Emma Woods Bunch, Lydia Woods, Chris Woods;

In October 2018 Hurricane Michael tore across the Florida Panhandle destroying nearly everything in its path. The category five hurricane changed the lives of thousands of Floridians living in Panama City and the surrounding areas displacing much of the population and eliminating most of the infrastructure. Survivors were forced to seek shelter wherever they could find, or relocate entirely. Despite magnificent progress, some of the community continues to recover to this day. The natural disaster not only made an impact on infrastructure but also changed the local music and art scene drastically. After several months of rebuilding, locals yearned for normalcy. Slowly but surely businesses were revived and locals began supporting them as much as possible. One of the first venues to return was Little Village in Historic St. Andrews. The Caribbean-themed music venue resumed having open mic events, welcoming creatives to express themselves in a relaxed atmosphere. This created a spark in the Woods family and inspired them to take their talents from their living room to the stage. Chris Woods and his daughters Emma and Lydia formed the trio Woods The Band and shortly after made a lasting impression on locals all along the Emerald Coast. Through remarkable songwriting and pristine family harmony, the group has made its way into hearts across the Florida Panhandle.

Ashley: How did you get into music, Chris?

Chris: Music has been one of those things that has always been in our lives. Since the girls were young, we would play and sing. It seems like it’s been a generational thing with our family. Of course, we all learned to play and sing in church. From the time I was a kid, that’s really where I got interested in music. I saw people play music live in front of me two or three or four times a week. So I started playing music at a pretty young age in that setting. I’ve heard a lot of musicians talk about that experience, but for me, it was being a part of that kind of sacred music, that’s also in the south. It’s got a whole lot of soul, and rhythms are thrown into it, even some blues. That stuff just really latched onto me at a pretty early age. By the time Emma was, I don’t know, probably six or seven, she was a young thing… She started to show an interest in music and singing, and we would sit around and pick songs out at home.

Chris Woods

She got active in music in church, and we were off and running. If we weren’t doing sacred music of one kind or another, we were sitting around, singing folk songs or country songs or making up songs, it just became a huge part of our life. And I don’t think any of us including Hope. Hope is not a musician, but she is a music lover. I don’t think any of us could imagine, a life without music.

Ashley: When did y’all decide to go from the living room to the stages within our local venues?

Hope: We were starting to get out and about again, post-Michael.
I wasn’t aware that an open mic was a thing and I think we were at Little Village one day and that was going on and I just remember thinking…We should do this, like C the girls should do this.

Hope Woods

We were at Little Village, which was just one of our favorite places at that time to go and eat tacos. I had been at them for a while, to get out and about with their music, but none of us had any idea how to do that. We have been pretty cloistered stirred even before the storm in a lot of ways. So even realizing that there was a local music scene was new to us. And so, we did our first open mic at Little Village. We did that three years ago. It was like March 26th, 2019. So it was that soon after the storm. They loved it. A lot of the people were there and loved it and we hit the ground running.

Chris: Local music is so interesting because it is such a variety of people and styles. We always tell the story and have to shout out to K.C. Phelps who’s a local musician in our local scene. At the time she was running several open mics around town. She did one on Sundays, at Little village, and she was doing one, I think on Wednesday nights at, Funky Mermaid in downtown PC. We had done a couple of those and when we did that first Sunday afternoon, open mic we got some interest and then we did something at a Funky Mermaid and we’re getting gig offers that night. I didn’t have a PA, we had a guitar and a ukulele and, I’ll never forget that night we walked out the door from the Funky Mermaid open mic with three gigs booked.

I reached out to K.C. and said, what do I do now? And she loaned me a PA showed up at that first, Funky Mermaid show and helped me set everything up, and then came and got it afterward and was just a huge help. You need somebody like that. Who’s got experience. So thank you, KC, for being a part of our story.

Ashley: Hope, How have you been enjoying yourself in your role as the manager of the band? Or Momager as we sometimes call you.

Hope: I love it. In the beginning, it was a challenge for me. I’m not a very socially active person. So, it was kind of a two-fold thing for me and, The most important part to me was getting them out there and giving them a place to, share their songs and music It was also was a way for me to kind of challenge myself to do something difficult for me, which was, just social interaction in general. It has expanded my horizons in a lot of ways and made me realize that this thing that I was so kind of afraid of and anxious about has turned out to now be just one of my absolute favorite things. I live for Woods The Band shows. And of course, now we find ourselves out and about listening to others who have become friends. I can genuinely say that it has been one of the best things ever.

Lydia: It has been.

Ashley: I love every time I see y’all play, I just light up. I haven’t seen y’all in a while. What’s new with ya’ll?

Chris: Well, there was a wedding.

Emma Woods Bunch

Emma: That was my fault. Just go throw a wrench in and gigs for a while.

Hope: Well, it’s a good wrench though. It’s funny. We’ve always, explained it to people this way, so many of our friends make their livelihood through playing music around town, and for us, it’s a hobby. We all have separate things that we work on, aside from this. And so that plays into how often we’re able to play.

Ashley: Emma, I heard you’re teaching piano lessons?

