One thing that stands out about indie folk rock band Dawson Hollow, who will take the stage at the Shipyard Music Festival Friday, September 27, is their roots. They know where they come from, and they sound like home.
The members of the band are all siblings and grew up taking music lessons, traveling and playing music together with their parents at bluegrass music festivals. Although they’ve been playing together for 18 years, three years ago, the five siblings decided to transition into creating and playing their own original music and formed the indie rock band Dawson Hollow. The name is a nod to their home of Dawson, Missouri, a community in south central Missouri where they can trace their ancestry back for six to seven generations. When they were younger, they lived in Dawson for four years, in a house that sat in a hollow; thus, their band’s name.
“A lot of our grandparents and great grandparents and great great great grandparents were musicians, and so we never ever want to forget where we came from,” Dawson Hollow multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Rachel Starnes says.
Their original music is a blend of the stringed instruments and bluegrass, folk and Celtic music they grew up listening to, mixed with the genres of music they discovered a few years ago. Each member of the band influences the songs they create: frontman Ben Link brings lyrics and chord structures to songwriting sessions and fiddle player Kyle Link and drummer Aaron Link feed off of that for melody lines. Once they have a structure or outline of the song, Rachel and bassist John Link add different rhythms and instrumentations to the song. Then, the band revisits the lyrics to make sure they fit what they’ve created.
Dawson Hollow’s set is a show you’ll want to bring your bandana to: it’s something their fans have begun wearing to show their support for the band. The bandanas are a sign of love that comes from the cover of Dawson Hollow’s first album; on it is a picture of their grandfather as a little boy wearing a bandana in Dawson, Missouri. Once, at a show in their hometown, the band came out wearing bandanas; after they saw the shock value from the audience, they began integrating this element into their performances for fun. Rachel describes it as “a growing thing.”
In everything they do, family is of utmost importance to Dawson Hollow. While working together presents both its joys and challenges, the band draws from attitudes their parents taught them to overcome adversity.
“Something our parents instilled in us and that really we’ve adopted as our own motto is to bring goodwill to the table. So I want my fellow bandmates to win, which helps me win,” Rachel says. “Our mom has always told us a great thing to say is, ‘You know what? Let’s just start over.’ And we have to do that with each other. So when things get intense, we learn to take a step back, bring that goodwill back into the room and start over and work it out, and we’ve learned how to be better at communicating and listening and working on problems with each other.”
Although working with her siblings can sometimes pose its challenges, Rachel says it also strengthens their band and that there is comfort in it.
“Learning through working with your family is a whole level of complexity, but it also is a peaceful thing because, at the end of the day, I know my family has my back,” Rachel says. “That just adds an extra layer of bond between our dynamic.”
It’s a dynamic in which each individual contributes uniquely to make up the whole: with 11 to 12 instruments onstage, each member brings something different to the band both musically and behind the scenes. Rachel does much of the planning and organizational details for the band; Kyle handles the tech and equipment side of things; Aaron makes music videos, edits music and works on recording; Ben works on developing their shows and writing songs; and John creates the art for the band. It’s an arrangement that allows each member to pursue their individual interests and talents.
Much of the band’s inspiration comes from the Ozark Mountains of their home in Southwest Missouri. Rachel says the “earthy tones and earthy vibes” of rural Missouri can be heard throughout their music; the band often writes outside or goes outside when they are “stumped” about how to move forward with a song.
“[We] breathe the fresh air, stand in the trees, really just try to take from [nature],” Rachel says. “We love going hiking and getting outside to help generate. Especially if we’re feeling dry creatively, getting outside is just usually the key. And we love our Ozark Mountains.”
Musically, the band is inspired by the Avett Brothers, Foster the People and John Mayer, to name a few. And they are especially excited to be playing Shipyard Music Festival with Colony House whom they “listen to all the time” and Liz Cooper, whom they saw open for Lord Huron recently and “fell in love with.”
The band has recorded two new singles they’re looking forward to releasing this fall and are recording another single this month. In 2020, they’ll be releasing their next full-length album. They recently began working with a booking agency and will be playing college showcases this fall, as well; within the next couple of years, Rachel says they will be playing at a lot of colleges, which she is excited about as new doors open. In regards to the Shipyard Music Festival, the band is looking forward to playing with bands who are “some of their heroes” and being in Southeast Missouri where they have many family members and friends. Their father grew up in Fredericktown, Missouri, and Rachel says they are excited to get to play on this side of the state where their grandparents live and their dad was raised.
“I personally am looking forward to the festival vibe,” Rachel says. “People are there for the music. And those are my favorite people to play for.”