Summer Meltdown Artist Highlight: Rising Appalachia

Summer Meltdown is officially here! We have been eagerly awaiting this festival for months now. We have told you all about the Adventures packages that the festival has included, about the family friendly community that this festival has created and now the time has come to take in all of the talented artists that the Summer Meltdown lineup has to offer. 

One of the most incredible names on the lineup is Rising Appalachia. We were lucky enough to catch up with sisters Leah and Chloe of Rising Appalachia before the festival to share not only their enchanting sound, both docile and powerful but their strength in character and pride in activism. Rising Appalachia is more than divine musical prowess, their call to action and justice is more than lyrics in a song it is part of who they are, a way of life. Here is what they had to say about new projects in the works, environmental and food justice movements they are involved in and more. 

Shontelle Reyna- Being a traveling musician was never a goal of either of yours. I read that the first time made music together was as a holiday gift to family that was recorded in one day. If this had never come to fruition what do you both think that you would be doing now instead?

Chloe: Indeed, although music was a huge part of our family upbringing, Leah and I never directly sought out being professional musicians. That path slowly and organically unfolded throughout the past 10 years as more and more incredibly deep and interesting opportunities presented themselves to Rising Appalachia to make music in a sacred and non-industry format.   It has been a wild and surprising ride, certainly one of the most educational, challenging, and uplifting experiences I have ever had.  That being said, I always wanted to be a storm chaser.  Twister style.  Being born in the south, I find that electric air of big storms to be extremely enticing, creative, and wild and I used to imagine following them and monitoring their movements.  Retirement plan, perhaps 😉 

Leah: Ha, yes I think about, ponder, and discuss this all the time. I have no doubt that my life would be steeped in activism and art. That was never a doubt. My training is more developed in the visual arts (painting, sculpture), and in movement than it is in music …so I am not sure where that would have led me. I lived many years in Latin America before this project started, and I believe I would have stayed there, working with the Latin American arts and justice movements  that are still vibrant to this day. Mural artist, teacher, street theater director, definitely some sort of public speaking. If I ever get time I hope to study the role of the arts as a tool for social justice in some sort of graduate school format and get that academic backbone too. It would not have been a boring life wither way.

SR- Soul Visions is the album that took me down the path to discovering all of your truly magical music, is there anything in the works with The Human Experience again or any artists alike?

Chloe:There are some collaborations and artistic pursuits in the works indeed, but we are taking our time with those ideas and really focusing on our newest album Wider Circles for the time being. 

Leah: We look forward to working on several new collaborations. We are excited to be recording and featuring some of the work we have been doing with Arouna Diarra, who is a tradition holder and multi-instrumentalist from Burkin Faso. We are discussing an EP with our collaborative work together. 

We also hope to begin working on a remix project for Wider Circles with a handful of djs and artists from some earlier eras of electronic music. It has been a long dream in the making for us. We would love to work with DJ shadow, Bonobo, Pretty Lights, Chancha, Kid Koala, JaBorn, Morcheeba, Ninja Tunes, and of course some of our homies in the electric scene (Polish Ambassador, The Human Experience, Dirt Wire, Sylvan Eso)

SR- I read in a few other articles that you were working with Appalachia based tree planting groups so that each ticket sale for shows plants a tree in a selected area. Did this ever come to fruition or is it still in the works?

Leah: Yes, we have been in conversations with several different tree planting initiatives, including a grass roots re-wilding mission in Southern Appalachia called Green Hill Urban Farm, and a powerful Mountain Justice organization called Green Forrests Work that replants mountain  top removal sites with native food forests. They are both doing incredible work, along with many more. We haven’t found a simple ticket-to-tree-planting initiative that has been successful for us yet, but we have found that Permaculture Action days pre- concert, and volunteer action days are getting a lot of good work done through the hands of concert go-ers . It’s amazing to see the energy from a show turn directly into an urban farm project. That has been our most successful outlet for environmental and food justice based movements.

SR- Last year you said that you wanted to scale down touring and really take the Slow Music Movement model to action so that you were able to immerse yourselves in the communities you visit. Is this something you feel you have been able to accomplish this year?

