Author: Courtney Hampson | Photographer: Photography by Anne
ON THE ROAD SOMEWHERE BETWEEN FLORENCE AND MYRTLE BEACH SITS AN OLD, RUNDOWN MOTEL. A DINER-ESQUE SIGN FLASHES ITS NAME-“MIDWAY”-IN BLUE.
That sign defines the character of the country cool quintet, Midway Blue. It was lead singer Warren Stone who named the band while traversing the state headed to a gig. He was halfway to his destination when he paused for a minute and said, “Wait, we don’t even have a name.” His wife looked out the car window and pointed to the Midway sign. The rest is history.
I caught up with Stone as he was, once again, in the car, negotiating a state highway—his manager talking in one ear, and me in the other. Stone wouldn’t have it any other way. He acknowledges that sometimes flying by the seat of your pants is the best way to arrive at your destination. In fact, he does it each night on stage noting, “Every night we make up lyrics.” It seems the lyrics don’t always come to him when he needs them. “Sometimes on stage I just get sidetracked; I get caught up in the drummer’s energy or someone else bopping around. Heck, sometimes I even forget the lyrics to songs I wrote,” Stone admitted. He is nothing, if not honest.
But, his band mates know him well enough to know that when he turns to them with that questioning look, he is searching for the next line. They nod, feed it to him, and the band plays on.
The band is often in sync like that, more so that you would expect since the five of them have been playing together for a mere two years. But sometimes things just click.
Rufus Weaver – DEPUTY #1
Stone believes that. In fact, his father has been telling him that for years: “Life is 110 percent luck; its being in the right place at the right time.” And that is really how Midways Blue’s story unfolded five years ago when Stone walked into Shuckers Grill and Raw Bar (where they are now the house band) and was mesmerized by the “kid” on the drums.
That kid was Parker Dewitt, then just 17 years old. The two hit it off immediately and eventually combined sounds with guitarist Tyler Roberts to form the trio “Stone and Friends.” In 2008, the three decided to cut a full length album as Midway Blue. In search of a new sound to add a little edge, they invited bassist Liv McBride and mandolin player Jeff Springs into the studio. They gritted their teeth and hoped for a little magic. They got it. Their self-titled inaugural album debuted last November.
Stone says it is also luck that landed them on “Fast Track to Fame,” which he likened to American Idol for NASCAR fans. Hosted by the Speed Channel, “Fast Track to Fame” was staged at eight racetracks around the country. 10,000 bands submitted audition tapes. Midway Blue quickly advanced and was dubbed “the band to beat.” Their 90-second final performance, a stellar rendition of the Marshall Tucker Band’s “Can You See,” made them the band that no one could beat, and they emerged the winner. I don’t know if this was pure luck, and chances are if you listen to them play, you might agree. There is a heck of a lot of talent in this band. And twice as much mutual respect.
To hear Stone talk about his band mates, it appears almost too good to be true. They all grew up in and around Florence, SC. They are small town boys. They love each other. They are a family. And like in any family, they each have a role to play. As the oldest member, at a whopping 29, Stone sees himself as the papa bear, always on the move, handling the business of being a band.
When asked, Stone was more than happy to offer a little insight to his band of brothers. Tyler Roberts … “Well he is the class clown,” and Stone admits it is actually difficult to describe Roberts with just words. If Stone is the hare, then Parker Dewitt is the tortoise—contemplative, he takes his time, with his music and with his thoughts. Liv McBride is the opinionated one. “You’ll never have to guess what he is thinking,” said Stone. And finally, he says Jeff Springs is “pure musical genius.”
You might get a better of understanding of just who Warren Stone is by watching him on stage. He plays every show with a lit cigarette in his mouth. Yes, he is the lead singer and yes, he’s swallowed a cig or two over the course of his short career. And with a smirk he’ll tell you that, “I have worked very hard to be able to do both in tandem.”
In a recent appearance on WHHI’s Talk of the Town, the Midway Blue compatriots were dubbed “good old country boys.” But what exactly does that mean? According to this five-some it means they like to drive big trucks, wear plaid shirts, sit on a tailgate, drink beer and talk about good times… and they are proud of it. Frankly, they don’t care if you disagree.
They put 110 percent into each lyric, each recording session, and each live show. They keep pushing, because they can’t stop. Music is in their blood, coursing through their veins; it’s a passion, an addiction. “It doesn’t matter if we are playing for one person or 1,000, someone is listening to us and that is a real good feeling,” Stone said.
The nerves are still there each time they get up to perform says Stone. And before each show you can usually find him puking in a bucket somewhere. Really. But, that’s alright, because according to his mentor, the late Bill Pinkney of the Drifters (also a South Carolina boy), “The day you get up and you’re not nervous, quit. Put your guitar in its case and the case in the closet. Find something else to do.”
For now, they do it for the love of the music. They do it for their fans, “the best fans.” And they do it to pay homage to the small South Carolina towns where they come from.
Stone sums it up best: “I was country before country was cool. I was plaid before plaid was cool. I’ll never outgrow my roots.”
(ROW 1: Warren Stone, Jeff Springs, Parker Dewitt. ROW 2: Liv McBride, Tyler Roberts)
JUST WHAT IS GOING ON IN THESE PHOTOS?
Thomas Viljac came up with the inspiration (and the apparel) for this shoot with Midway Blue before their stand-out performance at the Old Town Dispensary on July 10th. We’ll sum it up for you in 20 words or less.
Band comes to town.
Band causes trouble in local dispensary.
Local law enforcement intercedes.
Band goes to the pokey.
IF YOU MISSED THE FIRST PERFORMANCE, YOU DON’T WANT TO MISS THE NEXT ONE!
Midway Blue – Encore Performance
Old Town Dispensary – Calhoun St. (Bluffton)
September 10; 8-11:30 p.m.
$5 Cover Charge
Bring your issue of CB2 for the guys to autograph!