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On the right track: Alma Russ

Alma Russ appeared as a contestant on American Idol earlier this year. Donated photo Alma Russ appeared as a contestant on American Idol earlier this year. Donated photo

Business owners aren’t just retail or hospitality-based bricks and mortar shopkeeps; often overlooked are the sole proprietors selling a service or skill that comes from within, and many of those are members of the so-called “creative class” — artists, writers, performers and the like. 

Musician Alma Russ is one of them. Originally from Florida, Russ has lived in Jackson County for five or six years now. 

“I started out with fiddle. Banjo and guitar came later. Before I played instruments, I got really into singing these old ballads where like, people die and stuff,” the 19-year-old said. “I was 8 years old, singing these ballads about people getting their heads chopped off. It was a good time.”

Russ began performing at 4-H talent shows around age 14, and played her first bar at 15. She’s now a graduate of Jackson County Early College and studies outdoor leadership and wilderness therapy at Southwestern Community College, but is clear about her priorities.

“Music is definitely what’s happening for me now,” she said. “I’m just going to continue to pursue it. I want to do a lot of things with my life, but music is definitely something I always want to be in my life for sure.”

Since last year, Russ has been working on the railroad — the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, based in Bryson City — all the live-long day, because you can’t have a steam locomotive rolling down the tracks without a fiddler. 

“It’s really fun, I’m grateful. It’s very rewarding,” she said. “I get to have fun and make people happy.”

She counts among her musical influences everyone from Bill Monroe to Led Zeppelin, and is especially a fan of “country gold” artists like Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn, but as she’s been out doing more of her own songs lately, she’s had to focus as much on being a businesswoman as being a banjo player.

“It’s nice to make a little extra, especially since I am saving for college,” she said. 

The challenges, though, for women — especially young women — in the music industry are well-known, but something Russ had to learn for herself. 

“I had to get better at business. I’ve had to learn to be more assertive and direct with people, especially when I’m booking gigs,” she said. “I find that I’m usually the only girl in shows I play. I don’t know why. I know there are a lot of women in music — I admire a lot of women in music today. It just seems like there’s not as many. You have to not be afraid to ask. I feel like sometimes in this world, we want things, but so often we’re afraid to ask.”

Even at such a young age, she’s played with Colby Deitz Band, Dogwood Winter, Through the Hills and often sits in with other bands when called upon. Russ also auditioned for American Idol last year when the show came through Savannah and even got her golden ticket to Hollywood before being sent home.

Russ has only just started her journey into the business of music, but when asked where she sees herself in 10 years, it’s apparent she’s already on the right track.

“I at least want to be making most of my living by gigging. I’d like to balance that with teaching or doing something in the outdoors,” she said, “but I’m just going to pursue music as much as I can.”

Alma Russ appeared as a contestant on American Idol earlier this year. Donated photo

Learn more

Learn more about Alma at www.almarussmusic.com or see her perform — in character, as Dolly Parton — at the Haywood County Arts Council’s “Sunday at the Opry” fundraiser at Canton’s Colonial Theater at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 11. Tickets $20 at the door, Haywood County veterans free. For more information, visit

Business owners aren’t just retail or hospitality-based bricks and mortar shopkeeps; often overlooked are the sole proprietors selling a service or skill that comes from within, and many of those are members of the so-called “creative class” — artists, writers, performers and the like. 

Musician Alma Russ is one of them. Originally from Florida, Russ has lived in Jackson County for five or six years now. 

“I started out with fiddle. Banjo and guitar came later. Before I played instruments, I got really into singing these old ballads where like, people die and stuff,” the 19-year-old said. “I was 8 years old, singing these ballads about people getting their heads chopped off. It was a good time.”

Russ began performing at 4-H talent shows around age 14, and played her first bar at 15. She’s now a graduate of Jackson County Early College and studies outdoor leadership and wilderness therapy at Southwestern Community College, but is clear about her priorities.

“Music is definitely what’s happening for me now,” she said. “I’m just going to continue to pursue it. I want to do a lot of things with my life, but music is definitely something I always want to be in my life for sure.”

Since last year, Russ has been working on the railroad — the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, based in Bryson City — all the live-long day, because you can’t have a steam locomotive rolling down the tracks without a fiddler. 

“It’s really fun, I’m grateful. It’s very rewarding,” she said. “I get to have fun and make people happy.”

She counts among her musical influences everyone from Bill Monroe to Led Zeppelin, and is especially a fan of “country gold” artists like Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn, but as she’s been out doing more of her own songs lately, she’s had to focus as much on being a businesswoman as being a banjo player.

“It’s nice to make a little extra, especially since I am saving for college,” she said. 

The challenges, though, for women — especially young women — in the music industry are well-known, but something Russ had to learn for herself. 

“I had to get better at business. I’ve had to learn to be more assertive and direct with people, especially when I’m booking gigs,” she said. “I find that I’m usually the only girl in shows I play. I don’t know why. I know there are a lot of women in music — I admire a lot of women in music today. It just seems like there’s not as many. You have to not be afraid to ask. I feel like sometimes in this world, we want things, but so often we’re afraid to ask.”

Even at such a young age, she’s played with Colby Deitz Band, Dogwood Winter, Through the Hills and often sits in with other bands when called upon. Russ also auditioned for American Idol last year when the show came through Savannah and even got her golden ticket to Hollywood before being sent home.

Russ has only just started her journey into the business of music, but when asked where she sees herself in 10 years, it’s apparent she’s already on the right track.

“I at least want to be making most of my living by gigging. I’d like to balance that with teaching or doing something in the outdoors,” she said, “but I’m just going to pursue music as much as I can.”

 

Learn more

Learn more about Alma at www.almarussmusic.com or see her perform — in character, as Dolly Parton — at the Haywood County Arts Council’s “Sunday at the Opry” fundraiser at Canton’s Colonial Theater at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 11. Tickets $20 at the door, Haywood County veterans free. For more information, visit haywoodarts.org/event/sunday-at-the-opry.

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