Chloe: In some ways yes, and in some ways its going to be a longer articulation of an idea.  We still tour a lot and find ourselves too fast paced at times.  However, this year we implemented some new partnerships that allowed us to actively change some of he ways we move through regions.  Our partnership with The Permaculture Action Network has been an incredibly grounded and positive way to build Action Days before or after shows as a means to connect deeper to urban gardens and land based food initiatives.  Additionally, the tour we are currently on has had lots of longer stints of time in the regions of our shows, allowing us to get out into nature, connect with local farms, meet with some of the nonprofits we host at shows, and generally marinate more in the beauty of these incredible places we are invited to.  We are working to have The Slow Music Movement incorporate alternative methods of travel ( train, horse, sailboat), farm to table food initiatives to support concerts, lasting partnerships with local nonprofits and regional activists, and a commitment to health and wellness on the road…

Leah: we also are super committed to creating a platform for local on-the-ground initiatives to have a voice and a presence at our shows, so that not only can we immerse and learn from the communities that we visit, but we can also provide a place for our audience to become more informed (and subsequently more involved) in the powerful work that is going on around them. This has been food for the soul for us to glean small pieces of some of the most powerful grass-roots work going on around the country, and to create a one-night village honoring that work. It has been a spiritual fuel to witness and be a part of that much connection, even if our time in each place is short.

SR- Can you tell me more about The Rise Collective?

Chloe: The Rise Collective and Slow Music Movement is the work we have been doing that is bigger than just our own band. We are working on environmental, racial and social justice issues. We want to highlight other artists and educators, and make sure that our audiences is aware of how many people are at our table to stay focused and grounded to a much bigger work. The Rise Collective is with us always in that way.

Leah: This was a platform we set up to highlight all our collaborators, teachers, mentors, leaders, elders, family, peers, ect. It is a small but important place for us to highlight all the work that has gone into shaping and leading us into this work. We have been mentored and inspired by so many people’s leadership, teachings, and work, and it feels like a primary thing to showcase when one wants to learn about Rising Appalachia. We would not be here at all without the incredible people’s who have led us into this journey. 

We hope that as we grown into more notoriety, we can uplift the people who helped us get here. 

SR- You both are outstanding examples of people with a platform utilizing their voice for the greater good and I think that loyalty to self, your art, and the world around you translates not only the authenticity of your music but the audiences reception of your music and message. You have talked about cultivating your voices off tour “to be sharpened pillars” in your own communities and been involved with prison system workshops, many non profits, anti fracking movements, anti pipeline movements and so much more. With everything that is going on in the world right now and wildly visible social injustices making headlines have you found your selves involved in those movements as well? Especially considering your ties to the south and the culture of soul music.

Leah- Well, I honestly feel like this role is an integral part of our voice and our project from its very origin. There is never a place in time when bringing out the voices of the under-served , of the south,  and the places where we see injustice has not been deeply woven into our very fibers… in every line of every song. Sometimes its more subtle, sometimes its more blatant, but I think we see ourselves as carriers of story, and messengers of some sort.  Even every love song written has a piece of justice woven into it. RiverMouth for example is a call to action around the re-wilding of our countries great rivers , including the un-daming of the Klamath, and the work showcased in the film DamNation. Wider Circles is a shout out to our people on the front lines of Mountain Justice and anti-fracking work, it’s a call to women rights and empowerment, it’s a tribute to the people who have showed up to help us along the way, it’s a honoring of the work of Joanna Macey and the Work that Reconnects around spiritual health for the activist. 

Sprits Cradle is a direct response to the broken prison systems in this country and a plea for people to investigate more restorative justice practices, and to learn about the oppression of the prison industrial complex before it fosters fear or judgement. 

Even Novels of Acquaintance has an entire verse about the people who have come to our shows sick and have sought healing through the power of music and community. It is a shout out to our beautifully eclectic and open-hearted audiences…

 So , the answer is yes. We hope to be troubadours for a long time, taking the role of the song catcher and the story-teller into our daily work, and taking the role seriously and joyfully. Weather that means that we are preserving an old song and bringing it into a new context(to keep traditional music vibrant), or writing lyrics that speak to the nuanced problems that we face on the daily, we hope to continue to make music that provokes big questions.

Catch them on Main Stage, Sunday from 7-8pm.