When a teenage Maggie Rose first came to Nashville as an aspiring singer-songwriter, she was quickly swept up by the country music machine. She found early recognition with her 2013 debut, Cut To Impress, which featured her first Top 40 hit, “I Ain’t Your Mama”. While her early releases garnered her a modicum of fame, they didn’t capture the soul of the young woman who left Maryland looking to share her voice with the world.
“I moved to Nashville when I was a teenager and had a lot of really great opportunities offered to me,” Rose told Live For Live Music by phone, “but it was also very overwhelming. Because I had very powerful people who had been in the industry for a long time and had their idea of what kind of template we had to follow to launch a career, and it was restrictive. It didn’t give me a lot of space to explore who I was as an artist, and ask those important questions that I think all my favorite artists have asked and revisited over the years.”
Fast forward a little over a decade, and Rose is on the heels of her third album—Have A Seat, released last year—and is enjoying the status of an artist who refuses to be pigeonholed. Though she came to Nashville with country music in her heart, different styles manifested themselves to form her complex musical makeup.
“Once I got away from that formulaic approach and untangled myself from the politics of it, I felt like that’s when all the fun began,” she recalled, “because I still wanted to be in music and doing what I was doing, after my label fell apart and things didn’t pan out in that effort like we were hoping for. That was really the best thing that ever happened to me, because I realized I love soul music, and my voice is capable of going there, and I like funk elements, and all of these things are authentic to who I am. I hadn’t really been incorporating them in my music before, because I felt like I couldn’t.”
Rose will bring her experience in the margins of various genres to bear when she helps open the first-ever two-night edition of Denver Comes Alive, set to take place at Denver, CO’s Mission Ballroom on January 13th and 14th. The festival, split up into an Americana/bluegrass night and a funk/soul night, has Rose’s main set positioned alongside Yonder Mountain String Band, Kitchen Dwellers, a WinterWonderWoman superjam on the bluegrass side of the bill. While she doesn’t explicitly fall in with the roots crowd, Rose’s diverse musical style keeps everyone involved.
“Inclusive is a great word for it,” she said of the space she occupies on the stylistic spectrum. “With the Denver Comes Alive example, it’s Americana night one night and a funk night the next. I’ll be involved with both, and I won’t really alter what I’m doing because thematically one night is different from the next. That’s fun about what I’m doing with my band, is we can play the Grand Ole Opry and then play Bonnaroo, and we’re not deviating from what we would do. We’re just able to work in both places without bending ourselves into different shapes to make it work.”
Rose has maintained a foothold in the jam world circuit since a well-placed cover of Phish‘s “Shade” put her on the radars of many live music enthusiasts. The performance was part of an appearance on the Osiris Past, Present, Future, Live! podcast early on in the pandemic, and ultimately laid the foundation for Rose’s podcast, Salute the Songbird, currently in its third season.
“[Phish’s Sigma Oasis] came out and I just remember [husband/manager] Austin [Marshall] and I listening to it a lot at that time, because it was one of the few new releases that was happening,” Rose recalled of the 2020 LP. “I had started playing piano during the pandemic, just because I figured if not now, when? And that song just was a nice bright spot during the dark time, and just what it said. I love the lyrics. I love Phish, but that’s a definitely more lyric-driven song and it just really spoke to me. It felt right with the context of the interview, too, and the fact that I was trying to challenge myself with piano and find some positivity during that time.”
Maggie Rose – “Shade” (Phish) – Past, Present, Future, Live!
As with many artists, COVID lockdown proved to be a prolific period for Rose. Unlike other artists, however, she used this time to rub shoulders (virtually) with other musicians by appearing in online music festivals like Quarantine Comes Alive, viral videos by Andy Frasco, and more
“I knew Andy Frasco before, but I got to know him a lot better through that, and Turkuaz and all these bands I’ve met virtually through some of these streaming events that we would all collaborate together on,” Rose said. “It was kind of odd that a time where we couldn’t all run into each other on the road ended up becoming a time that really yielded the beginning of a relationship between me and a lot of artists that I’m now friends with because of these things.”
