Home Music 45 for Mile 7: A music fan’s recommendations for a fabulous festival

45 for Mile 7: A music fan’s recommendations for a fabulous festival


Scott Peeples, one of the Fox Valley’s most dedicated live music fans, shared his Mile of Music recommendations with Valley Review readers over six installments in recent weeks. We’ve compiled all of those recommendations here on one page for your convenience.

Hit print. Shove it into your survival kit and reference as needed when the difficult choices come to bear. 

Enjoy your Mile of Music!

Megan Slankard; Genre: Demure Alternative

Megan’s fetching stage presence, gutsy voice and deft song writing make her another veteran Mile of Music favorite. She’s a smooth guitarist but as self-effacing as she is self-assured. The song “It’s All My Fault (But I’m Not Sorry.)” sums up the paradox. Slankard is light punk pop with a folk sensibility, easy on the ears with enough raucous to nudge you off your seat. Fail to check out this San Francisco super slank at your own peril.

Jubal; Genre: Country Rock

You may be drawn to Taylor Kress’ Bob Dylan reiteration but the Jubal band groove is weepy guitars, pretty drum beats and words that send your thoughts sailing on a sea of melody. With traces of Ryan Adams at the reins, Jubal’s tender song arrangements are sublime.

Joshua Powell and the Great Train Robbery; Genre: Psychedelic Troubadour Rock

Joshua Powell, and his band, the Great Train Robbery, is dreamy hard rock with the conscience of Bono and the unbridled enthusiasm of Angus Young. With his folk roots in his back pocket, Powell is a rock and roll philosopher more informed by Tolstoy than Friday night at the pub. Case in point: The Great Train Robbery’s 2016 release, “Alyousha,” pulls its titled for the kind, sensitive character in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s “the Brothers Karamazov.” On his current album, he has a couple takes on the afterlife (“Bright Deceiver,” “Ascension”). Powell abandoned mellow a long time ago – his shows are full throttle loud – but beneath the rattle and hum are literary and current events-themed opuses that’ll send you reeling in the metaphors.

Seth Glier; Genre: Pop Provocateur

The Seth Glier sound is inspired by birds—literally. Birds peered down through the ceiling window of his loft recording studio as he recorded his 5th album, “Birds.” In a slight voice, so as not to scare off the birds, Glier ponders and laments questions of politics, justice, self-doubt and the imperfection of a perfect day. Accompanied by guitar, piano and (on record) some Beatles-like orchestrations, Glier’s tenor calls us back to Harry Nilsson or Tears for Fears at their mellow best. Then on “Water On Fire,” the Massachusetts native takes on Annie Lennox angst, ominous and animated in a fight to save the planet from humanity. Glier sings softly but is determined not to short shrift his priorities, the world and the birds that surround him.

Freddy and Francine; Genre: Americana 2019

Freddy and Francine (real life couple Lee Ferris and Bianca Caruso) mingle their rough and honey voices on a pleasing genre-jumping ride through freshly plowed but familiar musical territory. Growing up, their musical heroes included Joni Mitchell, The Rolling Stones, Lightnin’ Hopkins and Carl Perkins, whom Ferris portrayed in the touring rock musical “the Million Dollar Quartet.” But Ferris and Caruso are hell-bent on crafting their own soundscapes. The easy description is “soulful folk” but songs like “Moonless Night” and the ridiculously catchy “Brownstone Alley” spotlight their pop sensibilities as much as their vocal chemistry. While “Sweet On You” could be straight out of 1957 and “Simple Thing” has a timeless Carter Family innocence, the Freddy and Francine experience is quintessential 2019 Americana.

Heather Styka; Genre: Demure Alternative Folk

Heather Styka has cascaded through Chicago, toured coast-to-coast and released five albums of original music but her on- stage talent shines as brightly as her warm-hearted relatability. In her Tammy Wynette-style voice, she suggests, “please be kind because, you’re the kind that, I fall for.” It’s a dad at home/daughter on a first date sort of moment. “Cities of the North” — “I miss someone but it’s unclear which particular someone is worth my tears — is a love song for Chicago but also speaks to the intimate human connection we all deserve. Finally, as a national call to action, “Love Harder Than Hate” remains as relevant as ever. We can only hope Styka’s flower blooms somewhere in the White House rose garden. Wistful words of wisdom, that we need.

