Southern Harmony

Magnolia Bayou Visits a ‘Strange Place’

By Kevin Wierzbicki.
Photography credits: On stage shot by Tiffany Anderson. Others by Linda Gossett Stroud, Linda Stroud Photography.

Life on the open road, with all its trials and tribulations for a band, led to a new album for Gulfport’s Magnolia Bayou.

Anyone with an occupation that requires a copious amount of travel will tell you that there’s a lot of weird stuff that happens out on the road. That notion especially applies to touring musicians, a bunch that spends an inordinate amount of time away from home. And while legends from long ago might portray traveling minstrels as having to face off with ogres to get from village to village, today’s performers have their own challenges.

“Once we fought off a horde of demons with the power of rock,” laughs Drew Fulton, the singer and guitarist for the Gulfport, Miss.-based band Magnolia Bayou.

Besides Fulton, Magnolia Bayou consists of lead guitarist Dylan Palmiero, drummer Cedric Feazell, and bass man Josh Estes. All of them are native Mississippians and they play blues-tinged rock that, as their official bio says, is “forged in the heart of a Mississippi swamp.” And that swamp, and all of the other places in their state that inspire music, are well-known to the foursome.

“The Mississippi Delta is full of the richest musical soil in the United States, and it is absolutely the birthplace of American music,” states Palmiero. “Obviously, the blues is a big part of rock ’n’ roll and it is in our blood. I consider Clarksdale to be sacred ground because of the history surrounding Robert Johnson as well as Muddy Waters’ first home being in Stovall Plantation on the outskirts of Clarksdale. You can really feel the energy and the vibe of the blues in that part of the state.”

The new Magnolia Bayou album is called “Strange Place” and with songs like the Southern rock of “Sleepin’ in the Doghouse” and “Hands in the Dirt,” the affection for home expressed in the honey-dripping “Sweet Magnolia” and the slide guitar romps that permeate many cuts, it’s obvious that this music is a product of the South.

“Being raised in the South means that certain songs have just followed you around your whole life,” explains Fulton. “Songs like ‘Sweet Home Alabama,’ ‘Ramblin’ Man,’ ‘The Devil Went Down to Georgia’ and ‘The Thrill is Gone.’ Southern rock and blues are just buried deep within our psyches, and it comes out in our music and playing without really even trying. We are proud of our heritage.”

“Hurricane,” one of the songs on the album, turned out to be a prescient soundtrack for the South in 2020 as the region was battered by tempest after tempest. The Lynyrd Skynyrd-recalling track features a frenzied wail of slide guitar, perhaps representing the mental anguish of awaiting some level of doom. Fortunately for the band, Gulfport escaped most of the year’s wrath.

“Every year is predicted to be the worst yet,” Fulton says. “We’ve learned not to panic too early. It’s best to prepare and watch the storm closely. Usually a day or two before arrival we will know whether we should evacuate. We’ve been lucky for the last 15 years.”

Magnolia Bayou wasn’t, however, immune to 2020’s main woe, the COVID-19 pandemic. “It completely halted touring,” Fulton laments. “We were fortunate to have “Strange Place” and a ton of other material to keep fans occupied. We also participated in weekly acoustic live streams for a while, which was a lot of fun. Our goal on the road is to mask up and to practice good hygiene and social distancing. We are taking it very seriously as we have a lot of high-risk family members at home.”

When the guys are able to get back to their full touring routine they’ll definitely hit one of their favorite places, Memphis, and Palmiero enthuses about a couple of cherished memories from the city.

“The show we played at The Bluff with Bishop Gunn in late 2019 was an absolute barn burner! Another of my favorite Memphis memories is when my girlfriend and I ate at an Indian restaurant called Mayuri. They have absolutely phenomenal cuisine,” remembers Palmiero.

When it comes to food, Fulton adds that the band is fed nicely at home, too. “Our cook is our bass player’s father, Chris. At rehearsal, he always grills Conecuh and boudin sausage. He’s done that for five years and it’s always been our band meal of choice.”

The “Strange Place” song “Tupelo” has a line “the road is a strange place,” and that’s where the album’s title comes from. And while the road may be a place to find freaks and fantasy, Fulton notes that the monster that a band might run up against may merely be a construct of logistics.

“We once drove to and from Idaho with no rest stops in between,” he says. “Thirty hours there and 30 hours back. If you want to hallucinate, that’s an option.”

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