Radio Bristol is proud to offer a platform to local and regional artists who are often underrepresented on a national level yet deserving of that audience. In expanding upon Radio Bristol’s core mission, we are pleased to bring you our latest series – Radio Bristol Spotlight – highlighting top emerging artists in our region. Through interview and performance we will learn more about the musicians who help to make Southern Appalachia one of the richest and most unique musical landscapes in the world.
For our first installment of Radio Bristol Spotlight we caught up with prolific singer-songwriter Adam Bolt. Based in Abingdon, a beautiful historic town nestled in Southwest Virginia, Bolt has been a fixture in this region’s music scene for well over a decade. We were lucky enough to have Adam live in studio a few weeks back when he shared songs from his recent release And the Vines Grow Still. We talked over many things, including creativity during lockdown, his thoughts on the songwriting process, 1990s hip hop, and his forthcoming EP Animals in the News, Part 2, which came out in mid-June.
Arriving in a glowing turquoise windbreaker, straight from a 1991 episode of Saved By the Bell, and a t-shirt dawning a cluster of sun-ripened grapes, Bolt struck a chord as a relaxed-analytical, a country-tinged beatnik with laidback and relatable poetics. He’s a cool dude. He opened up his studio performance with the song “Trying Times,” an emotionally raw reflection of the songwriter’s experience during quarantine. Amidst the song’s straightforward sentimental lyrics, Bolt grieved the loss of his biggest musical influence, the legendary songwriter John Prine, while offering asides about Netflix subscriptions, online memes, political parties, chardonnay, and unemployment. The song pulses with an affirming tagline, “I’m feeling fine, hope you’re feeling fine,” which lifts the otherwise heavy message of the verses and offers an uncomplicated note of empathic wisdom. After the emotional performance, Bolt talked about how he was beyond distraught to hear about the passing of John Prine during the pandemic. Earlier on the day of Prine’s death, he had collected a batch of wild morel mushrooms, an Appalachian delicacy, and later cooked them up for dinner. Recalling that night, Bolt said: “The phone started buzzing [friends who knew he was a fan called with the news]…and I immediately got sick. I didn’t know at that point if it was the mushrooms…if it was total grief or COVID…I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. I got really, really sick that night, and kind of panicked.”
“Trying Times” is featured on Bolt’s latest release, And the Vines Grow Still, put out this past year. The EP title speaks to insights taken from nature, a metaphor for how grapevines must be tended after an unexpected frost kills a crop. Bolt stated: “I thought that was similar to our nation and our world, the pandemic is something we’re going to have to grow through.” Bolt joined up with Zack Edwards of Annabelle’s Curse in the studio, and together the two made a sparse, poignant recording which was live-tracked to tape on analog equipment at Bigtone Records located locally in Bristol, Virginia. Bigtone Records specializes in using vintage analog equipment and is known for making period accurate live recordings as heard on many recordings of the late 1940s and 1950s.
When not writing folk songs, Bolt grows grapes, working as a viticulturist for Abingdon Vineyards. He explained that melodies often gather in his mind while working at the vineyard and later develop into full songs. Similarly, his songwriting process is deeply linked to observations taken from the outdoors. “You’re out in nature watching little insects flying around, watching their world…and relating it to what we know as life.” Bolt shared that he prefers releasing shorter groupings of 4 or 5 songs as opposed to full-scale albums, an approach influenced by his early musical days as part of a hip hop group and an appreciation for dropping singles. Hip hop also fed an early fascination for rhyme schemes and provided fertile ground for putting together compelling verses. With ample time this past year to cultivate new songs, whether at the vineyard tending to the vines or at home brainstorming with his fiancée while lounging on the couch, Bolt has been productive amidst the grueling past year with the new EP recently released, and another one on the way.
In true Prine-ian fashion, Bolt took a 360-degree turn towards humor with the next number he performed during our on-air interview, jumping into a satirical, jaunty little ditty called “Lily Pad.” The song playfully recalls the singer’s refusal of a potential mate, relating them to a frog who “knows every swinging rope in this old swimming hole” and himself to a lily pad, a proverbial comment on relationship roles – the frog viewing him as a convenient place to land: “I’m on a bar stool, just like it was a toadstool…I won’t be your lily pad.” The imaginative tune marks Bolt’s leap into a new grouping of songs from his recent EP, which continues a theme from an earlier release, Animals in the News, put out in 2019. Bolt enlisted help from another local songwriter Logan Fritz, who acted as producer and provided his project Fritz and Co. as a backing band for the recording sessions staged at another Bristol-based studio, Classic Recording Studio.
Winding up his performance, Bolt sang “Coke for the Road,” a thoughtful ode to his grandmother who gave her family members the fizzy beverage as a sign of affection. Effortlessly authentic, the song relates a simple but provocative message about love’s relationship to action, and how a small gesture of kindness can relate to a big feeling of love.
Remember, if you are a consumer of music, you should help in supporting the artists you’re consuming. In today’s unbalanced industry, musicians (and to be frank artists of all types) need your support more than ever. Whether by simply sharing their posts, helping spread their music by word of mouth, and most importantly by purchasing music directly from the artist, anything helps.
Hope you enjoyed our first Radio Bristol Spotlight! Next month we will feature North Carolinian songwriter Shay Martin Lovette.