Rising Appalachia on the Slow Music Movement

When we create our stories each week, one of the most agonizing decisions is what to call people. How do you distill a life—in the case of our storytellers, an otherworldly life—into the three or four words of a title scroll?

Chloe Smith and Leah Song, sisters who lead the soulful world-folk band RISING APPALACHIA, are slowly creating a cultural revolution.

I caught up with them backstage at FloydFest 2017 to hear about their evolving Slow Music Movement in a tractor trailer-cum-green room after one of their workshop. The workshop you ask? Just your typical Sunday morning fare—two sorceresses transforming a humble group of festival-goers into a vibrational cathedral of love and magic.

Like the slow food movement, the Slow Music Movement harkens back to a time when we literally moved, ate, and spoke slower. But this is no retro throw-back nostalgia.  Grounded, firmly forward-looking, Rising Appalachia is fanning the flames of a critical cultural conversation around being intentional, thoughtful, intuitive in our actions.

What is the environmental impact of touring in a giant bus? What is the spiritual cost of dropping into a city without learning something of the needs and forging relationships with the people?  What is the physical cost of changing time zones every few days fueled by fast food and caffeine?

In many ways, music festivals, even the most enlightened, progressive ones like FloydFest, have always been male-dominated: the extended jams, the fast leads, the amps up, the boys’ network typically rules the day. What was fascinating to us is that slowly over the course of the weekend, we saw FloydFest 2017 signal a sea change in the fast-paced, hyper-masculine music industry.

The shift was subtle, yet palatable: the awakening of the feminism spirit. The names that seemed to be on everyone’s lips were female: the power and heart of Mimi Naja of Fruition, the electric performance of Hayley Jane with her Primates, the honest, beautiful melodies of Suzanne Santo of HoneyHoney, the rap fusion of Femina, the punk/folk rage of the women of Baskery, the warm Americana growl of Cary Ann Hearst of Shovels and Rope.

Authentic, inclusive, inspiring performances by women who own their swagger.

Leah captures that spirit: “We definitely consider ourselves sort of carrying a feminine energy into the music industry, which is not inherently feminine . . . to try and bring more fluidity into our comrades, people we work with, big wigs and promoters. It’s very fast-paced and rigid. We often are trying to bring a component of intuition and slowness into that.”

Our conversation, which entered that mystical space of deep time, began by digging into the spiritual paradox the sisters embody: as time speeds up, it’s vital to slow down.

Chloe and Leah didn’t set out to create a movement. Their first revolutionary act was both simple and alarmingly rare: to listen to their bodies and spirits long enough to know that the ego-trappings of a fast-paced, rock star lifestyle would not work for them. Their second act of revolution, even rarer: they imagined a new way of being. And with bad-ass courage, they dared to live into it.

Ever-so-slowly (notice a theme?), they evoke the archetype of the troubadour who weaves live music, stories, poetry into daily life. By designing a personally authentic lifestyle, they’ve created a blueprint for doing music differently. They’ve injected into our hyper-speed culture a way of life that radically claims the solitude that’s necessary to live in alignment with one’s deepest values.

Rising Appalachia’s brand of touring builds relationships with environmental justice organizations in each community. Their Slow Music Movement means these non-profits are left stronger and connected to more supporters after each show. Their Slow Music Movement forges alliances with indigenous elders like Winoa LaDuke who’ve been at this work for generations. Their Slow Music Movement raises awareness, amplifies stories, and offers melodic nourishment to social justice movements like their Seventh Generation Medicine Concert at Standing Rock. The Slow Music Movement weaves threads across the globe, reminding us that indigenous wisdom is our common birthright, and pollinates concerts with the traditional songs of Celts, Native Americans, Appalachians.

Troubadours. Song catchers. Visionaries. Harmoniously opening our hearts to the possibilities that await us if we slow down long enough to listen.

Listen to Rising Appalachia’s most recent album: 2015’s gorgeous, penetrating WIDER CIRCLES.

And we can’t wait for their newest live album, coming out September 29. Pre-order ALIVE.

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