Sleep Study; Genre: Psychedelic Pop 

Trying to untangle the influences in the Sleep Study’s groove is a confounding proposition. 1970s’ pop rock (think the The Shoes and Electric Light Orchestra) bump up against Beatle/Byrd-esque vocals, with a touch of the Verve, Tame Impala and “I’ll Be There for You.” All that’s to say, this eight-year old Minneapolis quartet (Ryan Plewacki, Justin Hartke, Michael Gunvalson and Kai Brewster) has a really cool band here. Listen to their song, “Flower Girl.”

Andrew Leahey and the Homestead; Genre: Heartland Americana 

Mile of Music veteran Andrew Leahey channels Tom Petty with less snarl and more velvet. His vocals puncture perfectly through the Homestead’s raucous guitar bursts in tunes that reflect a storied journey from choral music to high praise in Rolling Stone Magazine. “Skyline In Central Time” solidified Leahey’s emergence as a solid rocker. His latest, “Airwaves,” features Leahey’s strongest songwriting yet, taking the Homestead a step closer to running down a dream of musical evermore.

Devon Gilfillian; Genre: Rhythm and Soul 

Musically speaking, Nashville-based artist Devon Gilfillian has verve: Al Green funk/soul on “Here and Now,” low-key dance grooves on “High” and slick guitar licks on “Troublemaker.” At the center of it all is Gilfillian’s definitive voice that draws from masters like Otis Redding and Ray Charles but stands wholly on its own. 

Lula Wiles; Genre: Traditional American Folk 

An aggravated beauty who rebuffs a marriage proposal is unlikely inspiration for a band name. Then again, Lula Wiles (a twist of The Carter Family song “Lulu Walls”) isn’t your typical Boston trio. Influenced by the seminal traditional folk band, Ellie Buckland, Isa Burke and Mali Osomsawin spread multi-layered vocals over a guitar/fiddle sweet souffle that feeds the body and the spirit. Songs like “Hometown” are sardonic but, swept up in the band’s unique symmetry, never become acerbic. On “Good American Values,” Osomsawin maligns the American myth born from Native American oppression. Even lighter songs, like “Nashville Man,” have a message worth deciphering. Their early 2019 release, “What Will We Do?” is an inspired musical provocation to society, to their listeners and to themselves. (Photo below.)

Phillip-Michael Scales; Genre: Rock ‘n Roll Soul 

Chicago singer, guitarist, songwriter and frenetic storyteller Phillip-Michael Scales mixes pop, blues, soul and folk rock to create his own space in the music scene. Scales returns for a fourth Mile appearance on the strength of great songs — “Sinner-Songwriter is his breakout EP — and charming audience interaction. At last year’s mile, standing center stage near the beginning of his show, Scales overheard someone mutter, “Who is this?” Without missing a bit, he stated, “I’m Phillip Michael Scales,” then launched into the next song. A short time later, he related a poignant conversation with a lukewarm fan earlier in the night. A few carefully chosen words transformed a casual racist comment into real human connection. In the unexpectedly sublime “Bricks,” Scales sings, “I’m just a man with too much to say.” Nope.

Cory Chisel/Adriel Denae; Genre : Americana 

Cory Chisel and Adriel Denae, a musical and real life couple, are mightily skilled as a duo but they’re equally compelling as solo artists. Each has only one (solo) show at Mile 7; those who haven’t seen them perform should push that rock off and mark your calendars. Seven years ago, Chisel joined Dave Willems in creating the Mile of Music and, subsequently, shaping Appleton into a nationally recognized love haven for Roots/Americana artists. Today, both Chisel and Denae are as known for the beautiful music they made together (“Song Bird,” “Tennessee,” “This is How It Goes/I’ve Been Accused”) as for nurturing recording artists, both local and national. Chisel’s voice is built for the Americana genre: soft enough to bring you to tears but foot stomping growley when it’s time to bring the house down on “These Four Walls.” Moreover, his pensive song lyrics over the past 14 years are as profound as they are relatable. While Denae’s delicate voice melds perfectly with Chisel’s, she is an adept song writer in her own right and packs as much soul and sorrow in her voice as Emmylou Harris. On “Lady Moses,” Denae provides a subtle tribute to every woman who’s ever dared to carve out her own path. On “Well Beyond Your Years,” Chisel and Denae sing the saddest glass-half-full song you’ll ever hear. We’d all do well to heed their advice.

