Radio Bristol is proud to offer a platform to local and regional artists, artists who are often underrepresented on a national level yet deserving of that audience. As part of Radio Bristol’s core mission, we are pleased to share our latest Radio Bristol Spotlight post. Radio Bristol Spotlight is a series highlighting top emerging artists in our region. Through interviews and performance we will learn more about the musicians who help to make Central Appalachia one of the richest and most unique musical landscapes in the world.
Singer-Songwriter Chancellor (Chance) Lawson has been turning heads with his acoustic solo originals, recently winning the Tennessee Songwriters Week Competition for the Northeast Tennessee region. Local finalists performed at The Down Home in Johnson City, Tennessee, competing for a chance to play a showcase at Nashville’s acclaimed listening room, the Bluebird Cafe .The competition was hosted at six different historical venues throughout the state, and celebrates the “foundation of the craft for which Tennessee is known – music.”
Chance Lawson at The Down Home in Johnson City, Tennessee, following his performance for Tennessee Songwriters Week Competition finals. Courtesy of Chance Lawson
Growing up in Kingsport, Tennessee, Lawson has been a staple at open mic nights and stages surrounding the Tri-Cities, performing with the collectively run indie-rock band Donnie and the Dry Heavers. This summer the musician also plans to open up a brand new venue in his hometown – the Market Street Social Club will be an inclusive space for pickers of all levels and performers of everything from music to stand-up comedy. The club will host multiple open mics weekly, as well as live performances by regional and touring artists. Recently we got to visit with Lawson in the Radio Bristol studio where he shared plans for the new space, plus some of his original tunes and off-the-cuff asides about his laid back approach to creating music.
Complete with Stetson and cowboy hat, Lawson confidently strolled into the studio and started things off with a bluegrassy original tune called “The Flood.” Fashioned together with idyllic imagery and fluid flatpicking, the song depicts a listless experience of existing – using water as a metaphor for the ebb and flow of emotion, proclaiming Lawson’s ability to remain stable and to keep “holding on” even while expressing an inner need for traveling that keeps his feet from “rooting.” Inspired by heralded Americana songwriters such as Jason Isbell and John Prine, Lawson is an astonishingly polished performer whose dues earned at countless local venues are paying off. His songs, embellished by effortless guitar playing and velvety smooth twang-tinged vocals, offer a bona fide look into the raw talent that comes from our region.
Playing on a brand new Taylor guitar that was part of the prize for winning the Tennessee Songwriters Week Competition, Lawson admitted that he was shocked when his name got called as the overall winner for the Northeast Tennessee region at The Down Home. Lawson’s flare for creating original music has been opening up major doors for the songwriter. He spoke highly about his experience playing at The Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, saying that he felt like folks there were super supportive, and he was impressed by the other songwriters such as Tyson Leamon and Jacob Rice, who made it clear why they had won for their prospective regions.
Chance Lawson at the Radio Bristol studio. © Birthplace of Country Music
Raised playing gospel music at Cross Roads United Methodist Church and taught guitar by his mother, Lawson comes from a family with deep musical roots. His grandfather was celebrated country music star Red Kirk, who made appearances on historic radio programs such as WNOX’s MidDay Merry-Go-Round, WLS’s National Barn Dance, the Louisiana Hayride, and the Grand Ole Opry. With country music and traditions running through his veins one might find it surprising that one of Lawson’s earliest and most impactful influences was The Grateful Dead. He described first hearing “Friend of the Devil” during a hazy car ride and becoming completely hooked on the sound, which to him blended the traditional bluegrass scales he grew up on with a more meandering sideways-hippie-infused sound. Becoming a “Dead Head” seems to have sparked a creative ember for Lawson who then shared a song called “Jerry and Jesus.” The song reads as a thoughtful plea for reconciliation across musical and philosophical boundaries. Lyrics such as “Let’s get along, let’s throw a party tonight…now that’s worth praying for. Let’s make mistakes, that’s how we learn anyways…Who said you can’t love Jerry and Jesus?” offer a heartfelt perspective on merging Lawson’s Tennessee roots with a broader worldview. The seemingly paradoxical inclination to meld stylistic influences from traditional music along with subjective songwriting makes Lawson’s songs a provocative and compelling listen.
While playing in the Radio Bristol studio, Lawson also performed “Happy Man,” the tune that won him the Tennessee Songwriters Week Competition. Inspired by his girlfriend, the catchy song mixes pop sensibilities by blending country twang with rhythm-and-blues vibes…think Bill Withers meets Gary Stewart. The song is refined yet maintains its authenticity. To watch a live performance of the song watch the video below, and be sure to follow Lawson’s music online via his Facebook page.
Chance Lawson performing “Happy Man,” winner of the 2022 Tennessee Songwriters Week Competition.
Ella Patrick is a Production Assistant at Radio Bristol. She also hosts Folk Yeah! on Radio Bristol and is a performing musician as Momma Molasses.