The Barefoot Movement: Johnson City, Tennessee's Bluegrass Future - Rolling Stone
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The Barefoot Movement: Johnson City, Tennessee’s Bluegrass Future

The IBMA’s Momentum Award winners live up to the honor with “comfortable” music (shoes optional)

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The Barefoot Movement's members are Alex Conerly, Noah Wall, Tommy Norris and Hasee Ciaccio.

Courtesy of the Barefoot Movement

Their Sound: Acoustic music performed around one microphone, drawing on original material, traditional tunes and sometimes even a creative cover of the Blind Melon pop hit “No Rain.”

Big Break: Noah Wall and mandolinist Tommy Norris met as high school seniors with shared musical dreams. Wall moved to Johnson City to enroll in East Tennessee State University’s Bluegrass, Old Time, and Country Music Studies program, honing her skills as a fiddler and singer. Upright bass player Hasee Ciaccio joined the lineup at ETSU, followed by guitarist Alex Conerly in 2013. After years of recording their own albums and playing countless festivals, they picked up the Momentum Award from the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) in 2014.

Why We’re Listening: The Barefoot Movement take their name from a saying Wall often heard growing up in North Carolina: “Take your shoes off and stay a while!” She reasons that by performing barefoot, it’s an invitation for the audience to relax. “We ran around barefoot our whole childhood, so of course there’s a connection to nature there, but it’s mostly about being comfortable,” she adds.

Before settling on music, Wall wanted to study acting and journalism in college. That gravitation toward cinematic storytelling is evident in her songwriting. The band’s 2013 album, Figures of the Year, brought offers to perform at the famous bluegrass venue Station Inn in Nashville, the Americana Music Festival, and even Burkina Faso in West Africa. (The wife of the U.S. ambassador there is from Kentucky and wanted to book a bluegrass band for a party.) They released The High Road EP with six traditional tunes in 2014 and a live album is arriving this fall.

“You can play anything with acoustic music. And you can play anywhere,” Wall observes. “We can go play on a porch or in a library, or in a big theater or a big festival. It’s so adaptable.”

Favorite Johnson City Music Venue: “Down Home has been around since 1976 and it was created just as a listening room,” Wall says. “They are very strict about that – not in a vigilant way but it’s definitely a ‘silence your cell phones, we’re here for the music’ type of place. That’s always a haven for anybody who’s writing their own songs and wants people to listen. It’s got such an incredible history, too. All of the bluegrass people from the Seventies and beyond have played there.”

Johnson City Scoop: “It is a bit slower paced, but that’s the flavor. That’s what you go there for,” Wall says. “We had our wedding rehearsal dinner at Freiberg’s, which is a German restaurant. I adore that place! They have the best beer cheese and they have Sauerbraten that melts in your mouth. And Roan Mountain State Park is near there, and that’s a beautiful place. I always go there and see all kinds of wildlife and great views of the mountains. There’s a lot of great mountain hiking around there.”

Watch for Yourself: The Barefoot Movement filmed some of the scenes for “Second Time Around” in the quaint town square of nearby Jonesborough, Tennessee, the storytelling capital of the state.

In This Article: Barefoot Movement


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