Heartfelt, energetic, and down home. Heralded by CMT Edge as “one of the most promising bands on the bluegrass scene,” the music of the Nashville-based group The Barefoot Movement is as down to earth as their intention for members of their audience: sit back, relax, take your shoes off, and stay a while. All the worries and frustrations of the world melt away as this charming, acoustic band takes listeners back to a simpler place and time. Whether you’re seeking emotional ballads or rip-roaring barn-burners, you can expect a collection of music that offers something for everyone. With two full-length albums (Footwork, Figures of the Year), an EP of traditional music (The High Road EP), several cross-country tours, and appearances at some of the top bluegrass festivals in the United States already under their belt, the possibilities for this act are endless.
Crowding around a single microphone, their show is as fun to watch as it is to hear, and often begs the question, how has no one lost an eye from a collision with the fiddle bow? The smiles on the faces of the band are obvious displays of the joy and excitement they feel when performing and the audience shares in the fun. With effortlessly executed transitions, the pacing between the softer and more vigorous numbers constantly has fans on the edge of their seats.
The Barefoot Movement is comprised of Noah Wall (vocals, fiddle), Tommy Norris (mandolin), Alex Conerly (guitar, vocals), and its newest addition, Katie Blomarz (bass, vocals).
Before their Bozeman stop, The Barefoot Movement will embark on a house concert tour series called “Home Routes” at intimate venues in Alberta and British Columbia, Canada.
In anticipation of the upcoming Ellen Theatre performance following their shows to the north, The Rolling Zone was able to get Noah on the phone to talk musical influences, making a name for themselves in the world of bluegrass, and just where that name came from.
RZ: Hey Noah. How are you?
NW: I’m good! I’m in between band practice, trying to make a gym class, my husband’s driving, and I’m eating a grapefruit in the meantime. You know, keeping it all together.
RZ: Thank you for taking some time to talk with me today.
NW: Sure. Thank you.
RZ: Absolutely. To kick things off, why did this group decide to come together way back when?
NW: I always wanted to be in a band. I had always thought that bands were the cool thing, cooler than just being a solo chick by myself. I started looking for people even back when I was in high school—that’s where I met the mandolin player (Tommy), who’s now my husband. We kind of started the whole thing. Through the years, we just collected people who liked the music we were playing and could contribute something to it. Alex, our guitar player, has been with us since 2013, and our bass player Katie has been with us for about a year now.
RZ: Some might call you guys a bluegrass band, but how does The Barefoot Movement put its own spin on the genre?
NW: I think it’s certainly a part of what we do, but we write a lot of music. I don’t try to write songs in any genre, I just try to write what I’m feeling. Ultimately that comes out, that I don’t really write bluegrass songs. They sort of have a sound and a way they’ve always been done, even though you can be creative within those boundaries. Because of that, [our sound] ends up being more of an acoustic music with bluegrass influences, as well as other acoustic influences.
RZ: What does a Barefoot Movement show look like? What can we expect from your coming Ellen Theatre performance?
NW: We try to have a lot of fun. It’s not rockets in that way. It’s just a relaxing, good time, [with] some humor—just joy. We try to bring as much joy as we can to the people we’re performing for. That’s the whole point. Sometimes there’s a sad song [and] it’s more about healing. But in between these songs, we lift everybody back up. So I think people can expect to have two 45-minute sets of worry-free fun
RZ: Let’s talk about your music. Aside from the Christmas EP, you last released a live compilation of your first three recordings. Did you want to show your music in a different light with this? What was the intention?
NW: We recorded the show and it ended up being a special night, and it was sort of a good place in between a lot of things. We had had a different guitar player for a while, leaving the band in 2013 when Alex joined. [He was on] our first two full-length albums. Between making the next long record, we had this show that sounded really good and we wanted to have something a little more updated. It was something to give our fans to tide them over until the next full-length release.
RZ: Cool. That was a great idea. Do you have upcoming plans to record material that might end up on a future EP or album?
