The Branchettes Head to the Eaux Claires Festival with Phil Cook’s “Southland Revue”

inArtist Storyon August 11, 2016

Phil Cook (Hiss Golden Messenger/Megafuan) has partnered with Music Maker partner artists, The Branchettes for his Southland Revue project. They will be playing at the Eaux Claires Festival in in Wisconsin on August 12th + 13th. 

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I moved to North Carolina from Wisconsin back in 2005 – I needed to be closer to the music that I loved. The music that lit me up and sent me home felt like it was calling me to leave the wintry farm-scape where I grew up and drive south.  I ended up in the city of Durham, a city with a very interesting history, inspiring and unique at times, complicated and bleak at others.  It took half a decade before my body gave a little ease to the sultry summers and the barrage of downpours. My speech cadence has relaxed some – I can tell during phone conversations with cousins back up north.

In 2011, Heather and I were blessed with a son. We called him Ellis.  Stepping through that portal of parenthood brings a host of awareness around us.  Awareness of the fragility of life, how fleeting our time is on this planet, and awareness of the towering responsibility whose shadow we now stand underneath.  As I reckoned with these truths, some deeper feelings began to appear on the horizon, and with them came some distant melodies and rhythms.  A few years went by and I had stumbled and gathered my way into what was apparently my first batch of original songs.  Objectively, they seemed to be a collective love letters to the music of the south. That music that I long to hear and play so deeply in my soul.  I made the record with good friends and good intentions, with laughter, teary smiles and lots of hard work.

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Around this time, I became aware of Music Maker and their mission – and reached out to them to put me in touch with some musicians.  Specifically looking for gospel singers, I was introduced to The Branchettes by production manager Aaron Greenhood.  I sat in Sister Lena Mae’s living room with Wilbur Tharpe at her old piano and they both taught me the harmony parts sung by former Branchettes since passed on.  “Sister Mae”, as Wilbur calls her, beckoned me to pay close attention to her always, as she was liable to change verses and songs as she feels it.  I felt nothing but honor to add a third harmony to their 43 years as bandmates, but I won’t pretend that I sounded anything beyond functional.  However, the rehearsal went and it was full of joyful laughter and meaningful sidebars. I smiled the whole drive home.

In the last year, we’ve performed a number of times together, including at the 43rd Annual Branchettes Singing Anniversary weekend in Newton Grove. This event introduced me to several of Sister Mae’s oldest friends and fellow gospel singing veterans, as well as her grown children who cooked and served up some fine southern food plates.  Sister Mae ran a southern restaurant for years, taking in troubled neighborhood kids and using the kitchen as her platform to lift them up and send them on a dignified path.  To listen to her speak about the exact way one must perform a recipe always brings a smile to my face.  My own late grandmother, whom I adored, spoke in this same manner about recipes, using the word “must” before every directive.  How else would the recipe survive?

— Phil Cook

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