Memphis-born musician Drew Holcomb has spent the majority of the past decade on the road. Now that the singer's fanbase has reached new heights, Holcomb decided to take everything he's learned home for his own festival's debut this summer. The 32-year-old frontman of Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors, hosted, promoted and played the inaugural Moon River Festival at the legendary Levitt Shell on June 7. The event, which Holcomb says has been a dream of his for years, attracted an audience of more than 3,000 fans and a wide array of some of Holcomb’s close friends in the industry, including Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Will Hoge, Judah and the Lion and Memphis’ own Stax Music Academy Alumni.
Holcomb, who has lived in Nashville for the past eight years, says that it only seemed right to debut his festival in his hometown. “Hosting my own music festival was always something I wanted to do,” Holcomb says. “I got started here, and this is where I cut my teeth by doing cover sets at the Brookhaven Pub, playing at open mic nights at the Flying Saucer and finally finding a home at the Hi-Tone. I’ve been doing this now for a decade and Memphis is still considered home. It was now or never, and it just made sense to do it here where it all started.”
The festival takes its name from the Academy Award-winning song, “Moon River,” which was written in 1961 by Johnny Mercer and originally performed in the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s by famed actress Audrey Hepburn. Holcomb says the song’s title was a perfect reference for the Memphis festival. “The song ‘Moon River’ is one of my favorite songs,” Holcomb says. “In fact, I sing it as a lullaby to my 18-month-old daughter. It’s about youth, and it even has a line about Huckleberry Finn, which was a favorite story of mine, being brought up on the river. Some of my earliest memories involving music happened on the river, going to Beale Street Music Festival and the Sunset Symphony. I fell in love with music on the river and since Memphis is a river town, I thought the name was appropriate.”
References to Memphis and its venues can be spotted in many of Holcomb’s songs and videos, including his single “Live Forever” off of the band’s 2011 release, “Chasing Someday,” which was featured as a promo for the series finale of the popular Fox show “House M.D.” and as a commercial preview for 2011-2012 NBA season. Holcomb says that the Bluff City, his home state of Tennessee and the South all play important roles in his songwriting. He also recognizes the storied history of the South, which he earned an undergraduate degree in at UT Knoxville, plays a major part in his acclaimed narrative style of writing. “I never made a philosophical decision to represent my geography and upbringing in my music, but, inherently, since I was raised on music of the South, it had to happen that way,” Holcomb says. “I went to school to get a degree in history and my storytelling style comes from that. Although I don’t really write any historical ballads, I certainly believe my narrative songs come from my love for history.”
Holcomb and his band have seen increased commercial success and acclaimed publicity over the past decade. His 2013 album “Good Light” peaked at 84 on Billboard’s US Top 200, impressively topping off at number five on the US Top Folk Albums. The singer-songwriter says that the band is recording their ninth studio album this summer and should make its debut early next year. Although there is no word on the name or exact release date of the upcoming album, he says that the band has been playing two of its new songs on recent tours, “Tight Rope” and “American Beauty.”
Holcomb also says that he believes the next release will follow the progression of success the past eight albums have had, adding that the Moon River Festival will continue to grow. “I think this next album will mark our career,” Holcomb says. “I think it’ll be the first step that differentiates us from someone whose been doing this for 10 years and someone who wants to make it a lifelong career.”
Moon River and Me
by Samuel Prager