By Brian D’Ambrosio EBS CONTRIBUTOR
JACKSON, Wyo. – With its thinly scattered population and immeasurable breathing space, lull and quietude top the list of Wyoming’s trademarks.
Aaron Davis wants to add music to the inventory.
For the past 10 years the Jackson Hole-area instrumentalist has been developing a style he calls “Wyoming Americana” while leading a caravan of touring musicians who draw from the fullest expressive range.
“The caravan is something that my wife and I founded in 2013,” Davis said. “Caravan shows pull together songwriters in the state, traveling together as a collective. Venues in Wyoming are so far apart, so we wanted to be able to be on the road for a few weeks at a time and to travel to some of the regional states…it makes Wyoming feel like one small music community.”
Davis said that, by and large, Montana, despite its similarly dispersed population and relatively rugged isolation, provides more opportunities than Wyoming to play live music and to collaborate with other like-minded individuals.
“In Wyoming, even if there’s a musician that comes out of a small town, there’s usually not anywhere for them to play…with only about three or four towns with venues where they can play. Montana music, at least from an outsider’s perspective, reminds me more of a traditional mountain style music region, similar to North Carolina, where there’s a lot of acoustic music and gatherings.”
From Bluegrass State to Mountain West
Born and raised in Frankfort, Kentucky, Davis’ musical universe was born of a vision of extraordinary sweep. After graduating from Western Kentucky University at Bowling Green, he eventually moved to Wyoming, where he has lived for about 20 years, and where he works as a studio engineer-session player at his own Three Hearted Recording.
“The open spaces and mountains of Wyoming have certainly crept in to my music over the years,” Davis said. “Still, Kentucky is an influence. Bowling Green is an hour north of Nashville, so a lot of that sort of touring industry would come up and play southern Kentucky as well…I think some of the best alt-country and Americana is coming out of Kentucky right now. And I think a lot of those people that are coming up grew up on the same music I did, influenced by a lot of the same cultural forces and musical forces.”
In addition to the blue-collar modes and methods of rural country music, Davis was heavily marinated in the primal vigor of the Southern blues.
“North Mississippi blues, Delta Blues and Piedmont blues—those are a big part of my sound as well. So it’s really kind of a split between the two. I play a lot of resonator and slide and when I’m playing that it’s more like the Piedmont style (of the blues) and then I also play clawhammer banjo, so there’s a lot of Appalachian influence with that…”
In the mid-2000s, Davis co-founded Screen Door Porch, a good-time roots band that drew its tapestry of sound from a hodgepodge of alt-country, folk, blues, and ‘70s-era rock n’ roll sources. The band took a hiatus in 2017, and since then Davis has concentrated on solo touring, duo touring, group touring with his Mystery Machine band, and traveling as part of the triple bill Wyoming Americana caravan.
Duo shows allow Davis to strip down to bare-bone acoustics, sometimes just the twang of the banjo or the interplay of the banjo and bass. But then there are moments, too, when he likes to ratchet up the gusto.
“It could go from very stripped back and very acoustic to moments where I could play a homemade cigar box that is a kick drum. So it’s an electrified cigar box on my right foot and then on my left foot is a shaker, and then I have a tambourine hit to my left side. Then the bass player is singing harmony, too, and we can do this kind of pseudo-rock thing with just the two of us. It can be a bigger, bigger sound in just the dual format.”
Rich Roots Revival
While the sounds that emerge from Davis are recognizably comfortable, his lyrics are condensed interpretations of characters unique to his own life. This written inspiration comes not from someone else but straight from his own heart.
“There are some pretty interesting ones (characters) in the stories,” he said, “and for the most part they are from Wyoming, and certainly a few of them are about some local characters in Teton County.”
Such stories are part and parcel of a lush outpouring of diligent regional musicians who are twisting their experiences into songs and tackling their material with positive attitudes.
“Right now, there’s certainly a rich revival of roots country music, certainly in southern Montana, but here in Wyoming as well. I’m excited to see where it all heads.”
Aaron Davis performs at The Attic in Livingston on March 11 as part of the Wyoming Americana caravan, along with Sarah Sample and Abby Webster, and at The Independent in Big Sky on March 12 at 8 p.m. as a duo with David Bundy.