Color Me Country draws a crowd

Color Me Country finale
As dusk fell on the Front Porch, Rissi Palmer and her Color Me Country artists had the audience cheering, clapping and dancing. Photo credit: Rissi Palmer/The Long Road

Rissi Palmer’s Color Me Country artists takeover of The Front Porch was one of the highlights of The Long Road festival. Together, they got the crowd singing, cheering, dancing and generally having a ‘damn good time’.

The following day, we caught up with Rissi and her five-strong set of female artists – Valerie Ponzio, Charly Lowry, Camille Parker, Madeline Edwards and Miko Marks – to find out what they thought of their trip across the pond and asked them to name some of their highlights.

Valerie Ponzio
Valerie Ponzio

VP: There’s a couple of highlights…when I first started playing like my Latina country song with a reggae tone beat, I told the audience ‘if your hips start moving, feel free to go with it, no judgement zone’ and I saw so many people just moving their hips. And I love that, to see people going with it…right after I finished a little girl named Molly rushed up to the stage and wanted an autograph from me and the whole band. Luckily, I think my husband caught some of the footage, l felt like such a country female star because I was like kneeling in my boots to the little girl and I was just like ‘Molly’… I saw the pictures and it was just like ‘yes’ ‘cos they captured the feeling I was feeling.

Charly Lowry

CL: My highlight didn’t necessarily come from my performance but it came from what Madeline was performing, and Rissi and Camille started doing the electric slide on one side, and then some of our friends that came with us, Brittney and Mr Wilbur, started doing it on another side, and it seemed like the whole audience reached a tipping point where most of ‘em got up and just danced.

You know, folks from here that didn’t know the electric slide were trying to learn it, and then we were just building community, it was a beautiful moment.

Camille Parker
Camille Parker

CP: The highlight of my experience here has been the opportunity to finally feel musical community from the stage, it is something you’re always looking for as a new artist. You hope that you get there, and yesterday, that was my first time. Really feeling like there was a connection there between me and the audience, all because of Rissi and I am so, so excited.

Was that a different connection to when you play a festival in the States, or have you not done something similar like this?

CP: I’ve been lucky, I’ve been on the road as an opener to some pretty cool people recently, this was my first festival ever, so thank you Rissi and thank you Long Road for that. The difference is the audience here, they wanted to hear the music, they want to feel you, to feel the lyric, they just want to connect with it – their vibe. I really got that opportunity yesterday.

Madeline Edwards
Madeline Edwards

ME: It’s been a dream of mine to play in the UK, I’m really, really heavily influenced by artists like Amy and Adele. I’ve always known that the UK had a serious appreciation for artistry and just like real music and musicians that know their craft and know how to play. I was walking out after the set and you could just see the crowd from our tiny little stage get bigger and bigger.

People would come and talk about the set or whatever, but the one thing I kept hearing over and over again was, ‘we came from another stage to come and see this’, everyone in the festival, whether it was in passing or from another stage, were like ‘have you been to the Front Porch’.

There were a lot of people and you could see that at the end, especially at Rissi’s set and she very graciously invited us all on stage with her. It was pretty packed out, I mean, like you know where the concessions are and everyone was in lawn chairs to the concessions at that point. It was so packed out and it was amazing hearing that it was making a wave in the festival. Just everywhere on every stage and it was cool to see everyone coming out for it.

So….Miko, you had a while to think about this question…(laughter)

Miko Marks
Miko Marks

MM: I had a while but I didn’t have to think long because…the highlight of the festival for me was the end when Rissi did Revival and the audience was in church mode. We were all in community church together celebrating, we were having like an exchange that was healing, powerful, and it kept getting bigger, bigger and bigger. And it just exploded at the end, so that did it, it just sealed the deal, everything was done. And that moment for me was the highlight, with everyone on stage and the audience like really cheering us on. It was a nice little bubble to be in.

A few photos from the Front Porch: photo credit Alison Dewar

Rissi, you’re the lady responsible for bringing everybody together, getting them over here and everything. How do you feel…like a very proud mother or?

RP: Yeah, it was very strong mom vibes. I felt really proud of everyone. I felt very…it’s very funny to hear everyone say ‘oh you’re responsible for this’ or ‘I’m here because of Rissi’ and that kind of thing, because what everybody did on stage is very much what they do. And like, very individual and very, unique to them, so all I did was, I got to curate like a live playlist and it’s all the stuff that I like and all the people that I like, and all the vibes that are just very different but perfect for the moment they are in.

I think overall, my favourite thing was that it happened. Cos’ we’ve been working on this, like all the really unglamorous stuff, because this part was easy. Picking out who the line-up was, was really easy. Once I decided that yes, I wanted to be female-centric, then it kind of guided who we chose, but the rehearsals, and the travel booking and trying to catch a company, like five hours ahead of you, and that kind of thing, was a lot of work. And my partner in this, Amara Hall, I couldn’t have done it without her and we just spent hours on the phone.

It was of work, tedious charts and Excel spreadsheets and things, but to see all of that work that we were doing pay off, was just like, amazing.

Rissi Palmer
Rissi Palmer

In terms of getting this together, did you approach Baylen, did he approach you?

RP: I have a fairy godmother at Apple Music Country, Kelly McCartney. Kelly is the reason why I have a show on Apple Music. She used to do a podcast and I did an interview with her and told her about Color Me Country and she introduced me to my now bosses. And so, another conversation with Kelly, I was telling her Amara and I had discussed doing a Color Me Country block party at some point.

This was at the height of covid so nobody was doing anything, there was lots of daydreaming ‘when we get out, we can all do this’ (laughter), so I had a conversation with Kelly and said ‘yeah, I’m trying to put together in my mind, how to do this block party’ and she said why don’t you talk to Baylen, he does a festival.

I had met Baylen doing interviews for different things, and so we talked and he was ‘do you want the Front Porch’ and I was like ‘sure’. I had no idea what that meant, I was like ‘we’re going to Europe and it’ll be fine’.

I didn’t think about how much it was going to cost, or people have to sleep, or people have to eat the foods, we have to have a band…so, it a lot easier said than done, but I’m glad he said yes because it was the catalyst to do all the other stuff.

The frotn Porch
The Front Porch crowd just kept getting bigger and bigger…

Have you literally come all this way just for the Front Porch?

RP: Yes, because it’s a lot of money. We need double money in order to keep everybody here, I wish we could. I’ll be honest, we had actually planned on doing a recording session tomorrow, but again finances… because this was all publicly funded. This was donation funded 100%. We got some money to play the festival, but I used that money to pay the artists and then the rest was donation funded. We needed more. What I thought we needed was not even close, we needed way more than that. So I know for next time…

Given the amazing feedback you had, where do you go from here with it. Will you bring different artists back next year – no disrespect to everyone here, we’d love to see all of you back again.

RP: I’m going to be honest, I want to talk to Baylen about a couple of different things. It would be nice to do a legacy and then newbies, so you can bring back some of the artists. Hopefully all of the others will be on world tours (cheers from everyone). I would like to bring them back and I would also like to incorporate some men. Like I actually know who I wanna bring, and so Baylen is basically going to have to give me two days next year (great laughter), basically I need more days or another stage.

There’s a lot of male artists of colour, Breland, Jimmie Allen, Kane Brown….and they seem to be much more higher profile than the women. Why is that – are the ladies not shouting loud enough?

RP: Yes, it’s funny how that works… I think it’s kind of historically been proven, and we don’t know why, but it’s been easier to sell a black man than a black woman, or a Latinx woman, or an indigenous woman.

I think it has a lot to do with the sexism that occurs at the radio level and even at the executive level, and the A&R level choosing artists. You can have a ton of white guys in hats but you can only have one or two females or whatever. It’s starting to be like all the blondes, then the brunettes…but for some reason, there’s only allowed to be one at a time for us.

It makes me happy to see the success of a Jimmie, a Kane, a Breland, and a blonde girl and all those other artists; but I would love for someone to take the time to actually sit down and really try to crack the nut, rather than making the black women conform to the white standard of beauty or the white standard of music. I would love to see them actually allow a black woman to be a black woman in whatever incarnation she wants to be.

Tiera was here in March and I saw her at a showcase with Big Machine. Do you think the big labels are finally getting round to embracing more women of colour?

RP: Well I do. The signing of Tiera was actually a very encouraging moment, I just think that the problem is, like again, you can only have one at a time. I’m speaking on some things that I know behind the scenes, but there’s just very much like…‘I’m going to choose this one, because she’s different from this one’, and it’s not so much ‘I’m just gonna sign this artist because I think it’s great’.

Is it like the quota system still exists?

RP: That’s it. Yeah, it feels a quota.

