Why you should see Nikki Talley at Suwannee Springest

One week remains until the festival family heads back to the unforgettable Spirit of the Suwannee Music park for the 19th annual Suwannee Springfest. The headliners include Lucinda Williams, John Hiatt, Del McCoury, David Grisman, Shovels and Rope, and many others. However, there are many other bands on the bill that deserve much praise and attention.  If Springfest is on your festival agenda you can’t afford to miss Nikki Talley’s set. They are a husband and wife duo and they have been a Springfest favorite for many years.   The duo tour in their big chevy van also known as Blue Bell. They have performed over 200 shows in 20 states and have just released their newest cd, “Out from the Harbor” earlier this month. Nikki’s vocals are smooth, powerful, dynamic and she utilizes a full spectrum of tibres.She is like a radiant songbird and you will be floored and refreshed by this band’s set. Not only does Nikki Talley sing and play guitar, she is also an accomplished claw-hammer banjo player. Jason Sharpe is a tasteful, inventive, and solid guitar player who completes their sound.  We are pleased to have interviewed Nikki Talley and Jason Sharpe and excited to learn more about them and what is in their future.


What is your favorite thing about playing at Springfest? Any memories you’d like to share?

I have been grateful enough to have been going to SOSMP and Suwanee Springfest for many years. I started out working with a good friend at the kids tent. A few years later Randy Judy saw me perform at a pub in St Augustine while I was on tour & he graciously said after seeing my show “We gotta get you on that stage, girl!” I’m forever grateful. This festival is a homecoming in so many ways. Like everything, nothing stays the same and I think fondly of memories over the years but continue to make new ones with every visit.

My favorite part of the festival is the magic that happens around the camps & campfires. I have ALWAYS camped there even when I was performing when I had the option to stay in a hotel off site. If you’ve been to this festival, you know how much incredible music happens off the stages as well. I have been blessed with a SOLID festival fan base because of these late night jams not to mention a “festival family” that continues to support us as we tour throughout Florida and beyond.

I also enjoy coming early and staying later past the festival watching it come to life & then the dust settle. It really is a gorgeous park on its own. Add the music festival and it’s just MAGIC.

I heard you have a new cd. What is it called? Where was it recorded? What was the recording process like? What was the most challenging part of recording it?

Our new album Out from the Harbor is the first studio album we’ve done in 5 years. It is not an overly produced album. With the exception of string parts on a few songs by Springfest’s own Lyndsay Pruett, the entire album consists of myself on guitar, vocals, & banjo, my husband & tour partner Jason Sharp on guitars, & Mike Ashworth (Steep Canyon Rangers) on drums & bass. We wanted it to be a nice representation of what we do live but with a few little sparkles of the magic that happens spontaneously in the studio. We captured 10 song stories during our session.

This was our first time being at Echo. Being here in Asheville since the early 90s, I have actually known most of the folks involved with the studio & it felt like a homecoming. We needed to be comfortable in our environment & being nestled in the bosom of the mountains we love so much seemed natural. We spent four,12 hour days in a row laying down tracks. It was a very extreme, fast, whirlwind of creativity, mental exhaustion & fun.  It really was great to be in a place like Echo that technically had everything you could dream of.  We were left to be relaxed & creative.

Luckily we have been touring so heavily that we felt pretty rehearsed laying down the tracks. The most challenging part of the whole process to me is the mixing of the record. Pining over one song for four and five hours at a time.  Listening and dissecting every aspect of it and thinking of the song in almost mathematical terms rather than colorful art. We were lucky to have an amazing engineer, Julian Dreyer, that kept the energy and focus on what was best for the songs.

What festivals have you played at in the last year? Where else have you toured? What are your future tour plans?

Our travels have taken us to some new festivals this past year as well as allowed us to return to some of our favorites.

Over the past year a few of the festivals we played included Virginia Key Grassroots Festival in Miami, Frank Brown Songwriter Festival in Gulf Shores, Greater Good Fest in Pensacola, Musikfest in Pennsylvania, Sebastian Fine Arts & Music Fest, and of course Magnolia Fest at SOSMP was a highlight for last year.

With the release of our new record we are planning an extensive tour starting next month into the southwest and then up to the northeast in summer.

What advice do you have for new musicians and songwriters?

I would just encourage people to write about what the know, and truly feel. Don’t try and be something you’re aren’t. Be OK with what you are. I ran from my folksy roots and had fun exploring rock, punk & indie music. I still love to pick up an electric guitar and crank up my big muff (that’s a distortion pedal for those of you snickering) and rock out. I never thought I’d be playing banjo on a stage! Practice what you love. I think most artists are their own worst critic. In a lot of ways that’s good. It makes you strive to always be better. If I were content with the way I sound, I would never grow. I am always trying to perfect my sound, writing & stage set up.

What’s your favorite thing about playing music?

One of the best things about playing music is you become connected with people that you normally would not. I love the way it brings people together. It’s also cheap therapy. I have been lucky enough to travel, make friends, feel joy, express sorry & make a living playing music. I know how lucky I am.

Nikki, what/who inspired you to play claw hammer style banjo?

My mother played guitar and banjo. Growing up, our home was always filled with music. All us kids toyed with the idea of playing an instrument. For awhile we had us a little family band, Treated and Released. lol I played guitar, sister played banjo, & brother played bass. I picked up the banjo because it was something different. I pretty much grew up with a  guitar in my hands. It was a challenge and the sound always reminded me of my mom. When I play now, I look at my aging hands that now look like my mother’s. I feel like I am taking a part of her with me wherever I go.

I love the claw hammer style. It is so rhythmic and almost percussive. I think you can really tell it’s an African instrument when it’s played that way. I grew up going to old time festivals and heard lots of clawhammer before I ever heard bluegrass style banjo. I just learned this way first and it stuck.

Jason, could you please tell us about your guitar?

The guitar I am playing is a 1957 Gibson LG-2 that belonged to Nikki’s mother. I went thru several guitars before trying out this one that was actually collecting dust in a closet. I use a lot effects while running it thru a tube amp to get a lot of different sounds out of it. It’s a really sweet little guitar. I think Annie (Nikki’s mom) likes the way I play it so she let me keep it. Ha.

How do we find you on the internet?
You can find us on the web at www.nikkitalley.com as well as youtube, facebook, twitter & instragram. We love documenting our crazy modern nomadic lifestyle so there’s lots of stuff to google.


Nikki Talley takes the stage in The SOS Music hall on Friday starting at 6:00. Be sure to put this on your personal festival schedule, and then drop by the Merch tent and pick up her newest cd “Out from the Harbor”. You can hear music samples at www.nikkitalley.com  and purchase her cd’s from cdbaby, and itunes.



-Ashley Feller