By Brandon Martin
After months away from the stage, the Carolina Ignition band returned to Sportlanes with new music and a few favorites.
The band, consisting of four North Carolina natives and a bass player who hails from Ridgeway, said they didn’t just sit idly by during the pandemic shutdowns. Instead, they took the time to hone their skills and craft some new material.
“It would have been very easy to just twiddle our thumbs as we waited for all the bars to open back up, but that’s not how we roll,” said Jacob Newell, one of the original band members and keyboard extraordinaire from Madison, N.C. “It was a valuable time that we used to learn all of our new material and get some of our new members up to speed.”
The band has had various iterations throughout their tenure, but the two constants have always been Newell and lead vocalist and guitar player Wesley Bryan, from Eden, N.C.
As Bryan describes it, the band just kind of fell together following Bryan’s attempt to gain recognition for his musical talent on a popular tv show.
“I went to audition for ‘The Voice’ and I didn’t end up making it, but I decided that music was something that I wanted to do,” Bryan said. “One day, I was going through the McDonald’s drive-thru and I saw Jacob working there. I saw him during high school once at a talent show and he played the piano. I asked if he wanted to get together and make some music some time. He came over and we put up a video doing a Brad Paisley song. The rest is history as they say.”
Bryan said that the band’s name went through several changes, but he always knew that he wanted to pay homage to his roots as a southern boy.
“We went through several names, like Carolina Boys,” Bryan said. “Before we knew there was a 220 South band, we were going to do Highway 220 band, but there is just something about Carolina Ignition. Our drummer, at the time, drew up a concept for it, and we thought it looked cool. You can play off the ‘Ignition’ part and get people fired up. I’m proud of where I’m from, so I thought Carolina in the name would be alright.”
Times haven’t always been easy for the band, but their hard work is starting to show dividends, according to Bryan.
“At first when we were just getting started, it was hard to find new members,” he said. “Now that we have built a name for ourselves, we pretty much have people coming to us. We’ve auditioned a bunch of people and I hate to say it, but we are picky. You’ve got to be dedicated. We push them pretty hard. We’ve got a show every weekend, and barely get a break. We are practicing every week. It’s like a full-time job.”
The band’s newest member is Katie Griffin, a fiddler from Stoneville, N.C., who has performed in country music’s capital.
“It’s different because it’s more laid back than what I’m used to,” Griffin said. “I came from Nashville, so I played in a professional-level band and our auditions and practices were nothing to joke about. This is still intense for a local band, but I really enjoy it. Getting to know everybody has been really fun. I’ve learned to love these guys like they are my brothers because when you are in a band–traveling–you get to be really close. Everyone in the band is really sweet and we have good times,” she said.
Griffin, who has a degree in bluegrass and country, said her love for the music harkens back to some of her fondest memories as a child.
“When I was a little girl, my papa had a record player and I would sit around and dance to bluegrass in my diapers,” she said. “I grew up loving bluegrass and country, and then I went to college, got that job and just kind of fell into it after that.”
Griffin isn’t the only one who has loved music since an early age. Bryan said he’s been playing since he was eight years old, and Newell said his introduction to music came to him when he least expected it.
“When I was younger, I received a keyboard from my mom and dad for Christmas,” Newell said. “I never touched it. It sat there for about two years. That’s when I was about 10 years old. One day, I decided to bust it out. I was listening to songs and playing with the keyboard trying to learn from listening to them. The song I was trying to learn was ‘Poker Face’ by Lady Gaga. Once I learned it, I discovered I was pretty good at it and have just been at it since.”
Newell said some of his musical inspirations are Billy Powell from Lynyrd Skynyrd, Stevie Wonder and Elton John.
As a member of a country band, these inspirations were particularly interesting, especially when the other members of the band listed their inspirations.
The band’s drummer, Richard Thacker, said he enjoys bands like 5 Finger Death Punch, Nirvana, and Alice in Chains. Ridgeway native and bass player Brian Kidd said he likes to rock out to Queen, The Police and Led Zeppelin.
