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Rebelle Road

Connecting the Vibrant Present & Past of California Country

 

By Nikki O'Neill - Guitar Girl Magazine

 

‘‘We need a community. We need our own festivals. We need a touring road. We need to have a place.’’

 

These are the words of Adrienne Isom, KP Hawthorn and Karen Rappaport McHugh

who make up Rebelle Road, a powerhouse entity dedicated to championing and

showcasing California country and Americana artists, especially women. They are

combining their longtime experiences in music marketing, festival production, visual

presentation and life as touring artists and record label owners. Through artist

showcases, boutique festivals, industry panels and an upcoming record label, podcast

and documentary, they’re making their presence known at Americana Fest, SXSW and

the music scene in their hometown of Los Angeles.

 

California is one of the epicenters of country music, and casual fans might know of the

50's Bakersfield sound and the 70's country rock artists coming out of Laurel Canyon.

But the twang of the sunshine state has a rich and fascinating history that goes further

back. Among its pioneers you’ll find female artists like Rose Maddox, a charismatic

singer-songwriter/fiddle player who was a leading figure of the west coast scene in the

40's. Also, Hollywood created the singing cowboy and the outfits through its movies.

 

As we meet up with Rebelle Road in LA, their passion for Cali country's colorful, eclectic

and rebellious present and past is unmistakable.

 

Rappaport McHugh: There are so many aspects of country music here. It goes way

back from the Dust Bowl roots of Oklahoma and all those Okies who ended up in

California, like Gene Autry and Woody Guthrie.

 

Hawthorne: This is the biggest agricultural state in the nation. So that bread a whole

bunch of different people, who all basically are country folk. They worked here picking

fruit, had babies and played music together as families.

 

Rappaport McHugh: You’ve got this connection—Route 66— going across. While a lot

of musicians did end up in Texas, many also came out here. They formed the Western

sound. This music used to be called “country and western”, but that sort of got

eradicated.

 

Fast forward to 2018. Now you have artists like Calico The Band, Nocona, Molly

Hanmer, Alice Wallace and many others spread out across a large state in dire need of

connected artist communities and a defined path for touring. One major part of Rebelle

Road’s mission is to fill this need.

 

Isom: We’ve played in bands forever. We’re in this thing that we’re building. So we

know what’s really wrong with it and we know what we want. There’s no defined easy

touring way to come through California. We’re trying to connect and build a community

and make a trail from here to Canada, so that people can tour the west coast.

 

Rappaport McHugh: Nashville and Texas have very strong artist communities, but

from San Diego and all the way up to Northern California, a lot of artists don’t even

know each other. So we feel a need to foster the California country and americana

community and to be a part of it, because it used to be so rich.

 

They have not been wasting time in moving towards this goal. In March of 2017,

Rebelle Road hosted an artist showcase at SXSW, and in August they threw their first

festival in LA—the “Downtown Hoedown” with 12 music acts.

 

Rappaport McHugh: At SXSW, we arranged that each one who came in would get a

gift bag. We had platters of food out. Every artist came up to us and said “I’ve never felt

so welcomed, well treated and respected.”

 

Isom: If you’re used to getting out there and playing and hustling, you know how rough

it is and you expect nothing. If somebody just treats you nice, it means everything.

 

Guitar Girl: The way your backgrounds complement each other is striking.

 

Isom: We’re all the heads of our own departments. KP is a musician, sound engineer

and producer. Karen, she’s a marketing pro and a writer. The words don’t get better.

And the art department— don’t touch it, it’s mine.

 

Rappaport McHugh: Because we work together so well, we don’t need to outsource a

lot of things that an individual artist does. When you’re alone, you have to hire a PR

person, a marketing person, a branding person, a social media person, an image

person... and so you’re spending lots of time on that, and the crafting of the art itself is

challenging enough.

 

Guitar Girl: How did you all meet and start Rebelle Road?

 

Isom: Karen hired our bands for Stagecoach Festival four years ago. Later on, I

performed at an incredible outdoor stage and thought: “I need to throw a festival out

here.” KP and I got talking about it. As artists in bands, we want to play, but you can’t

get into festivals unless you know someone. Many artists who get in are repped by CAA

and other big agencies. Nobody is getting into anything fairly ever.

 

-So in March of 2017, we scheduled a call with Karen since she has festival production

experience. She wanted to partner with us and a few weeks later, we had a meeting.

Ten or fifteen people were in the room—whoever was into this idea. We ate, drank and

wrote a big chalkboard of ideas. The next day, only three of us kept going every single

day since then.

‚Äč

Guitar Girl: Rebelle Road is not strictly for women. You have male artists at your

events.

 

Isom: I don’t want an all-women festival. I want things to be fair.

 

Rappaport McHugh: We want to work with people who want more of a level playing

field. We don’t want to say: “we’re exclusively about women” and turn the tables the

other way. We try to be gender-balanced in all the things that we do.

In September, Rebelle Road head to Americana Fest in Nashville to host a “California

Country Social.” This showcase has been Hawthorn's project for the last three years.

 

Hawthorn: I started a record label with my band partner because we could get the

publicist and distribution if we had the label in place. We teamed up with Danny

McCloskey at The Alternate Root (online magazine) since we were performing at

Americana Fest. But we also wanted to do our own event, because we were the only

band from California that got a showcase that year. So we did a California Country

Social and had a bunch of people perform on our show who didn’t get a showcase on

Americana Fest.

 

-Then we did it another year and built it bigger. The label is gone, but now with Rebelle

Road, we’re getting help from The Alternate Root, Spaceland Presents and The Grand

Ole Echo (americana showcase in LA) to promote it. We'll have a segment with a house

band playing classic California country songs, where people will get up and do one or

two songs each, including artists from Nashville.

 

Rebelle Road is also releasing their first artist on their new record label, Rebelle Road

Records, in 2019, and a documentary is in the works, but the trio can't say more about

these ventures yet. However, a podcast is coming soon...

 

Guitar Girl: Tell us about your upcoming podcast, “Stories from the Highway.”

 

Rappaport McHugh: We have a deal with a production company. KP will be the host

and she’s already been doing lots of interviews for it. It’s thematic to Rebelle Road and

the idea is to showcase artists and give them an opportunity to talk about life on the

road.

 

Guitar Girl: KP and Adrienne, is Rebelle Road a tough venture to combine with

being active artists?

 

Hawthorn: What’s really neat about it is that it’s a giving thing. We film these small

parlor events, where artists play in a living room and we have a YouTube channel

where we link all the videos. It’s fun to care about somebody else, how good they sound

and look. And then you make friends with them... they reach out when they’re on tour or

coming back into town. They’re all becoming a family to us.