Chapel Hart
Chapel Hart were in Rissi’s inaugural Class of 2021 and were originally on the bill for The Long Road

So, Chapel Hart…(I know!! Scream and cheers erupt)…you named them in your Class of 2021.

RP: They were! And they were supposed to be here and we love them. You see them on America’s Got Talent and so you already know that would have been a really great show. Honestly, I think things would have caught on fire.

After everything that happened, throwing Chapel Hart into it, like a riot would have ensued. I’ve seen them live and like they climb things and jump on and off of the speakers, and people are dancing in the crowd, it’s like pandemonium…they are wild girls and they are really good at what they do. I am pleased for them, really glad that they got to be on America’s Got Talent, I want them to take all the money.

Can you see yourself organising a festival where it’s all artists of color?

RP: Yep, that’s one of my outside things I’m working on with some other people. I would love for it to be, once we’ve proven it in our back yard that we can take it elsewhere.

Do you think UK audiences are more receptive than US audiences?

RP: I’m going to be honest, yeah. Because a lot of the women have said it, no-one has asked them ‘why’. Everybody has just said ‘it’s good’, like ‘is it good or is it bad?’ And that’s been…you know, ‘cos people say that all the time whenever they want to deflect from the race talk, ‘well…it’s just music is good or bad’, but then like ‘don’t ask me why I’m here’.

I have found that the audiences are very polite and very receptive, and y’all actually like to listen. And not to knock American audiences, you know, I’m am American girl – I’m loud as hell – but I do notice that difference.

And with everything else going on, how do you have time for your music?

RP: That’s like the question. Normally, I say, I wake up one day and I’m like ‘I’m gonna make an album’ and it’s usually done in three months, possibly even less because I just focus all my energy on that. It’s a lot harder now, I have two children, I have the show, I have CMT, and then I have all the outside Color Me Country work I am doing, so this one has proven to take a lot more time. But yeah, finishing the album, that’s the biggest thing.

Brilliant, thank you – Rissi, and lastly, what are your aims and ambitions?

RP: World domination! I just want to finish my album, that’s my big aim for the next six months.

Thank you and we can’t wait to have you back.

RP: We wanna come back.

Color Me Country interview
Interviewing the Color Me Country artists and Rissi backstage

Having thoroughly enjoyed chatting to them all backstage, before I signed off, I asked each of the artists to share their aims and ambitions:

MM: I just wanna keep making good music, leave a legacy of the work that I really truly care about on the floor. And that’s enough. It’s real simple for me. I was given a gift, I want to share it, when I die I want God to be like ‘you did good’. Done.

ME: Kind of the same as Miko. I have a record coming out November, this is my first full length record ever. I put out a lot of stuff in the past, different genres and styles and I have produced them myself, so this one, I have taken a leap. I have lot of incredible writers and producers on this. Luke Dick is a producer; Laura Veltz is an executive writer and a producer on this; Ryan Tyndall is also a producer; Josh Moore; Ross Copperman…and so, it’s really exciting because my thing is, like I feel I have a purpose in this world.

I have been through a lot of shit and I want to share hope with people and especially now, I feel it’s been a really dark period in our life and in our current events, as they always have been. It’s never been any different, but I feel it gives me purpose to know I went through those things for a reason and to share kind of my secret, of how I got through that and give that to other people. So that’s what this record does. I feel like I’m in a period of my life where I finally know who I am, I finally know the kind of music that I want to write and produce.

Every single song on this record I wrote with these writers and I’m producing it with them and it’s something I’m really proud of. So I feel really excited to put out something that I’m just like ‘this is exactly who I am and it’s taken me this long to get there…’.

CP: I feel like the baby of the group, I’m one of the newest faces around here. I’m really excited to continue recording my first project. It’s been a lot of life, these last 15 years of songwriting and finding myself as a woman and as an American woman, as a black woman, as a person who comes from a very specific background. It’s taken me a while to get to this place where I am really happy with what I’m writing and collaborating with people in Nashville, and surrounding myself with people who really understand my sound and are not afraid to blend and bend genre lines, so you guys will be hearing a lot of that. I have a couple of TV things that’ll be coming out at the top of the year, so that’s really fun but just recording and giving y’all new music in the new year.

CL: I would like to finish writing and release my first full length debut album. I wanna breakthrough the mainstream, break into the major leagues, it may sound cliché but I wanna win a Grammy, I wanna garner a team, I just want to show native boys and girls that it can be done, be a model for them in the entertainment industry.

