Culture // 5 min Read

SoCal Meets Nashville

Written by Molly Clancy

Apr 15, 2019

Southern California Meets Nashville in Levon The Music

The first time Levon played Palmetto Bluff, they recall tossing around pinecones the size of footballs on the lawn at Field + Fire. The second time, it was one of the hottest days of summer. They played our July summer concert and had the whole crowd (including some friends of the four-legged variety) dancing to “Love the One You’re With” by Stephen Stills. The third time was one of the coldest nights of the late fall at our 12th helping of Music to Your Mouth.

“As we were singing, we could see our breath, and our fingers were numb, but as we drank more and the crowd drank more, everybody was warming up. By the end of it we had people dancing on stage,” says lead singer, Michael David Hall. They popped a bottle of champagne to toast guitarist Ryan Holladay and his new fiancé Katelyn. He had proposed to her that weekend. They got the whole Palmetto Bluff audience to say “Congratulations Katelyn!” They got to share the moment with their families. It was a meaningful show for the band.

“All three shows we’ve had at Palmetto Bluff have been totally unique experiences, and we have a big appreciation of the community there. Everyone is so sweet and outgoing, and we’re really lucky we get to play two-hour sets where we get to do songs we’ve never played before,” says Michael.

Every show they’ve played here left them with memories that make Palmetto Bluff special for them. And every show they’ve played has left us dancing and singing along to their original songs and covers of 70s rock, country, and folk music. The style of the covers they gravitate towards has been called the “Laurel Canyon Sound,” named after a magical place in Southern California where the likes of Joni Mitchell and the Eagles got their start.

Laurel Canyon Days

Michael relayed an anecdote about how Don Henley lived above Jackson Brown in the heyday of the Lauren Canyon scene. Henley would hear the whistle of the teapot when Brown got up in the morning. Then, he’d listen to Brown work all day, his songwriting drifting up through the floor boards. Legend has it, that’s what inspired the Eagles to start writing their own music. They had been backing up Linda Ronstadt at the time. The Eagles are one of Levon’s big inspirations. When they met, they all wanted to create a band driven by three-part harmony just like Don Henley, Bernie Leadon, and Randy Meisner.

The sense of community and camaraderie of the Laurel Canyon scene is something they seek out and cultivate in their creative process as well. “It’s how we would like to look at collaborating with other artists,” says Michael. In many ways it is not dissimilar to Nashville. “Especially in the songwriter’s realm, it seems like everybody knows everybody,” adds bassist Jake Singleton. Jake and Michael met while playing in different bands. They started playing together and met Ryan almost a year later. The spirit of that age and place inspires them – a community of great musicians, artists, and songwriters who all learned from each other. “We’re a good band, and we’re surrounded by amazing people. We get to soak it up,” says Michael.

Naturally, their name had to evoke the feeling of that Laurel Canyon vibe as well. They needed something short, sweet, and not already taken. Levon is primarily a reference to Levon Helm of The Band. Or the Elton John song, “Levon.” Either and both are true. The three musicians liked the feeling of the name, even if they didn’t realize at the time how often it would be mispronounced. It’s “lee-vahn” for the record.

Learning from Legends

As they’ve gotten to meet other musicians on the road and in Nashville, they feel like they are “learning the ways of the Jedi” as Michael puts it. He doesn’t hesitate to say, “for sure, the biggest and probably our collective favorite [band to open for] has been Willie Nelson.” Ryan and Jake nod in enthusiastic agreement. “We got a chance to shake his hand and even go on stage with him and sing his gospel medley at the end of his set. …I just couldn’t feel my toes at that point,” says Jake.

In the six shows they played with Nelson, they got to witness how close his team is. Many of them have been together since the beginning, and Levon saw how important that support system is for a band. Michael talks about their closeness with reverence, “They’ve stuck together as a family through many, many decades, and that’s a big lesson for a young band like us – it’s not really going to work unless you have the right team around you.” Michael remembers Ryan had been talking with one of Willie’s guitar techs. He asked the tech his favorite part of the 41 years he’d been touring with Willie Nelson. His answer? The 42 years.

A Little Bit Country, A Little Bit Rock n’ Roll

These inspirations all contribute to their sound. Driven by harmonies and storytelling, it is a little bit rock, a little bit pop, with some country sprinkled on top, and even some Justin Timberlake-inspired beat boxing. It’s hard to label their sound, and they like it that way. Michael says, “We’ve gotten people saying ‘You’re not a real country band. You’re not this and that.’ All we need to do is be happy about ourselves. We don’t care what people call us as long as the music makes them feel something. Music is not meant to be put in a box.”

Their songs are lyrically focused, and based in personal experience that develops over time. They started writing song called “Fadeaway” on their latest album, for example, more than three years ago after they had stumbled upon a building that looked like ancient ruins while they were on tour. The song sat on some old footage for years, until they picked it back up again. It’s one of the best songs the band feels they’ve ever written.

Look for new music from Levon to be even more personal and intimate. They’re writing music about their relationships both in their lives and with the music industry. “We’ve got a lot to say that we haven’t been able to say yet encompassed in these new songs,” says Michael. We can’t wait to see what they have in store, and we hope they share it with all of us here at Palmetto Bluff.

Photography courtesy of Levon