NW: We’ve been recording on and off this year. We’re working with some really great producers from California, they helped us put the live record together. The challenge has been with the bicoastal thing, getting together with everybody. We’ve got some new songs that we’re so excited about and we’re going to start playing very soon. Hopefully before the end of 2017, you can expect a new record.
RZ: And you’re busy touring, too. So you’ve got to fit that in.
NW: Exactly. That’s the hardest thing, affording time between tour dates.
RZ: Looking back at those first albums up to your most recent live project and new material you’re working on now, how have you noticed your music and sound has evolved and/or stayed the same?
NW: I think with each new member, it brings something different. Our first guitar player was a very traditional singer and a lot of the stuff we did sort of lent itself to that. We’ve kept that part of it, but our new guitar player does a lot more fingerpicking [and] brought his own style from years of doing his own thing. It wasn’t so much traditional as it was more blues and rock based. And our new bass player studied jazz in college. I think all of those things sort of push and pull with the traditional boundaries, [while] still being anchored in an instrumental setting.
RZ: You’ve toured all over the place and have really made your mark in the bluegrass community. What’s one of your greatest memories from your career? I know you probably have a lot of good memories.
NW: So many! I think something we’ve done that probably not a lot of people get to do in their lifetime [was] to spend a little time in Africa. We toured Burkina Faso for two weeks. Anytime you go somewhere that’s completely different than the United States, it [becomes] a really rewarding experience. There were so many great moments on that whole trip.
RZ: Wow. Awesome. You’re right, not a lot of people can say they’ve done that.
NW: I’m so glad we had the opportunity.
RZ: Can you give us the story behind the name “The Barefoot Movement”?
NW: I was desperately trying to think of something to call us. One day I was walking outside and I looked down at my feet, and I don’t know why, but for some reason the words just popped into my head. I remember I was at my house, but outside with two different shoes on by accident. I looked at them, and at that very moment I distinctly remember “The Barefoot Movement” popping into my head. I think it has so many layers. Obviously there’s the literal meaning of being barefooted and moving around, or you could look at it as a movement of everybody being barefoot. But mostly, for me, it [gives] an invitation to the crowd to come to the show and kind of know what to expect. They can take it as a situation where it’s okay to sit back and relax and take your shoes off for a while. That was a Southern thing I always heard growing up, “Come on in and take your shoes off!”
RZ: Settle in!
NW: Exactly. Settle in. That’s the whole point.
RZ: Music wise, what might we be surprised to hear you listen to or are inspired by?
NW: In my CD player right now is ‘The Black Album’ by Metallica. That’s probably one of my favorite records of all time. I am the resident heavy metal fan, [but] I would say Tommy likes it too. I love classic rock, we love a good R&B groove once in a while. Katie and Tommy are definitely the more jazz oriented. I think we all like little bits of everything. When you play music, you just learn to love all kinds of music. You need to. If not, you just sort of get stuck as an artist—not that I’m going to be doing heavy metal any time soon.
RZ: Maybe a little bit of the attitude will work its way into some of your sets.
NW: You never know!
RZ: What do you think the future holds for this group?
NW: I think it could be as little as just making a living for as long as we can to as big as you can imagine. I don’t know. I’m not cool enough to know what’s hip and “mainstream.” Mostly my dream is to be able to do what we’re doing, but we all want to be able to have happy marriages and children and all of these things people want [with] the American dream. If we can keep doing that and heading toward that outcome, then I think we’ll just keep doing what we’re doing. Ultimately we’d like to be a little more well known. It makes it easier to find places to play when people have heard of ya.
RZ: For sure it is. Well we’re looking forward to seeing you in Bozeman. Safe travels.
NW: Thank you!
Named “Band of the Year” by the International Bluegrass Music Association, The Barefoot Movement will perform at The Ellen Theatre on Saturday, February 11th with the tunes kicking off at 7:30pm. All seats are $18.50. For tickets, visit www.theellentheatre.com/ or call The Ellen box office at (406) 585-5885.
To check out some of their music, videos of past live performances, and further information, go to www.thebarefootmovementofficial.com/. •