“I think of those groups as supergroups where every member of the band is a superior musician so that’s why their music hits me the most,” Kidd said.
Still, with all of their diverse musical interests, the band comes together at Thacker’s house in Eden to make one glorious country sound.
“We’ve been playing rock and country, but we decided to go more of a country route because that’s just where our hearts are,” Bryan said. “When we started the band it was as a country band and then, we got some folks in who had more of a rock influence, so we started playing some AC/DC and whatnot. But we decided why waste time with the cover band stuff when we can write some good country songs, and we’ve been putting out some original stuff. We are working on an album right now.”
Bryan said he is mainly in charge of the writing.
The band all agreed that their diversity is one of their biggest strengths. Three of the members are in their 20s, but two others come with a lot of expertise.
“I started playing drums when I was 18 actually,” Thacker said. “We are diverse. The bass player and I are both over 40. I’m 42 and he’s 49.” Other members “are in their 20s and they are good people. This will probably be the fifth band that I’ve played in. My friends and I would go and play at bars. We really didn’t charge anything. We just had fun playing the music. They eventually started paying us pretty good and that’s when I decided it’s something that I could do.”
Kidd credits his hometown for grooming him into the player he is today.
“I went to Martinsville Christian School in the 3rd grade, and they had an opening ceremony every day,” Kidd said. “There was this electric guitar player there and it just hit me. Plus, my grandfather used to play. Those are the main reasons that I developed my passion for music.”
It wasn’t until an unfortunate accident that Kidd finally got his hands on a nice six string, however.
“I used to want to be a professional cyclist so I would train every day constantly,” Kidd said. “I lived in Ridgeway, and I rode my bike all the way to Collinsville once. I got hit right there in front of where Pizza Hut is. I got a little money from that, and I went out and bought an electric guitar.”
Much like life interfered for Kidd, the band deals with the unexpected often, but the fire behind Carolina Ignition still burns, regardless of who is carrying the torch.
“We lost a guitar player and he was a big key to the band,” Thacker said. “He was going to school and didn’t really have a lot of time to play music anymore. It wasn’t because of the coronavirus or anything like that ,but sometimes life happens. We aren’t going to stop anybody from doing anything to improve their life. Music can always wait.”
Similarly, Newell is about to embark on his own life journey following his decision to join the Army Reserve. Bryan said that Newell will be gone for some periods of time, but he will still be around to help sell out shows in places like Sportlanes.
“This is by far one of our favorite places to play,” Thacker said of the Collinsville venue. “It’s close by and we always have a real good crowd here.”
Kidd said he also loves playing in his home county.
“I love playing at Sportlanes because of the energy of the people and getting to play locally,” he said. “I don’t particularly care where I play. It’s more about the energy of the people. That’s what makes it special.”
Griffin said that after all of these years playing, she still brings the passion to the stage with every performance.
“There’s still passion there after playing for so long,” Griffin said. “It’s a job but it’s a job that I love. If everyone on stage is in a great mood and we are all vib-ing, then it makes the music so much better because we are all into it. It’s really fun getting to work the crowd and get responses. You get goosebumps because you are the one up there playing. Growing up, I’d go to concerts and say ‘wow, that must be amazing,’ and it is.”
Sportlanes isn’t the only venue for the band. They often travel to places like Hickory, N.C., and Myrtle Beach, S.C., according to Bryan.
For Griffin, traveling is part of the overall thrill that she gets from being a member of a band.
“There are amazing opportunities to meet people and grow close to people,” she said. “When you play music with someone and you do click and you have musical chemistry, it’s the best feeling in the world because you are sharing something that most people don’t generally do. You’re sharing that with people you love and you are sharing the travel experiences too so it’s this surreal, amazing feeling. It’s a high that you can’t find anywhere else.”
To find out more about the band and their upcoming shows, visit https://www.facebook.com/CarolinaIgnition.