On Tues., Nov. 13, in the Ronald and Lynda Nutt Theatre at the CCA, Scott Miller and accompanying fiddler Rayna Gellert performed as the final act of this year’s Appalachian Lecture Series at Maryville College. At 7 p.m., assistant professor of writing/communication at MC Kim Trevathan provided an introduction before Miller walked onstage dressed in bright orange pants and a suit jacket. His first song was “Lo Siento, Spanishburg, WVA,” which, though played out as a soothing melody, contained the chilling story of the people born and suffering in a small town in West Virginia.
The performance was tied together through the Appalachian connections of his songs, including a song about the life and work of Sam Houston,, a nineteenth century politician and soldier, and another about growing up next to a graveyard in Virginia. The haunting lyrics of his song “The Rain” spoke of Civil War soldiers: “Well, you can rest and wait for night boys/ but keep your powder dry/ or the rain will take your life.” The wailing fiddle and the strum of guitar swept audiences into a ride of country and rock melodies, and Miller’s harmonica led to scattered rhythmic clapping throughout the audience. Miller occasionally paused to ask his fans, “Are you still with me?”
He was always answered by cheers and whistles. The singer-songwriter and his fiddle- playing companion previously toured Texas, where they performed tracks primarily from their new EP, “CoDependents.” However, at their MC performance, the duo was asked to perform songs that contained references to Virginia, the Civil War and Appalachia as a whole. Songs, such as “Amtrak Crescent” and “Virginia Way,” portrayed the more serious aspects of Miller’s skill as a musical artist, while “I Made a Mess of this Town” and “I Will Let You Down” highlighted Miller’s classic taste for lighthearted, yet slightly depressing, song content. “I think part of the Appalachia is being depressed,” Miller said.
Though Miller kept the mood onstage lighthearted with jokes and stories about growing up, by the time his musical performance was over, fans had more somber questions for the artist. Miller discussed his achievement of two years of sobriety and his methods for writing songs and finding inspiration onstage.
“When you tour like I do and have what I like to call a ‘top of the middle’ career, you have to write songs that you can sing every night and that people can connect with,” Miller said. “So, every song is an attempt.” Miller is familiar with the Blount County, having lived in Louisville, Tenn., for two years in the late 1990s. He frequently performs at “The Shed” at Smoky Mountain Harley- Davidson in Maryville, and has many friends and family that live in the area. “When I was asked to be a part of the Appalachian Writer’s Conference, I was excited to do it,” Miller said. “And honored.” Miller’s background in history and Russian literature was illustrated in his question and answer session with the audience.
He cited Dostoevsky as his favorite author and “dry, historical stuff ” as his favorite literary genre. Miller’s upbeat and optimistic personality showed as he closed the evening with the song, “Can’t Shake Knoxville.”