Emma: Yes. So I’ve been doing it actually for a couple of years now. Christina Kettering, is one of my favorite people. but I met her when I was at Gulf Coast and was a student of hers, and she invited me to come to teach at her private studio. It was a mentorship at first. So when I first started I wasn’t getting paid, but I was learning and I was getting the experience. and now, I’m about three years down the road and I’m doing it full-time. I love it. The piano has always been my primary instrument other than singing. I have discovered that teaching children is also a huge passion of mine. It has also been super fun.

Ashley: Lydia, I missed your art show. How did it go and where can folks continue to find your art online?

Lydia Woods

Lydia: It was amazing. Very surreal being there with my friends and family and seeing my art up on the walls. I never considered being in an art show until my parents signed me up for the one at the Taproom as a birthday present for my 16th birthday a few months ago. And I’ve always wanted to put my art out. All I’ve been doing up until the art show was posting on Instagram. but I hope to do more things like that in the future. Possibilities of like making an Etsy shop or selling around town, but I haven’t figured out what that will be yet.

Chris: We appreciate Matt Cole and Taproom for being a place for visual art in Panama City that’s easily accessible. It’s one thing to go to a gallery and see art. But man, if you can visit a local bar and drink a beer or a cider or kombucha and walk around and look at it even better.

Lydia: Taproom starting art shows was like an actual game changer.

Ashley: Awesome. Well, thanks for doing all that you do. I believe we met in St. Andrew’s at Little Village. What do ya’ll love about St. Andrew’s?

Lydia: All of our favorite businesses are down there. Like Taproom. We go to it all the time, every restaurant down there is so amazing.

Emma: To me, it’s such a sense of familiarity I can’t think of a time before we went to St. Andrews it’s one of those places where I can go to, one of these businesses and tell you I was here for this high school memory, or I was here last week it’s always been one of those places, secondary to my home that I can go there and I feel comfortable. I feel safe. I feel very connected to my community. I have loved watching it throughout all the seasons of my life grow and expand in ways, but also stay very much the same. And that is something that I love to see.

Lydia: I was ten, tagging along with Emma and her friends going to Amavida and the park. And then now I’m taking my friends.

Chris: Most people who travel to visit our area stay out at Panama City Beach, and not all of those people know to come east of the Hathaway bridge into Panama City, proper and to check out St Andrew’s and Downtown Panama City. When they do, I’ve never met anyone who was in St. Andrews at any of the local joints or restaurants or shops, or just hanging out in the park, who was like, why am I here? I’m going to go back to the beach. They’re kind of shocked to find that this is more than a beach town with all this culture with hardworking people and artisans and businesses It feels like that it feels like a community of people that love where they live and that love to have the opportunity to create whatever it is about them. That makes them unique. There’s nothing like it, it really is a sweet spot.

Hope: If we’re going to take off and go through the trouble of driving into town to do anything, we’re pretty much making a beeline for St. Andrews.

Chris: We are gonna start there anyway.

Ashley: What’s something you wish the public knew about the life of a creative?

Hope: First and foremost is how important it is. I think a lot of times this sort of thing gets kind of brushed off as extracurricular. I think the number one lesson that I’ve learned being out and about, and part of the creative community is just that it absolutely is important. I would even go so far as to say that it’s vital. I don’t think that we’ve ever left a show, whether we were playing or listening that we did not feel uplifted but we always leave feeling better. Even if we feel great when we get there. After a while, you start to realize when you’ve gone a while without looking at some art or listening to some music, in-person . Because there’s definitely a big difference between playing in your Spotify list and scrolling Instagram than actually being in a gallery or being at a show once you’ve done that a few times you start to realize this is helping me. If you are a musician we need you. We need to hear what you offer, whether you think you’re great or not, you’ve got something to offer. As a listener, I would want people to, give it a chance, get out a few times and listen and see if you don’t feel the same way.

Lydia: It’s an outlet. It’s hard to even explain if you’re not a musician, what it does. Whether you have emotions, you can’t get through, don’t understand or you just want to yell for a while. Music has always been amazing. Also, it’s insane to think that you could create something, you could write something and then other people could connect or it could be important to them, right? The promise of being able to share your music with people is amazing.

Emma: I feel like I have realized recently being creative in general is how inescapable it is. You don’t wake up and decide I’m going to be a creative person. It’s like this draw. I know I’ve gone through seasons of my life where there may be something difficult going on or maybe I’m just busy doing other things but, there’s always that nagging and that pull towards these things that are, an outlet and are something that you benefit from, but you can also use to help other people living a day-to-day life. Sometimes it’s annoying. I think that’s one of just one of those things that comes with the territory, it’s just that, that inescapable draw towards fill in the blank.

Chris: I think, it’s essential to have people to share art with. The one thing that I would want people to know when we’re doing shows, we are always overwhelmed with gratitude gratefulness for even having people that care enough to sit through one song. Not to mention people that appreciate and enjoy what we’re doing and come to us and tell us that. I am constantly overwhelmed with thankfulness to have the opportunity to share all of this with our community. If you’re from Bay County, you can’t overlook the whole Hurricane Michael thing. It really hurt music, art, and even food and this Southern culture that we live in. All of that, I think is what brought us back from a point where it was touch and go there for a little while. Not knowing if our community would come back.

Woods The Band continues to be a positive force in their community and are responsible for raising funds for Anchorage Children’s Home and taking part in international events such as Play Music On The Porch Day. Listen to their appearance on The St. Andrews Jezebel Podcast on April 21st wherever you get your podcasts.