By Jenna Lazenby
In 2012, Fincastle native Erin Lunsford joined forces with fellow musicians she met in a UVA student recording group to form Erin & The Wildfire. Since then, the band has built a growing fan base in the Virginia music and festival scene by touring consistently in a three-hour radius, and playing a number of major events including Festy, Stepping Out, FloydFest, and Lockn’.
While The Wildfire has a definite bluesy feel to them, the talented quintet combines to play a range of genres from soul to funk to rock. The performances are a mix of originals interspersed with covers where they take classics like the Bee Gees, “Staying Alive,” and Stevie Wonder’s, “Sign, Sealed, Delivered,” and make it their own by changing the beat and tempo. Then there’s Lunsford’s voice. She pulls every ounce of oomph from a song and delivers it on a sultry platter of goodness to the audience.
“In the beginning, we were more folk and blues because we were exclusively playing songs that I had written solo for voice and guitar,” Lunsford commented in a recent interview. “These days, we are going for a funk, soul, rock blend and I think we’re hitting it. Our influences are broad, but we like to name Funkadelic, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Vulfpeck, Grace Potter, and The Isley Brothers.”
Watching Lunsford and her bandmates on stage you get an instant sense that they are a tight knit group who have spent many hours working together. Their connectedness shines through as they communicate timing changes with a head nod, or a key change with a glance. Songs like “Weeds or Wishes,” highlight both the impeccable timing of the Wildfire, but also the improvisation skills of guitarist Ryan Lipps, as he echoes whatever vocal gymnastic Lunsford performs.
Lunsford, who experiences synesthesia, a neurological phenomenon that mixes sensory information, says that performing is often a very intense experience.
“I see color when I’m singing, sometimes it’s painted over whatever I’m seeing (people/stage/scenery), or sometimes it’s more of a mental vision of color in my mind. I feel most alive when I’m playing music. It’s cathartic, fun, sexy, sad, blurry, and crystal clear in my mind. It’s rewarding both physically and emotionally. I feel very lucky that my passion and my talent have fallen in the same category.”
When it comes to Lunsford’s talent, there’s a lot more to it than luck. Singing and music have been a part of her life from the very beginning. Her mother, Cheryl Lunsford, a talented musician in her own right, is classically trained in voice and is a longtime guitar and bass teacher in Fincastle, Virginia.
“My mom taught me bluegrass guitar and folk singing as I was growing up. She’s so creative and encouraging, and helped me become interested in music in a very deep way. She’s still always influencing me with new artists to listen to and new tricks of the trade. She’s like me in that she’s never going to stop learning and growing with music. I guess I should say I’m like her.”
That drive and passion is what landed Lunsford on stage last month with Keller Williams and Leftover Salmon for the FloydFest Buffalo Super Jam. The jam was put together last minute when an ailing Gregg Allman had to cancel his headlining spot at the festival.
“I was at The Hill Holler stage watching The Congress play when the announcement was made that Gregg Allman had cancelled and Leftover Salmon and Keller Williams would be hosting a jam in Allman’s place. I whipped around to my bandmates and said ‘I wanna be in that jam!’ I worked every connection I had backstage until finally I tracked down the manager for Leftover Salmon and kindly asked him to let me sing on a song. He said he’d heard of me and that he’d love for me to join in. My friend Lee Kussmann frantically drove me in a Gator to my pitch-dark campsite so I could grab some clothes to perform in. Then I sat side stage with my mom until Andy Thorn, from Leftover Salmon, motioned me on stage. It was a very exciting and thrilling experience.”
As to what lies ahead for the band, they have a few more festivals on the horizon, first Front Porch Fest, followed by the GO Big Festival. They’ll also be opening a big show for Yarn on Halloween night at The Harvester Performance Center. From there, they plan to go to work on a new album.
“We are eager to release a full-length so that we can show the world a true sampling of our sound. Our singles and EPs in the past have been too short and even misleading to our style. We have some serious planning to do and need to ‘magically’ come up with the money to make a full-length album. It’s so expensive!”
If you haven’t had a chance to hear this talented group out of Charlottesville, you can find their music on iTunes, Spotify, and Amazon, or go to the WIldfire’s website and hear that sultry rendition of “Sign, Sealed, Delivered.”
Erin & The Wildfire features Erin Lunsford, (keys and vocals), Ryan Lipps, (guitar and background vocals), Matt Wood, (bass and background vocals), Nick Quillen, (drums and background vocals), Garen Dorsey, (tenor saxophone and keys).