In the US country radio is the key to everything it seems, is it so much harder for you?

I feel like as a native woman, a woman who is indigenous in particular, I feel like we’re the invisible minority. Often in America, it’s kind of black and white and then it’s like ‘where do we fit in?’ so yeah, it’s been tough.

VP: I have an EP coming out and I just really wanna write. I want to get more opportunities with writers and write more songs. The song is key in country music so I just really looking for more of that and there’s been more opportunities and because there’s been some real cool things happening for me some more writers have been down to write, so just more of that.

And I’m working on my live show, I love music and I am very serious and passionate about making sure I can communicate what’s going on in my head to the audience and after coming to the UK and everyone being so receptive, it’s very inspiring and I just want to give the best I can and work hard on that because I do respect the live show. I respect the process, I respect the songs so I’m just looking for more of people to be willing to work with me and feel that’s me.

You can’t beat that connection with the audience can you?

Oh…it’s so good. I respect the audience and that’s why I wanna work on that and give them the best that I can. I have put in a lot of work but there’s more to do and learning, even different audiences, is awesome, even like where we are here so yeah…I hope to keep on that tangent.

Fantastic, thank you ladies.

Read more below about the artists and follow them via their websites and on social media.

Color Me Country

Rissi Palmer is a veritable musical powerhouse. Raised in a musical family that loved both country and R&B, she was offered her first publishing and label deal aged just 19, releasing her debut album in 2007 and her most recent album Revival, in 2019. Along the way, career highlights have included performing at The White House and appearing many times at the Grand Ole Opry; she has toured with artists including Taylor Swift and The Eagles; and is a familiar face on TV and in print across the US.

Known as a passionate voice for country artists of color and those who have been marginalized in mainstream country music; in August 2020, Rissi launched her own radio show Color Me Country with Rissi Palmer on Apple Music Country.

To help support up-and-coming new country artists of color, she has also created the Color Me Country Artist Grant Fund which helped raise monies for this UK trip; and in 2021 announced her inaugural Color Me Country Class of 2021 – which included both Chapel Hart and Camille. Madeline Edwards was one of the artists named in the Color Me Country Class of 2022.

Charly Lowry – from North Carolina, Charly is a proud Indigenous woman belonging to the Lumbee/Tuscarora Tribes. She is compassionate about raising awareness around issues that plague underdeveloped and underserved communities and, while achieving success as a semi-finalist on American Idol, she has maintained close ties to her Native American roots and culture. Currently spearheading her most recent project, “CHARLY”, her life experiences are guiding her in a music career that is focused upon increasing Indigenous visibility on a global scale; revitalizing and preserving culture, whilst exploring genres of world, soul, country, folk, blues, rock, and roots music.

Madeline Edwards – raised in Texas and now living in Nashville, Madeline is a singer/songwriter who has transcended musical boundaries, incorporating her jazz, soul, gospel and country influences into her unique sound. Already listed as a Hot Country Spotify Artist to Watch 2022 and featured in the CMT Next Women of Country class of 2022, she is currently working on her debut album. Madeline has performed on Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Tribute Record with The Highwomen and her latest single, “The Road” garnered over 1 million streams. Madeline made her national television debut at the 2021 CMA Awards, where she sang with CMA nominee Mickey G and Brittney Spencer.

Miko Marks – it was 14 years between the release of Miko’s sophomore album It Feels Good in 2007 and her 2021 album Our Country, during which time she left Nashville and headed to California to start anew. Performing with her backing band, The Resurrectors, her music blends soul, blues and folk, while remaining rooted in country. This autumn will see the launch of her next album Feel Like Going Home, the highly-anticipated title track of which was released in March this year. In January 2022, Marks was named to CMT’s “Next Women of Country” class of 2022.

Valerie Ponzio – is currently living in Nashville, where she writes, records, and performs country/Americana music that reflects her Mexican-American roots and her musically immersed upbringing. She appeared on NBC’s ‘The Voice’ and used the experience as the springboard to a career as a professional singer. Her latest single, Just a Bordertown, came out in August this year.

Camille Parker – the North Carolina native released her debut single “The Flame” on a whim and was met with overwhelmingly positive reception, amassing over one million on-demand streams. As well as featuring in Rissi’s Class of 2021, Camille has earned recognition from Grammy-nominated singer Mickey Guyton, and country icons Shania Twain and Brandi Carlile to name a few.

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