By Nikki Hedrick
Thrive Music Fest returns to Downtown Fort Walton Beach Saturday, June 25, for the third year. This go-round, the event includes 15 bands and three stages, with music ranging from bluegrass to rock, local favorites to nationally touring artists like David Shaw of the Revivalists. Among that list are first-timers The Packway Handle Band and the returning V-8 Death Car.
“Everyone in the band kind of grew up together,” says Packway guitarist and vocalist Josh Erwin of how he met his bandmates. “We grew up just playing rock music and whatever other crappy stuff that teenagers play down in the basement.”
As they matured, so did their desire to expand their musical horizons, eventually finding their way to bluegrass. However, it wasn’t until a band member’s brother heard them play and encouraged them to add harmonies that a whole new musical world opened up.
Erwin recalls thinking, “Harmonies are really cool—what else can we do with that? Let’s go listen to some of these songs and learn some of these songs.” It kick started their evolution into a full-fledged bluegrass influenced band. “Instead of noodling around and just being loud, it became this additional thoughtful thing to consider in the world of music.”
In 2001, Packway Handle Band was officially formed, playing gigs around Athens, Georgia. As word spread, the gigs became bigger, including competing at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. By 2006, the band filed the needed paperwork to incorporate and focus on music as a way of life.
As for their genre designation—because they veer from being 100 percent traditional bluegrass—Erwin considers the band bluegrass with an Americana bent. “I like to think of it like a meter. We are more towards the Americana side than the Bill Monroe side of the meter.
“We got people who love Foreigner and Kid Rock to really like us,” says Erwin of one of the band’s festival experiences. “We pull from all across the board. We can be kind of a gateway into experimenting and trying something that might be out of a normal band setting.”
V-8 Death Car deals with a lot of labels being thrown at them, but for vocalist and guitarist TreyCat “it really comes down to being rock ‘n’ roll. I don’t like to categorize us into too deep of a hole—at the end of the day it is just rock ‘n’ roll music.”
The band name is a reference to the nickname for Bonnie and Clyde’s V8 Ford, which the infamous couple stole, took across country in a crime spree, and eventually died in. “For a long time I had an old uncut flyer from the ‘60s at my house,” says TreyCat. “When the movie came out, they were touring around Bonnie and Clyde’s car that they died in. It said, ‘Come see Bonnie and Clyde’s V8 Death Car.’ I thought that was the coolest band name ever, so I held onto it until I started this band.”
Although TreyCat likes to define the band’s sound as rock ‘n ‘roll, the rockabilly influences are undeniable. He considers the first two or three decades of rock n roll to be “more organic. There is an attitude to it—they were doing something brand new.”
When it comes to Thrive Fest beneficiary Covenant Care (formerly known as Covenant Hospice), TreyCat experiences the good they do regularly. “My day job is as a paramedic in Montgomery, and Hospice is an amazing thing. We are all going to pass, but it makes it easier on the family and easier on the person—not just medically, but as a foundation that is there to help the whole family through the process of death and grieving. A lot of people don’t really know much about it until they need it. I see it all the time, and it’s a great thing, not just for the patient but for the family.”
Thrive Fest is an opportunity to come together and support a worthy local cause. It’s also an opportunity to hear some fantastic musicians. As TreyCat says, “We love playing fests. I think we live in a fest era right now, and that’s really cool because you can go to an event and you can see multiple bands, and you might love them all or just one or two. But you get a wide variety. And you get to play to people who might not see you in a normal show.”
Purchase tickets for the fest at eventsatcovenant.org/thrive.
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