Nashville Americana artist Amanda Shires is aware of the divisive times we’re currently living in. For this reason, she aimed to bring some light into the world with her 2018 album, To the Sunset.
“We’re facing a lot of things that are unfair and wrong right now, and we’re all inundated with bleak news,” Shires says. “There’s this dark cloud that’s over us all on the daily. I wanted to acknowledge those things, but at the same time, try to keep hope and encourage through music.”
Shires will head to Indianapolis this weekend for the first annual Holler on the Hill festival, taking place at Garfield Park on Sept. 22-23. A fest built on bringing people together, Holler on the Hill will also feature several other notable local, national, and regional performers, including St. Paul and the Broken Bones, Moon Taxi, Colter Wall, Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band, and many more.
In keeping with the spirit of community betterment, a portion of Holler on the Hill ticket proceeds will also benefit five community organizations, including the Indiana Farmers Union, Indiana Forest Alliance, Hoosier Organic Marketing Education (HOME), Garfield Park Farmers Market, and Indianapolis Parks Foundation.
Although Rolling Stone just recently named her an artist you need to know, Shires’ musical endeavors date back to her teenage years, when she could be seen playing fiddle in the Texas Playboys. “I just learned everything from them, from how to handle technical difficulties to hecklers,” says the Texas-born Shires of her time playing in Bob Wills’ former backing band. After playing in the background for a while, Shires was convinced by outlaw country legend Billy Joe Shaver to move to Nashville and pursue her own solo career.
“I was riding around with [Shaver] in his car going to a gig in Texas,” Shires recalls. “We had exhausted all the CDs that he had in his car, and he was like, ‘I heard you have this CD you’re selling at my merch table. I haven’t even seen that.’ So we put it on.”
She continues, “He was telling me that I should really consider moving to Nashville because my songs were good and I could be a songwriter. In that moment, I thought, ‘Wow. This is the most polite way I’ve ever been fired in my life.’ I didn’t take it lightly that he said it, but I also thought it was unbelievable.”
Shaver’s suggestion turned out to be a good one, as Shires is now constantly out on the road touring in support of her solo work. After moving to Nashville, she also met husband and Grammy award-winning Americana artist Jason Isbell, who now occasionally plays with Shires and vice versa.
“We’re really fortunate that we get to play music together, especially when we’re traveling together,” Isbell says. “If I’m off, I’ll go out with her, and if she’s off, she’ll come out with me.”
An accomplished songwriter in his own right, Isbell enjoyed observing Shires’ songwriting process with her latest album.
“If you come in the room, there’s going to be notes all over the wall and paper scattered everywhere,” Isbell says. “It’s really interesting to me because I don’t feel like there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. It’s nice to see how somebody else works. It really gives you insight into how different people write songs.”
After getting married, Isbell and Shires gave birth to a daughter in September 2015. As a professional musician, Shires admits there are both ups and downs that come with being a touring mother.
“I think the biggest up for being a mother is watching somebody experience life and normal things that we forget about, like how light switches work,” she says. “We all were kids, but we don’t remember those things. It’s fascinating to see reactions.”
Of course, she also wishes she could spend more time with her daughter as well. At the end of the day, though, she hopes to be setting an example with her music career.
“I keep telling myself that I’m trying to make whatever path she may take a little easier by being an example that you can do your life’s work and be a good mom. And, that your dad can be your best friend too,” she says. “I feel a lot of guilt sometimes because I’m not there. But I feel like you can’t raise a brave, strong girl if you can’t be one yourself.”