By Al Kaufman
Sure, Natalie Stovall plays the fiddle and has opened for some of the biggest names in country music, but she still has a rock and roll heart. On the cover of her new 6-song CD, Standing My Ground, whe wears a clingy Queen concert shirt and ripped jeans, and holds her fiddle like she’s a gunslinger. She plays it like one, too. She shreds like Eddie Van Halen in his heyday. Her lives shows rival the energy of Springsteen’s. The former winner of the Trix Silliest Kid contest played Grand Olde Opry at age ten and has not looked back since. She and her band are on the road for over 200 dates a year and was named the 2012 Entertainer of the Year in the readers poll for Campus Activities Magazine, the first woman to win the award in over 20 years. For a child who grew up listening to Aerosmith as much as Reba McEntire, her favorite compliment from people is when they come up to her after a show and say they don’t like country music, but they like her.
Natalie spent some time to talk about the joys and difficulties of life on the road (including when her tour bus was hit by a semi), and puts to rest any debate on who had the better solo of “Devil Went Down to Georgia,” Johnny or the Devil.
You’ve been fiddling since you were ten. When did you realize you were also a singer?
I actually started fiddling when I was 4. I auditioned for the Opryland Kid’s Club Show (at the Opryland Theme Park) when I was 10 years old. I played “Orange Blossom Special” on the fiddle, but I when I finished the judges said, “That’s great sweetie, but you have to sing to be in this show.” I told them I had never sung for anyone before, and they said that was okay and to just sing “Happy Birthday” or “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” So I sang “Happy Birthday” and got the job. I worked in that show for 4 years, and have never looked back. It didn’t take me long after being in the show to find a voice teacher and start getting really serious about singing.
Which do you like better, singing or playing the fiddle?
Ha. Asking if I like singing or playing fiddle better is like asking me which of my children I love more (if I had children, that is). I don’t really know one without the other. Playing the fiddle has gotten my foot in the door for so many opportunities, and it’s what started my musical journey. But if I woke up one day and could never sing again, I would be devastated. It would feel like losing a best friend if I could never play fiddle agin, but if I could never sing again? I can’t even imagine life without my voice.
You recorded “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” for your new CD, Standing My Ground. I always thought the Devil’s solo was better than Johnny’s. You’ve played them both now. Is Johnny’s fiddle really better?
I’ve heard people say they like the Devil’s solo better many times. But here’s how I view it; the Devil’s solo is all flash and no substance. A beginner could learn the Devil’s solo in no time, but only a real fiddler can pull of Johnny’s part. It’s got a melody that’s catchy as all get out, and it is much more difficult to play. So Johnny definitely wins in my book. Has Charlie Daniels contacted you about your version? Nope. I have never even gotten to see Charlie live. It’s a dream of mine to get to see Charlie Daniel’s play live, and if I actually got to meet him? I would be in heaven. I’ve written music with his guitar player, who is just the most awesome guy. So I get to hear a lot of stories. Someday…
You are on the road so much? Do you ever get homesick?
The road is my home. Of course I miss my family and friends, especially when there’s big events going on. But my band family is equally as much a part of me now. We have created an incredible home on the road. Even when I go home, I still live out of my suitcase. I never completely unpack. I get home, do laundry, fold it, and put it right back in my suitcase. Plus, my husband and I started my first band together 10 years ago. We are so blessed to get to be on the road together. The hardest part is not having my sweet puppy (a 6-year-old miniature pinscher), Cinnamon, on the road. I can’t wait until I am in a situation where I can have her out with me all the time.
Did the accident with the semi change your attitude about the road at all?
Getting hit head-on by a semi truck going 65 miles per hour, and all of us walking away from it with minor cuts and bruises just reaffirmed our faith and drive for what we are doing. We are so unbelievably lucky. And we feel as though we have an army of guardian angels that watch over us. If anything, the accident made me want to live this dream and appreciate each step of the way even more.
What gives you a bigger thrill, completing a song or playing live?
No one has ever asked me this before. What a great question. There really isn’t much that feels better than completing a song I’m excited about, except for getting to play it live on stage. I live to be on stage. The bigger the crowd, the more excited I get. Even when there’s not a huge crowd, I picture an arena full of people out there singing along. For the last 5 years, the number of days I’ve played shows greatly outweighs the number of days I haven’t. If we go a week without playing? We feel completely off-kilter. There’s just nothing better than playing music I love with people I love for people we love.
Natalie Stovall plays the Atlanta Room at Smith’s Olde Bar on Saturday, September 8th.