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