Stepping out from behind her computer screen once COVID sanctions lifted, Rose had an instant rapport with many of these artists. Since then, she has become one of the most sought-after special guests on the festival circuit, finally getting a chance to perform with so many of the friends she made during quarantine.
“It’s been so cool to be able to materialize these relationships that began during that time,” she said. “I sat in at Peach Fest with a ton of different artists that I met over the pandemic, like TAUK and Big Something and Daniel Donato. It’s just fun to be like, ‘Okay, now we’re actually physically on stage together, and we’re getting to do it in real life.’ … Because I will never take that for granted again. For a moment we didn’t get to do that, and now we’re all on stage sharing mics and hugging each other, and it’s just a pretty sweet opportunity.”
Those connections carried Rose to her latest venture as part of the traveling Allman Family Revival. This past fall saw Maggie team up with direct Allman Brothers Band descendants Devon Allman and Duane Betts on a cross-country tribute to the pioneering Southern rockers. Though she was on a loaded lineup that included, among many others, Luther Dickinson and Ivan Neville, Rose took center stage for the climax of the show as she delivered lead vocals on the set-closing improvisational behemoth, “Whipping Post”, honoring ABB’s legacy while also updating it for a new generation.
“I feel like we have an opportunity to keep [the Allman Brothers Band’s music] alive and to keep it fresh and update it with the perspective that we have,” she said. “Singing ‘Whipping Post’ every night, it’s definitely notable that I’m a female singing that song. … I think that there’s a power to that song. There’s a little ferocity to it, with the lyrics and just the general structure of it.”
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In the midst of the tour, Devon Allman and Maggie Rose released their take on “These Days“. Originally written by Jackson Browne when he was 16, the song has traveled through many hands, including those of the late Gregg Allman. Just like Rose herself broke away from Nashville’s country establishment, she sees Devon Allman an artist looking to forge his own identity.
“I wanted to try and do [“These Days”] with Devon, to just honor the music like his dad did and not try and recreate a song that his dad had written, because that could be daunting as the son of Gregg and also just as a musician who’s trying to carve their own path,” she said. “He was really excited about the challenge, and wanted to honor his dad in that way.”
Devon Allman isn’t the only artist Rose sees as a kindred spirit these days. While discussing her own existence in multiple genres, she also pointed to Grammy-winning bluegrass guitarist and live tour de force Billy Strings as an example of escaping classification.
“I love what he’s doing, and there’s no way that he would’ve been able to do that if he didn’t allow himself to blur the lines of all these different genres,” she said of her fellow Nashville local. “I think people are complicated and we all fall into a gray area, so artists being original will lend itself to being hard to define, I guess, from a genre standpoint, which is okay.”
The way Maggie sees it, there’s no complicated formula for striking the creative balance she has cultivated. Instead, she tries to stay committed to herself and her voice and trust that the crowds will follow.
“It gives me just faith in the audience and people in general, of just being more accepting than you think,” she said. “You can be your own brand, and people will probably like it if you’re being authentic to yourself. I think the bulls—t meter is more important than sticking to the confinements of a genre. Just be believable, and then it’s much easier to sustain too.”
Catch Maggie Rose at Denver Comes Alive 2023, taking place on Friday, January 13th and Saturday, January 14th at Denver, CO’s Mission Ballroom.
On Friday, Maggie will join a bluegrass- and Americana-focused bill featuring Yonder Mountain String Band, Kitchen Dwellers, WinterWonderWomen, and more. On Saturday, funk and soul styles will lead the way as Lettuce, The Word (featuring Robert Randolph, John Medeski, Luther Dickinson, Cody Dickinson, and Kevin Lloyd), The Main Squeeze with Pulp Friction, Super Sonic Shorties, and more take the Denver Comes Alive stage.
Check out the full lineup below. Tickets are now on sale here.