Claire Kelly; Genre: Acoustic Heart Songs

Claire Kelly writes honest songs that speak to a feeling and bring joy to her audiences. With a new EP, “Don’t Quit Your Daydream” and some success in “the sync” — that’s when artists get their songs on T.V. shows and commercials – Kelly’s genial glow is winning hearts in Nashville and across the nation. At the core of her message: Well written songs that exude optimism, both in content and in delivery. Her best work may well be “The Restless and the Reckless” from 2017. “There’s a fine line between the restless and the reckless. I, try, to make sense of the mass debate. There’s no reason I should, shy away from life. That makes us come alive.”

Me Like Bees; Genre: Whirl and Crunch Indie Rock 

Me Like Bees is a taste that everyone needs to acquire. Making their fourth Mile appearance, the four men from Joplin, Missouri have put a permanent sting on Appleton, an indelible mark from a band that has become the standard for excellence at the annual festival. Every song is a masterful rock and roll gem, some jouncy and light, others dark and heavy. Lead singer Luke Scheafer is a compelling figure on stage and his short burst screams, rapid fire lyrics and clever audience connections set the tone for the whirl and crunch of the rhythm section. Come find out what the buzz is about.

Jesse Ray and the Carolina Catfish; Genre: Nimble-witted Rockabilly 

While there are only two catfish in this pond – lead whiskerfish Jesse Ray and frenetic beat-master Dingo (Brando) Hop – they wow audiences with unbridled enthusiasm and intrepid pacing. Ray provides thrashing guitar in the spirit of Chuck Berry, Gene Vincent and Brian Setzer and Elvis-on-Monster vocals. He also kills it on harmonica, steel guitar and a sneer that is nothing but charming. These are songs for the ages. Don’t miss one of the sweetest fishing holes at this year’s Mile.

Honeysuckle; Genre: Americana Folk

A rite of passage is children plucking honeysuckle blossoms to suck out the flower’s sweet tasting nectar. Holly McGarry’s warm voice, coupled with sweet harmonies and traditional instrument-picking from Benjamin Burns and Chris Bloniarz, transform that imagery into euphony. On songs like “Canary,” “Catacombs” and the mandolin-laced “Gaslight,” from their latest release, “Fire Starter,” Boston-based Honeysuckle brings modern inspiration to older roots sounds. The end result is delightful, musical nectar. (Photo below.)

Mike Main and the Branches; Genre: Indie Pop Rock 

The Branches latest, “When We Were In Love,” exemplifies the magic that five years ago brought Mike and Shannon Main together in marriage and music. With bouncy pop tricks in the style of Wild, the Head and the Heart and Mile 6 favorites The National Parks, Mike and the Branches provide danceable tunes with traditional romantic themes (“Pouring Rain,” “Live Forever” ) and more introspective concepts (“Holy Ghost,” “Endless Rain.”) The strength of the band is Main’s carefully articulated vocal delivery and the Branches’ synth-sonic interpretations. This is roses in the rain pop rock that should be flooding radio waves. It always starts with dancing in the aisles.

Ginstrings; Genre: Bluegrass 

Ginstrings dubs itself 33 strings and harmony, an apt description for wistful, pensive lyrics and perfectly synced bluegrass instrumentation. You might not remember all the words, but the melodies of fast paced songs like “Blue Cheese” and more introspective numbers (“Searching for Ann Marie”) are infectious. Dobro, bass, mandolin, guitar, fiddle and banjo weave through vocal exchanges to create some very lovely moments. The Minneapolis-quintet is bound and determined to make your soul dance and pull at your heart (gin) strings.

Genevieve Heyward; Genre: Tripping Americana

Rhyming Mona Lisa with “nice to meet ya” is as clever as Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah/do ya word play but that’s the least of Genevieve Heyward’s talents, which include Elton John-like piano playing, an ebullient stage presence and an unquenchable thirst for live performance. Few early 20-somethings have endeared themselves to Appleton audiences like Genevieve Heyward. (One other is Hannah Wicklund, who captivated the Red Lion Paper Valley Hotel Courtyard crowd on July 10.) One night she’s playing solo, the next she’s partnering with a singer songwriter or with her full band, the North. Heyward’s versatility is equaled only by her pertinacity. On the heels of her ambitious debut, “It’s Not Like Anyone’s Listening,” her latest, “The River,” takes her down unchartered Americana roads but her indestructibly beautiful voice still rises to the top. This girl is on fire. 

