OA: Bill Powers April 10, 2009

Sweet life, sunny lyrics

Bill Powers called and left two voicemail messages barely audible through jolting static.
Phone call No. 1: “It’s Bill ... bad reception ... Hotchkiss (static)” nothing.
Phone call No. 2: “(static) ... call the school ... (more static).”
What school?

When Powers called a third time, the connection was crystal clear. He was speaking on a land line at the North Fork Community Montessori School in Hotchkiss where his children go to school and where he teaches music lessons to grade-schoolers two afternoons a week.

It was difficult not to picture him as a full-grown bearded man holding a phone receiver, hunched over in a plastic chair sized for a 7-year-old.

Powers, 40, lives in Paonia. He’s a songwriter and musician who plays an assortment of stringed instruments including the mandolin, guitar and banjo.

He also is a family man, using teaching trips to Hotchkiss as chances to shop at the bigger grocery store.

Around these parts, he is best known for his role in Sweet Sunny South, an acoustic old-time bluegrass band in which he plays with his wife, bass player Shelley Gray-Powers, and friends Rob Miller on guitar and Cory Obert on fiddle. The popular group has played throughout the region for about eight years, consistently releasing new and traditional bluegrass music to much acclaim.


Three years ago Sweet Sunny South was poised for fame.

“That kind of seems to be the path that’s under us now,” Powers said in a 2006 Daily Sentinel interview.

But the band decided to take 2008 off, much to the disappointment of fans.

The band started playing shows again in January. Expect to see more from them in the near future.

During Sweet Sunny South’s time off, Powers formed two other bands: Honey Don’t (progressive folk) and the Silvertone Devils (electrified rootsy rock ’n’ roll).

Honey Don’t plans to release its debut CD in early June.

Powers affectionately said the band is named Honey Don’t because that’s what his wife said when he told her he booked them a gig as a duo.

With three bands, a small business in Paonia and music lessons, Powers said he worries about spreading himself too thin.

Right now, he is trying to find a balance between being an artist and a businessman without either suffering too much. And somehow he’s found time to contribute music to a yet-to-be released independent documentary called “Locavore: Local Diet. Healthy Planet.”

“I need to write,” he said. “And the next thing I need to do is make money writing.”

As far as songwriting goes, Powers said he is heavily influenced by the music he’s listening to at the time.

To stay on his game, he hums melodies into a voice recorder and jots down lyrics as soon as they pop into his head.

A song “comes out of nowhere,” he said. “I never know when a simple melody may become a hard-thought-out song a couple years later.”


One of Powers’ most outstanding characteristics is his ability to connect music to real life moments.

For him, the question “What albums or musicians made you want to start making music?” took more than an hour to answer and began with Ted Nugent.

He remembered being a kid riding around in his dad’s Buick Regal in the summertime listening to Nugent on cassette tape. The car had Alpine stereo speakers. But he doesn’t remember which Nugent recording it was.

In high school, he started listening to bootlegs of Jimi Hendrix’s songs and the three-record Woodstock album set.

“Back in high school, Bill was the guy that always brought us new music to listen to,” said

Powers’ longtime friend Scott Brickell, who lives in Tennessee and manages Christian musicians.

Powers picked up his love of country and bluegrass after living in Austin, Texas, and his first experience at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in 1991.

“I really tripped out on the bluegrass talent,” he said.

Now, Powers is influenced by songwriters such as Robert Earl Keen, John Prine, Robert Hunter, Utah Phillips and Townes Van Zant.

Whether Powers plays music for his kids or for crowds, music has always been and will always be a constant in his life, Brickell said.


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