Northeast Tennessee is well-known by tourists for its beautiful scenery, charming cities, rich history, and it’s flourishing live music scene. Local music in our region has made an impact in not only the smaller, local communities of the region, but also on a larger scale influencing and leading the way in worldwide music trends. Northeast Tennessee and Virginia are major staples in the development of modern country and bluegrass music; East Tennessee State University is the only 4-year university in the world to offer a comprehensive bluegrass music program. Northeast Tennessee is renowned for its undertaking and celebration of their local music scene with local festivals, concert series, and venues embracing and honoring local bands and artists. Each band has their own unique sound and personality.
One of the region’s local bands is Rhythm and The Roosevelts, a bluesy, rock band from Johnson City, TN. Their band consists of Cory Howell (vocals and guitar), Ben McCurry (lead guitar and vocals), Eric Feltman (bass), and Jake Lyon (keys and vocals). They began making music together in the Fall of 2016 and made a name for themselves across the region by performing at local clubs, coffeehouses, and concert series in the area. We sat down with them to discuss their sound, the regions local music scene, and what differentiates the environment and community of local artists in our area from those outside of the region.
Where did your members go to high school/college?
“We actually all went to different high schools. Cory went to Unicoi, Jake to Science Hill, Ben was homeschooled, Benny went to Tennessee High, and Jason went to high school in Roanoke. Four of us went to ETSU, and one of the guys ended up working and pursuing his passions out of high school.”
Where’s your favorite local place to perform?
“We honestly do love getting to play at Founders After 5! Last year was a blast, and it was fun to share our music with a bunch of both new and familiar faces. Since Founders only comes around once a year, our favorite local venue to play at the rest of the year is Capone’s. The live sound there is top notch and the atmosphere helps to feed into our energy on stage.”
Can you describe our local music scene?
“The local scene has a very cohesive vibe. For the most part, everyone seems to get a long and be supportive of each other. We see members of other bands out at our shows, or out to see other local bands. They’re out at other shows because they are invested in local music, and not just the success of their own music, and that’s really cool.”
How have you seen our local music scene adapt and change over the years?
“It seems like the local scene is starting diversifying and branch off from what’s been considered the trend. There was a point when it seemed there were a lot of bands sticking to the genres that were popular at the time, but now we’re seeing a lot more people just making the kind of music that they love. It’s great that we live in a smaller city and we’re seeing local acts playing music from hip hop, to bluegrass, to indie rock.”
Can you describe your sound?
“So, we initially started out playing and writing music that had a combined vintage and modern soul sounds, but we’ve gradually moved away from that. Now our sound has more of a bluesy, roots rock feel. We still have some bits and pieces of soul and funk mixed into our music, but overall, we’ve found our own sound as we’ve written music over the years.”
What makes your band unique?
“We embrace our imperfections, have fun, and don’t take ourselves too seriously. We forget lyrics and play wrong notes, but we laugh it off and realize that we’re playing music because we love it and because it’s a way to have fun and for our audience to have fun. Our philosophy is that people won’t remember how perfect or imperfect our show was, but they will remember whether or not we were having a good time, and if they were too.”
What region/area is the members of your band from?
“We’re all from East Tennessee (Bristol, Johnson City, Erwin), except for Jason, he’s from Roanoke.”
What’s your favorite part about living in this area?
“It’s growing and moving forward, but it’s still has a small-town feel. It’s great how downtown Johnson City is booming and getting all kinds of unique businesses and we have all these great festivals and events popping up, but we can still go almost anywhere and see a familiar face.”
What local bands have inspired or motivated you?
“A few of us grew up in the music scene downtown and have always felt a sort of connection to all kinds of local sounds. For me (Cory), I grew up attending hardcore shows down at the Hideaway in the mid-late 2000s. One local band that I always loved seeing was IROM. Their energy and passion were incredibly infectious, so seeing them live was always a blast. As of now, we love seeing Magus Vaughn play or The Kindest People. They have a ton of fun playing and it shows! Also, they are some of the nicest guys on the planet.”
Lastly, if you could spend a day doing anything in this area where would you go and what would you do?
” I (Cory) love being outdoors, hiking and camping, so I’d say being outside somehow. Walking the dog in Founders Park and then having a beer with friends at Yee-Haw or Atlantic Ale House.”