Michelle Mandico; Genre: Celestial Folk Pop

It’s been awhile since Michelle Mandico found her bliss on the ski hills of Colorado, but her soaring, snow-bright voice evokes visions of that grandeur. Back for an encore Mile appearance, Mandico’s lilting voice demands attention on songs like “Sister,” “Water Bearer,” and the autobiographical, “First Winter Without Colorado.” From the first note, Mandico’s voice captures your attention and holds on until the silence carries. Meanwhile, the entrancing melody plays on in your head.

Wyland; Genre: Indie 80s Rock

If the talent is there, it seems only right to make space for a high flying New Jersey rock n’ roll band. Wyland fits the bill with their bright light, big guitar, resonant vocal sound. With musical influences like U2’s “I Will Follow” and early Police, Ryan Sloan (vocals, piano and guitar) leads the quintet that has toured extensively in New York and made a splash across the pond in U2’s homeland. Check out their song, “Nowhere Now.”

Sway Wild; Genre: Folksy Roots Rock

She’s a little bit Bonnie (Raitt), he’s a little bit Jeffrey Foucault. Sway Wild, the musical vision of Mandy Fer and Dave McGraw, is an amalgam of roots, folk, popping ’70 electric guitar and a cool harmonious wale that pulls it together. There’s a wild new name but the duo has been honing its unique sound since their 2012 release, “Seed of Pine.” Sway Wild’s first record comes out this summer. While together they make a delightful musical pair, Fer’s stage-gliding smooth guitar licks are worth the price of admission.

Brother Oliver; Genre: Psychedelic Acoustic Rock

Dueling acoustic guitar and mandolin licks, infectious inflected vocals and a quirky chemistry that comes with actual brothers, Brother Oliver has sharpened its game with 250 shows in 12 months. Their sound is somewhere between Simple Minds, the Belle Weather and Be Bop Deluxe. Brother oh brother, from South Carolina (via Michigan), Stephen and Andrew Oliver. 

Nikki Morgan; Genre: Americana 

Lovers of ‘60s folk rock, clearly spoken word strings and playful acoustic guitar as an escort will appreciate Nikki Morgan’s 2019 Mile debut. Born in Greensboro, North Carolina, she’s perfected her craft the last five years in the Chicago music scene. Influences include Etta James, Johnny Cash, Nickel Creek, Dolly Parton and her childhood gospel roots. On “Everything I Am,” she struggles with self-esteem and the approval of others: “Every time I deviate I hit a wall/Why can’t I be what I want?” And her crass confession song, “Little Sunday Sessions,” shows how far she’s strayed from the church choir. Every song has a strength of its own and Morgan’s swagger is as charming as it is haughty.

Auralai; Genre: Chamber Pop 

There’s a point in every Auralai show when the music envelops you so completely that you forget where you are. “Wait For Me” sears the poignant lyric into your soul, holds it there through a perfect cello sweep and then creeps back out with lightly jangly electric guitar and a cooing scream. With her winsome smile and precision songwriting, Stephanie Tschech (pronounced Check) has taken Auralai on lovely musical escapades these last five years. Nathan Lehner completes each painted landscape with light harmonies, harmonic guitar parts and double bass. Every song takes a route of its own with Tschech creating and Lehner never just mimicking her cello parts. With two releases and a third on the way – which should include “Wait For Me” — Auralai’s local gigs have been limited since Tschech moved to Marquette, Michigan last year. But they’re back with a vengeance for the Mile of Music and several additional Fox Valley shows. Don’t deprive yourself of the intimately ethereal Auralai experience.

Ben de la Cour; Genre: Americanoir 

Cowboy Jack Clement is an unlikely musical hero but Nashville’s (via Brooklyn) Ben de la Cour isn’t your typical song and dance man either. That de la Cour holds up an obscure, old-time country singer as an influence is a small sample of his intrigue. While the former boxer and death metal guitarist seems like a guy you’d encounter in a remote corner of a dive coffee shop, the tunes themselves — “Face Down Penny,” “Uncle Boudreaux Went to Texas,” “The High Cost of Living Strange,” “Midnight In Havanna,” et al – are story-songs with an undercurrent of mystery. On electric and acoustic songs alike, De la Cour’s baratone washes through you like an old movie drenched in moral ambiguity. “Guy Clark’s Fiddle” could be at home in a spaghetti Western or the final scene of a Quintin Tarantino film. De la Cour is full of lyrical expression, vivid but not preachy; pensive but not overtly self-reverential and just as mirthful as he is noir. Ben de la Cour has reimagined a timeless genre of music for our viewing pleasure.

The Ragbirds; Genre: Fast-track Folk Rock 

The Ragbirds are the only Mile of Music act that can boast a #1 song in Japan. That was early in the Ragbirds flight plan. They’ve logged a lot of musical – and literal – miles since then but always at the center of the flock is multi-instrumentalist, singer and songwriter Erin Zindle. The vivacious leader flutters from violin to accordion and piano on the band’s slower ballads, global soundscapes and, occasional four part harmonies. Over the course of almost 15 years, several players have left the nest, but Zindle’s zest for cawing choruses has kept the Ragbirds flying high.

Girl Blue; Genre: Phrase-turning Indie Pop 

Making an encore Mile appearance, Arielle O’Keefe (plucky Girl Blue) brings her lovely lyrical bag of tricks from Long Island ready to silence a room with just voice and guitar. The closer you are, the more you’ll catch the phrases that showcase her wit in every song. A few examples:

• Serendipity’s in the details.

• Feel the soft projector of life, I’ve got home movies playing in my mind.

• I held a pair of dice and they landed on paradise.

• Reminiscing is what we left behind to get where we are now.

• You’ll never say the things you’ve never said. 

Classically trained in piano and choral music, her influences (Alanis Morissette, Ani Difranco) shed light on her crisp guitar playing and tight arrangements. Her vocals bounce off her guitar lines like rocks skipping across a deep blue sea. Arrive early to get a seat at the edge of the pier.

Birds of Chicago; Genre: Sanguine Roots Pop 

Lightly thumping rhythms sliding through complimentary vocals (and curly locks) create an eclectic roots music mix, sending the Birds of Chicago to the top of can’t miss. Canadian born Allison Russell and Midwesterner JT Nero (aka Jeremy Lindsay) share a lyrical lust for making America loving again. It takes them through the nooks and crannies of our cultural landscape, right there there in the album titles — American Flowers, Real Midnight and Love in Wartime. When the couple sings, “I’ve seen American flowers, they will bloom again,” the message is that everything isn’t broken. Trust me, these are happy songs.

Pip the Pansy; Genre: Rainbow Pop 

While the musical landscape is crowded with singers who put the party in the pop song, few combine quirkiness, attention to craft and inimitable charm as sweetly as Pip the Pansy. While she asserts “All My Friends Are Animals,” the way she shares the stage with humans is magical. With a McCartney-like ear for melody, The Atlanta-based artist has some pretty great tunes. You won’t have to come dressed like the star – as some fans are wont to do – but you’ll walk away feeling Pip-tastic about your musical choice.

Them Coulee Boys; Genre: Americana Bluegrass 

If you’re losing steam at your midday Mile, these gents from Eau Claire (aka Coulee) are the quintessential pick me up. With hypnotic vocals and inventive song writing, Soren Staff sets the stage for the crackerjack interplay of Beau, Jens, Neil and Patrick. A nicely-conceived mandolin line, jangly banjo and a hard luck story with an unlikely ending: Rub your hands together and find your muse with Them Coulee Boys at Mile 7. 

Heather Maloney; Genre: Folk Writer Song Singer

While you’ll be drawn to her arresting voice, the core of Northhampton, Massachusetts’ Heather Maloney’s greatness is the song itself. On her latest album, “Soil in the Sky,” attention to song structure likely spurred her collaboration with gifted Dawes writer Taylor Goldsmith (“We Were Together”) On “What I Don’t Know, Too,” she laments trying to squeeze the sea and the sky into one song. “There’s no way that I’ll ever know everything about you but, oh, how I love what I do. And, honey I love . . .what I don’t know, too.” These are the shows where a mere whisper from the crowd could mean missing a lyric. Don’t do it.

Volk; Genre: Countrified Rock ‘n Roll

Remember the White Stripes, that two-person band (drums and guitar) widely credited with reviving Garage Rock in the first decade of the century? Or perhaps you experienced the ferocity of the Ghost Wolves from Miles 3, 4 and 5. With a passion for song writing, Volk is more stripe than wolf but might top ‘em both for sheer entertainment value. Eleot (pronounced Elliot) Reich, drums and vocals, and Chris Lowe, electric guitar and occasional screams, describe themselves as cow punk, countrified rock and roll; simple songwriters at heart. Fringe vests, bolo ties, cowboy hats and maniacal smiles add character to the voluminous Volk show. And while songs like “Honey Bee” and “Trailer Trash Betty” probably don’t hold up to “Seven Nation Army,” you’ll admire their intensity. An about face from the old-soul singer songwriters the Fest features, this is the ultimate brain scramble. Wear your bolo.

