April 20, 2020

Charlie Muncaster and Gary Stanton, better known as Muscadine Bloodline, take on the Wild West of the music business.

As far as performance venues go, there’s a world of difference between the genteel stage at Music to Your Mouth and the sawdust-on-the-floor honky-tonks that Muscadine Bloodline usually calls home. With names like The Blind Horse Saloon, Knuckleheads, and Coyote Joe’s, these are the beer- and tobacco-scented music halls where country music’s legacy of hard living still thrives. It’s among these rough-and-tumble joints that Charlie Muncaster and Gary Stanton are putting their own stamp on country.

There may be a world of difference between these stages, but for these good old boys from Alabama, it’s just another crowd looking for a good time.

“It’s definitely not something we’re used to doing,” Charlie said. “But they were a rowdy crowd.”

“They enjoyed having us, and the food was incredible,” Gary added. “I like playing in a place where people don’t know who we are. It lets us see if we can catch an ear. Lets us see if the average Joe would be able to get down with what we’re doing, instead of showing up at place where 500 people are there just to see your show. It’s kind of cool to watch people and jam and see what they’re feeling.”

The pair opened for the surprise main act, Daughtry. It was a return to form for a band that has only recently made the leap from opening act to headliner. Formed just four years ago, Muscadine Bloodline occupies that space in the trajectory toward fame where stardom seems just around the corner. With their rabid fan base, viral videos, and growing spot in country radio rotations, you are running out of time to be able to say you saw them before they blew up.

For the time being, though, they are a band on the cusp, still driven to tour relentlessly and build their legacy.

Music to Your Mouth was one of many stops for Muscadine Bloodline, launching a swing through the Carolinas before winging their way up to the border territories and into the Midwest. But that’s just the nature of the beast when you’re a young country music act trying to make a name for yourself. In country music especially, putting in the hours on stage at the honky-tonks is just as important as keeping your Instagram feed current in the era of streaming services and social media likes.

“It’s kind of the Wild West—there’s really no right way to do these things,” Gary said. “What we’ve learned is if you put out music and you’re active on social and respond and go play shows, they’ll keep coming back. . . . We’ve found fans as far away as Australia. It’s amazing to see the analytics.”

“It’s kind of funny. Every year, there comes a new platform you have to learn and stay on top of to stay relevant,” Charlie said. The payoff for all of this hard work—touring, liking, and sharing—comes in the form of a deeply dedicated fan base. One need only look at a recent post on the band’s Instagram page to see that—an entire photo gallery of tattoos from fans who have inked the band’s lyrics into their skin.

“It’s surreal. It’s something in a million years you’d never dream of,” Charlie said. “Just the fact that you can impact someone so heavily, that your music moved them enough to tattoo it on their body. . . .”

“Some of the tattoo placements were definitely interesting,” Gary added with a laugh. “We had a couple people who had our autographs tattooed on them.”

It’s been a long road for Muscadine Bloodline. While they celebrate four years together as a band this year, their story together goes back to their roots in Mobile, Alabama, where they went to separate high schools and only knew of each other by reputation. “We didn’t cross paths. Mobile’s not a huge town, but it’s big enough that you don’t meet everybody. We’d heard of each other, but we never met up,” Gary said.

In fact, but for one moment of serendipity, these two guys from the same town may not have ever crossed paths, had Charlie not needed an opening act. He’d gone off to school at Auburn, and his band was playing a hometown show without a warm-up. Through mutual friends, he tapped Gary, and the rest is history. “We just said, ‘Let’s give this a try,’ and four years later, we haven’t looked back,” Gary said.

Their move from Alabama to Nashville served as the christening for a band that embraces a kind of sound that many thought was gone for good. Country music is in an odd place right now in terms of its identity. Its biggest stars like Chris Stapleton and Kane Brown have enjoyed huge collaborations with the likes of pop icon Justin Timberlake and electronic artist Marshmallow.

In artist bios, you’re less likely to see cowboy hats than you are to see designer sunglasses. Perhaps strangest of all, this past year saw Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor win his first country music award for his work on “Old Town Road,” a country song with as much pop appeal as anything MTV ever played.

Contrasted with this watering down of the genre, Muscadine Bloodline is a refreshing blast of 90s country. To listen to their music is to be reminded of what first pulled country music out of the dive bars and into the spotlight—odes to lost loves and lost pickup trucks, ballads about dirt roads, and even tongue-in-cheek love letters to the enduring wonders of duct tape and WD-40. There’s an authenticity behind their lyrics, a product of their energy together as songwriters.

When asked what their typical process was, Gary put it simply: there isn’t one. “There’s no rhyme or reason to how it finishes. It could be where Charlie has lyrics, and I have a riff. It could be we start from square one. Sometimes when you come up with an idea, the final product will be something completely different.”

“It’s really experimenting all the time,” Charlie said. Although he’ll admit the results are sometimes mixed. “You gotta write a lot of crappy songs to get to the good ones.”

That said, the band nailed its closer right out of the gate. The first song that Charlie and Gary wrote as a band, “Ginny,” still closes every show. That’s as true in the honky-tonks of backwoods America as it is on stage at Music to Your Mouth.

Written by Barry Kaufman. Photography by Bonjwing Lee and courtesy of Muscadine Bloodline.

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