The Old 97’s return for their third annual County Fair on April 14, and the North Texas alt-country greats aren't coming back empty-handed.
This year’s lineup for the daylong music festival is headlined by indie folk band Lord Huron. Eclectic country band The Mavericks are also on the bill, along with Valerie June, a fascinating roots music artist with songwriting skills that have impressed even Bob Dylan.
Of course, it wouldn't be a fair without a Ferris wheel, carnival games, cotton candy, and corny dogs.
June first received worldwide critical acclaim in 2013 with the release of her debut solo album, “Pushin’ Against a Stone.” After years of winning over all sorts of crowds at festivals around the globe, June has developed incredible chops as a live performer. Dylan praised her in an interview on his website, dropping her name along with such greats as Norah Jones and Amy Winehouse. Last year, she cemented her status as a singular talent with the release of her sophomore album, “The Order of Time,” and played over 100 shows on four continents.
The Tennessee native has an earthy Appalachian voice — occasionally punctuated by growls — and her lyrics display rhythmic wordplay. A versatile musician, June plays guitar, banjo, and ukulele. Her sound is a complex blend of Americana that incorporates elements of folk, blues, soul, gospel, jazz, and rock.
June’s meditative songs seem to speak from the soul and cast a spell on listeners. She says they all begin as voices in her head with different personalities.
“Each song has a different voice. I usually don’t hear the same voice twice. They have they’re own lives. They are living things, like plants or people," June says. "It’s just the gift that comes to any songwriter. Everybody’s gifted, you know. You just have to find where yours is .”
The way these voices come to her is reminiscent of her first encounters with music in a Tennessee church. As a child growing up in the small city of Humboldt, June was one of hundreds of voices singing gospel songs without any musical instruments.
“We would all just open our songbooks and start singing,” June says. “None of us really knew what we were doing. Our voices were the instruments. I learned a lot of different voices from doing that. And I guess I also learned that there are no rules.”
From there, she was influenced by the Appalachian music of her immediate surroundings. When June was a teen, she worked with her father, who was a part-time concert promoter. She would hang posters for artists like Prince and Bobby Womack and remembers how this altered her perceptions of music.
“I realized you have to make people aware of your music and invite them to come to your shows,” June says. “I had to learn to not be shy and do a little personal marketing to push my music out there.”
She was also fascinated with ’90s alternative rock in her teens. She first became interested in blues after hearing Nirvana cover of Leadbelly’s “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?”
“Years later, a friend was playing some Leadbelly songs and I realized that wasn’t a Nirvana song,” June says. “And then I heard Bill Monroe’s version. Like I said, songs are alive and they can live in many different forms. It’s crazy how powerful they are and how they can bounce between people to different time periods and genres. It’s a magical thing and they will go in any direction.”
In 2016, June was invited by one of her role models, Michelle Obama, to perform at the White House. Many of her fans believe she has feminist lyrics and June has supported March for Our Lives through social media.
But in a Rolling Stone interview last year, she seemed to indicate that politics has no place in her music. She explains that this is not quite accurate.
“We were talking about my record and then they wanted to ask me political questions,” June says. But her album was made over the course of a decade, while Presidents Bush and Obama were in office. “I can’t say that those songs have anything to do with [President] Trump. Right now I have new songs, but they probably won’t be ready to be released for years. I think it’s dangerous when you start to blur things and make everything political. I just focus on the beauty.”
But her music is still spiritual, although not necessarily religious.
“With religion sometimes you are following another person or being, versus your own path,” June says. “I was raised super religious and I feel like that was something I needed to do in order to be who I am. But you have to go with the voice you have inside. There are no real rules.”
Old 97’s County Fair
- Noon-10 p.m. Saturday, April 14
- Main Street Garden Park
- 1900 Main St.
- Downtown Dallas