The Artisanals; Genre: Heartland Rock

Layered guitars, brash yet dulcifying vocals and enough on-stage energy to warrant pegging them as “must see” Mile after Mile, The Artisanals put out their first full length album last fall but have been making music as a band since 2015. The Artisanals gives out a bigger purpose vibe — music for the heartland — with influences that include Southern rock, Tom Petty, Richard Ashcroft, Ryan Adams and George Harrison, the later to whom lead singer Johnny Delaware bears a passing resemblance. As an aside, every trip to Appleton, guitarist Clay Houie has a different droll trick up his sleeve. Last fall it was making scurrilous comments about his bandmates between songs. At Mile 6, he lost his sleeves completely, hamming it up half naked for the Red Lion courtyard crowd for most of the show. Check out The Artisanals song, “Angel 42.”

Tristen; Genre: Bender, What Today’s Pop Should Be

Tristen Gaspadarek, who’s pared down to just Tristen, crafts a thick guitar sound with agile vocal deliciousness in the spirit of 1990s’ Steal My Sunshine/There She Goes Again hookiness. She’s honed her song stylings with four albums and a stint touring with Jenny Lewis. On “Glass Jar,” she sings, “You put me in a glass jar and tap, tap, tap to see how I move.” After Mile 7, that glass jar should have lots of company.

Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards; Genre: Post Folk, Joan Baez’s Playbook Expounded 

Calling Cortese and her quartet of singing string players empowered women is akin to calling Serena Williams a successful tennis player. The power is in the music, the arrangements and the lyrical messages but they’re changing the world by shining bright lights on the critical nature of our well-being. The “Pace Myself” video spotlights 63 women musicians (only three that I’d heard of) from around the world in a brilliant tribute to unappreciated talent we need to welcome on in. The songs themselves range from dynamic fiddle melodies to jaunty percussion and low-hum harmonies. “I gotta pace myself, gotta rein myself in.” Chutzpah with a cause. Let the Dance Cards begin.

10 String Symphony; Genre: Acoustic-Based Roots Music

Year seven of the Mile of Music marks another milestone: the first banjo/violin duo to play the fest. Rachel Baiman (banjo) and Christian Sedelmyer (violin) create a fascinating mix of stirring instrumental melodies and delicately articulated harmonies on gems like “Oscar’s Verdict” and “I Can’t Have You Anymore.” Individually, they’ve garnered critical acclaim. Collectively — combining those 10 strings — they formulate a sui generis sound that has matured through seven years of collaboration.

Cory Williams; Genre: Acoustic Rock 

I count 36 male singer songwriters coming to Mile 7. You can’t see ‘em all but, like another Cory who got this thing started, Cory Williams stands tall. You’ll hear Dave Mathews and Peter Gabriel in his vocal intonation, but when he twists into the chorus of “Lean Against the Moon,” Williams’ song writing genius takes over.

Maudlin; Genre: Post Punk Indie Rock 

Trading crunching guitar riffs and faux angry lyrical spurts (“clammy palms sweating, inside shaking fists”) Priscilla and David Priebe’s tunes are the stuff of sweating dance halls, achy legs and you-had-to-be-there reminiscing. After 50 minutes, you’ll walk away with a knowing smirk on your face, feeling anything but maudlin.

Sunny War; Genre: Folk, Glass Half Full Blues 

Inspired by blues artists like Robert Johnson but cajoled by life experiences and an obvious love of all music (she has a punk rock side project), this former Los Angeles street busker deserves a wide audience. Her stage name, Sunny War, hints at the multiple facets of her life story and her musical genius. So much to love here: Precision finger picking in a banjo claw hammer style, a crisp but crackly singing voice that’s all her own and song structures equal parts optimistic and rebel with a cause. I’d prefer a long conversation with Sydney Ward but I eagerly await 50 minutes of musical introspection with Sunny War. 

Beth Bombara; genre: Americana 

On the strength of her new album, “Evergreen,” the St. Louis rocker is equally compelling as solo artist and full band front woman. The simple strength of the songs, the Americana smoothness in her pitch, that Mile of Music je ne sais quoi . . . we’re all glad she’s finding her way back for a 4th straight year.