he began a life of traveling around the country. He first went to Spearsville, La. where he worked with his grandfather raising chickens, cattle, and hogs and also worked at a slaughterhouse for a time. After two years in Spearsville, he moved to Monroe, La. and played with the band Hunter and the 3D Glasses until he left Louisiana in 2010.
Begley spent the next two years in Charlotte and another two years in Atlanta. He returned to Black Mountain in the summer of 2014. “He found love not long after, and not long after that he found something else,” reads a biography he submitted. “That ‘something else’ surely broke his heart. Fortunately he’s no quitter and has since had his heart broken enough times to write a country album. The album began production in April of 2017 and is titled ‘And Gold.’”
More than a year ago, Begley was looking to relocate to Old Fort and along the way he got to meet Kristofferson.
“In the small town of Old Fort NC, searching for a room to fit his bed and guitar, he found a loft belonging to Casey Kristofferson,” reads the band’s online biography. “What became of the friendship that followed was the band, Yellow Feather.”
By that time, Begley had written a lot of songs that would form the basis for “And Gold.” The two instantly found a common bond over making music, said Begley.
“When I met Hunter, it just clicked immediately,” said Kristofferson to The McDowell News. “We basically moved in together and we went through Hunter’s material.”
Casey Kristofferson, a resident of Old Fort for the past 14 years, is the daughter of Country Music Hall of Famer Kris Kristofferson and country singer Rita Coolidge. So making good, interesting music comes naturally for her. With her family, she has been playing, singing and writing songs all of her life and she’s also a classically trained musician and ballet dancer.
Kristofferson is now co-writing with Begley and providing vocals and harmonies with Yellow Feather.
Born in Lexington, Ky. in 1990, Willis started playing drums at 12 years old and shortly switched to guitar. He focused on playing bluegrass and folk music. After moving to the Asheville area in 2013, he quickly realized there was no shortage of talented guitar players in the area. So he decided to take up the resonator guitar in 2014 and played with several bands including a short time with Asheville's Bread and Butter Band. He also participated in other projects with Begley. In the spring of last year, he was invited to join Yellow Feather.
Willis used to play the resonator guitar with Begley. He now plays the lap steel as a member of the band. Together, the three musicians are taking traditional roots-oriented music and putting their own touches to it. They sing and play original songs that have the old, authentic feel. But they are taking the traditional sounds and moving it forward.
“We want the roots to be in country and have that sound palette and be a little more progressive,” said Willis.
The name “Yellow Feather” was Begley’s idea. “I’ve always loved birds, the idea of flight,” he said to The McDowell News.
The band’s first album “And Gold” was released on Dec. 1 of last year. This 12-song work was recorded at Echo Mountain Studio in Asheville, the same place used by such artists as Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers and the Avett Brothers.
Most of the songs on “And Gold” were written by Begley. Two of them – “Pirate’s Love Song” and “Couch Farm” – were a collaboration by Begley and Kristofferson.
Another song on the album is “Fences” and it was written by Kristofferson’s best friend Amy Nelson. It dates back to when Kristofferson and Nelson were in their 20s and performing in a band together. It was written about Kristofferson when she was 24.
Another song “Dirty Feet” was composed by Kristofferson.
When they were recording the album at Echo Mountain Studio, the three members were backed up by Herschel VanDyke on drums and percussions, Robert Parks on bass, Aaron Lee Tasjan on electric guitar for “Little Feet,” Brian Wright on electric guitar for “Sarah Accidentally” and Jim Aaron on harmonica for “Lost All Direction.” The Echo Chamber Choir provided vocals for “Lost All Direction.” Matthew Rowland provided piano and bass on some of the tracks and Lyndsay Pruett played the fiddle on some of the album too. “And Gold” was mixed at Café Rooster Records and mastered at True East Mastering, both located in Nashville, Tenn. The album is on CD and it can also be obtained through iTunes and Amazon Music. Many of its tracks can be heard on YouTube. The band even released an official video for their single “Lucille.” Begley said it was videotaped in Fletcher. You can see it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z9PA8J0106o.
On Nov. 25, Yellow Feather held an album release concert at Pisgah Brewing in Black Mountain. You can see the entire show on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9YsJixOFVqE.
At one point in the album release show, Begley performed a song called “Silvers Welch,” which he said was inspired by a special place in Old Fort.
“It’s a good town. It’s a really good town,” said Begley of Old Fort at the Nov. 25 concert. “I’ll be back down there soon actually living again.”
That song should appear on their second album, he said to The McDowell News.
Since the release of “And Gold,” Yellow Feather’s music has been played in heavy rotation on public radio station WNCW (88.7 FM).
“We sure like Yellow Feather,” said Martin Anderson, music director and morning host for WNCW. “Catchy melodies, vivid imagery in their songs, and above all a nice warm sound in their production and arrangements. Finally, Old Fort is back on the musical map with this great Americana release.”
For the band members, there is a great feeling of accomplishment to hear their songs on the radio.
“We work in construction together and we hear that in the truck,” said Begley of himself and Willis. “It is really awesome. It feels good.”
And 2018 promises to be a busy year for Yellow Feather. “Our schedule is going to be a lot fuller than last year,” said Begley.
Their next concert will be at the Bywater in Asheville on Saturday, Feb. 17 and they will do a show in Charlotte later. Some events are not yet ready to be announced, said Begley. They are also scheduled to do a May 31 concert at the Grey Eagle in Asheville where they will open for Whiskey Myers, according to their web site.
The members of Yellow Feather said they would like to play a more local venue like Spillway Bridge & Co. in downtown Marion.
Meanwhile, Yellow Feather is putting together a follow up to “And Gold.” “We’re working on the second album,” said Begley. “We’ve got 15 to 18 to choose from. We’re always writing. We’re always working on new stuff.” Begley focuses on the lyrics while Kristofferson and Willis write their own parts.
“It’s a little piece of everyone making the sound happen,” said Begley to The McDowell News.
For more information, visit their web site http://yellowfeatherband.com or their Facebook page.