A! Magazine for the Arts

These Undowners makes their sixth appearance at BR&RR. (Photo courtesty of Evan McGurrin, Virginia Intermont College)

These Undowners makes their sixth appearance at BR&RR. (Photo courtesty of Evan McGurrin, Virginia Intermont College)

These Undowners call BR&RR premier music festival

August 28, 2013

Clay Prewitt, one of the members of These Undowners lives in Knoxville, but he's originally from Big Stone Gap, Va., and spent his years after college in the Tri-Cities.

"I started performing in 2003, playing with a bluegrass band, then as a solo act. I went from writing songs with boot-stomping and flat-footing in mind, to writing songs that were more personal. As I continued playing solo, I began to meet more and more musicians in the Tri-Cities area, and since that time, have been fortunate to play with many extremely talented musicians. In 2008, we had a pretty solid lineup that we felt great about, and that's how These Undowners was born. It actually started as The Sundowners, but after finding out that there was already a band by that name, we moved some letters around to create These Undowners."

These Undowners is a fusion of everything that Prewitt has done in the past. It lands somewhere in the middle of the bluegrass thump and the singer-songwriter lyrical approach. Blake Collins (mandolin) brings a lot of the bluegrass and old-time influence, and Steve Marshall (bass) adds a lot of funk flair. David Cate (keyboards) comes from a jazz background and adds that to the mix.

"They're all incredibly talented," Prewitt says, "and I feel lucky to get to play with them."

Prewitt's influences are the great songwriters. He is particularly influenced by John Prine, John Hartford, Todd Snider and Robert Earl Keen.

"I remember the first time I heard a John Prine song, being amazed at how he combined a clever sense of humor with a knack for simplicity," Prewitt says. "He had this beautiful way of telling a story with a colloquial voice, and his songs were always heart-felt and genuine. I thought, "That's the kind of songs I want to write.' And the more I tried to write songs like him, the more I realized that he is in a league all his own. Bob Dylan is great and all, but I'd take John Prine any day."

This year is Prewitt's eighth Rhythm and Roots Reunion festival. He played it twice with Alvaredo Jones, and this is his sixth time with These Undowners.

"Maybe I'm a little biased, but I would have to call it the premier music festival in this part of the country," Prewitt says. "It's amazing, the way it fosters a sense of community for the city of Bristol, but it has always remained true to the quality and authenticity of the music it showcases. And Leah Ross and her group have always done an incredible job of bringing in some of the best regional and national acts to headline it. I was proud to be a part of it in 2006, and I'm just as proud to be a part of it today. We have some deep musical roots in this area, and this festival is the perfect way to celebrate that."

The Undowners will play Friday, Sept. 20 at 8:15 p.m. at State Line Bar & Grille.

-- Annabelle's Curse appearing at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion