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Tuesday, 08 November 2016 21:44

Midwest Heart, Southern Blues: Nick Dittmeier & The Sawdusters roll into WNC

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Taking a seat on the old couch, my foot began to tap immediately.

The living room full of friends and soon-to-friends sat atop a frigid mountain just west of Clayton, Georgia. It was another evening hosted by the Grouse Mountain House Concerts, and standing in the middle of the space was Nick Dittmeier & The Sawdusters, headlong into a rollicking set that shook the floorboards and also the dust off any souls within earshot.

Hailing from Louisville, it’s hard to pinpoint just what The Sawdusters sound is. They’re not outlaw country, not rock-n-roll or Americana either. They’re something else, and it’s that something else that truly sets them apart from anyone else. This wild ensemble ricochets up and down the highways and back roads of Southern Appalachia and the Midwest, where legions of new fans and golden opportunities are hard earned, and usually only granted just when all seems lost. 

It’s sticky barroom floors and historic ballrooms. It’s a midnight drive through three states, all while keeping your fingers crossed the van doesn’t breakdown. It’s an empty venue one night, a packed room the next. It’s wondering if what you’re doing onstage actually matters, only to have a stranger pull you aside after a show and tell you how much your music has impacted their life, and all for the better. 

It’s chasing your dreams when all that lies in your crosshairs is the next gig, a chance within your talents to prove to the world just where you stand, and why you deserve to plant deep roots there.

Smoky Mountain News: Where do you draw inspiration from? 

Nick Dittmeier: From being observant, really. I think that’s where all art comes from in a sense. I get a lot of inspiration from my hometown and the area we’re from. It’s a unique place with a lot of history. Louisville is regarded either as the northernmost southern city or the southernmost Midwestern city. I also like to take small almost mundane things and try to make them much larger. A good example of that is our song “Rhythm of the Train.” There are a lot of trains passing through my neighborhood on the river. Most people tune those noises out or don’t ever think much about them, but there’s more to that and it facilitates way more connectivity than people give thought to. With my music, I feel I rarely try to tell people what to think. Instead, I try to hold a mirror up to a subject.

SMN: Y’all have relied on touring and live performance as a way to spread the word and the music to the masses. And yet, nowadays, most bands are turning to that touring and merchandise model to stay afloat. What do you see in the importance — and also advantages — of that model as the music industry itself is still a moving target of finding financial and creative stability?

ND: Well, it’s great because you’re constantly connecting with people who like music or creative people in general. And we’re constantly playing together, so we’re staying at a high level of comfortability. So, with that, there’s a lot of creative stability. Writing can be really hit or miss on tour because things change from day to day. Sometimes as a band we’ve assembled songs during sound check or downtime, and then other times the schedule doesn’t allow. Also, we’ve heard songs maybe flipping the dial on the radio or on a TV show and worked it out during sound check and introduced it into the set.

SMN: When you’re out there onstage, and the band is firing on all cylinders, where do you go in your head? What are you feeling and experiencing? 

ND: There so much down time during the day, driving, and a lot of hurry up and wait. So, when we finally get onstage it’s the best feeling in the world because our day can be really slow all around. When that’s happening, I’m just really grateful to be up there with the people playing with me. There are just many distractions and reasons people can have to not come out and hear music, so when you see someone at the show, you have to consider they could be doing literally a hundred other things that night. 

SMN: What are you seeing out there these days when you take a gander at the landscape of the music industry? Everything is changing so rapidly, for good or ill. Where are we at, and where are we going?

ND: I see positives all around. I think there are probably more good touring acts out now than ever. Just the city we’re based out of (Louisville), there’s stuff to do every night. I can’t say much for the entire industry, but where we are, and a lot of other bands are, is in a performance driven business. There are just so many places to play and so many festivals. We went on a two-month stretch this summer where we didn’t play indoors. There was a lot of “the sky is falling” mentality eight to ten years ago that I think we’ve outgrown. 

SMN: What has all that nonstop touring shown you about your music, your philosophy, your goals in music?

ND: That we can only focus on the things we can control. Such as, the actual band and the music itself, and being the best version of ourselves. Yes, the business is going to change — again and again. Venues are going to go out of business, people will come and go, but as long as we’re here there will be no substitution for the music being priority number one. 

SMN: What has a life immersed in music — touring, performing, creating — shown you about what it means to be a human being?

ND: It has given me a much more positive outlook on this country, and in human beings in general. The world feels smaller, but just the eastern half of America is a huge place. You meet total strangers sometimes that completely go out of their way to help you out and make your day. We have families and worries, and we need to be aware of that. As far as my band goes, no matter how chaotic things get we have to remember we are people and that’s the root of everything.


Want to go?

Nick Dittmeier & The Sawdusters will perform at 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 18, at 185 King Street in Brevard. Tickets are $12 per person and available at The Sawdusters latest album, “Midwest Heart, Southern Blues,” can be found on mainstream music services and also on their website,

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