We sat down for an interview with the artist who will kick off this year’s Roots N Blues Festival, Meredith Shaw. In February we spoke to her about her lifelong interest in music, which she has only begun to seriously pursue in the last few years. Since that conversation, she was invited to play at this year’s festival. Read more to find out about what Shaw’s been up to since our last chat, her experience of being asked to play the fest join the lineup, and a surprise encounter with rock legend Sting.
Interviewer: You were in Nashville recently. Were you there working on music?
Shaw: Yeah! I did some writer’s rounds and I was supposed to record but we didn’t end up having time to do that so I’m actually going back next week to do some more recording and maybe co-write with some people. But I’m gonna try to record a couple more songs so I can package them and have CDs to sell at Roots N Blues.[While in Nashville] I had a fun experience. I don’t know if you saw on my Instagram, but I ran into Sting on Broadway. Do you know who Sting is? From The Police?
Shaw: Young people don’t always know. So yeah, I literally ran into him. He was in a bar, Robert’s Western World, and I had played a writer’s round a few blocks off of Broadway. I was like, I’m not local, so I’m not so jaded that I’m not gonna go down to Broadway. I go home tomorrow. So I’m gonna go walk around, soak up some stuff. I decided to go into Robert’s Western World because it’s one of the older bars down there still. It’s one of the places that plays classic country, there’s a stand-up bass. And this was kind of like, you know, I was traveling alone so I was trying to keep my head down and stay out of everybody’s way. I get to the back of the bar and look up and make eye contact with this guy who’s two feet away from me and I was like, Oh, that guy kind of looks like Sting. And then I was like, Holy crap, that’s Sting! And I say, out loud, to his face, “Holy shit! I mean…hello.” And I’m thinking, Oh, grab your phone, do something. But then I was like, No, just shuffle on by. I’m sure he thought I was a drunk person at eleven o’clock on a Tuesday but no, I was totally sober.
Interviewer: That’s so exciting! One thing I love about Nashville is how you never know what big-name musician will unexpectedly show up in one of these little bars. So, since we talked in February, what have you been up to?
Shaw: I’m working on writing a couple of new things so that’s been kind of fun. I’m working on putting together a band for Roots N Blues. Since getting that magical tap on the shoulder, I’ve been like, I want to do this just right. We’re working on a really tight setlist and I’m like, hey, I’m still writing a couple things that I think still might work their way in. I haven’t finished them but a couple of them are still in my head that I haven’t exactly [shaken] all the way out yet. I might work on them next week when I’m in Nashville.
Also, since getting the Roots N Blues tap, I’ve been getting invites to do other things. I’m pretty sure that just being on that Roots N Blues list [has helped.] Like, the St. Louis Arts Festival has asked me to come play in September. Some interesting invites have shown up.
Interviewer: Walk me through the whole process of you getting asked to do the festival, of telling your friends and family. What was that like?
Shaw: It was pretty amazing. Kind of mind-blowing. I just received a random email on a Monday night. I was helping out at my daughter’s store because it was Spring Break week. So I was there, I got in my car at six o’clock and just happened to check my email and then all of a sudden I’m kind of weeping in my car and then standing outside crying. My daughter was like, “What is going on? Did Grandma die?” And I was like, “They just asked me to play at Roots N Blues.” Then I read [the email] again and was like, “Wait a second! You can’t tell anyone. You’re sworn to secrecy.” [All artists are permitted against telling anyone about their inclusion on the lineup until the lineup is made public—it can be a tough secret to keep!]
Luckily, I didn’t find out until just a few days before the official announcement on Friday cause if this had been, like, two months of not being able to tell anyone I would’ve died. It was so exciting and totally unexpected. When I was able to tell people, they assumed I’d submitted for it and was waiting to find out and I was like, “No, this was totally out of the blue. I was not expecting this at all.”
My next move was to go to a couple of people that I was putting in the band. For one of them [Heather Wilson of the Barroom Billies], I [went] over and talked to her and that night Charley Crockett was playing at The Blue Note and so we went, she and I talked, and then we went to the Charley Crockett show and basically celebrated all night. You know, very excessively. We were drinking top shelf all night long and nobody else [knew] why but we [knew] why. We were having the best time ever and we kind of teased Elza Goodlow, who’s our guitarist. We didn’t really tell him, but we kind of teased him all night. We said, “We can’t tell you, but we have a really special thing we’re gonna ask you later this week. When I ask you, I’m gonna ask you to be involved in this really special project.” He was like, “Whatever it is, I’m gonna say yes. I’ve told you, anything you want me to play in, I will.” So that was fun because when the Roots N Blues announcement came out and he saw my name, I get these messages from him that were just like, “Oh my god, yes, please let this be the thing you were talking about on Monday. Yes, yes, yes, I’m in.”
That was amazing, being able to kick [the lineup announcement] out on Friday, and just the love that came in from people. I had friends who were in Australia who know what a big deal Roots N Blues is and know what a big deal it is for me to be involved. I had almost this love hangover from all these good vibes that came in for a week. It was so awesome. It was so fun, all the well wishes that came in through so many channels. For my kids, even, to be kicking things out like, “My mom’s doing this, have you seen?”
Interviewer: Without giving away too much, can you give a little teaser of what we can expect from your set?
Shaw: We’re playing mainly originals and we wanna do a really great cover. We’re gonna try to do a lot of up-tempo stuff and make sure people have a really good time. We want to make sure it’s what people expect from the Roots N Blues Festival, or what they’ve come to expect. It’s always a good time. And [we’re] the opener and this stage is, I think, gonna be such a fun stage to be on with me and Jaime Wyatt and Tanya Tucker, these three badass women. I wanna make sure I live up to that so we’re gonna really try to have a badass set to live up to what’s coming up later that evening.
Interviewer: There’s gonna be a lot of pink hair on that stage.
Shaw: So much great hair on that stage! Hopefully so much fringe and sequins and sparkles. That was the first thing my daughter said: “Now, the outfit. What are we doing? The fit, what are we doing with the fit, Mom?”
Interviewer: I’m excited to see what you come up with. My last question is for you not as a performer, but a festival-goer. Who are you the most excited about on this year’s lineup?
Shaw: Obviously I’m excited about the whole stage I’m on. I feel bad about anyone who comes to see me Friday, cause I’m not leaving backstage. Sorry. Come see me Saturday. I’m also excited about the whole lineup on Saturday. Like, the fact that we have Jon Batiste and Chaka Khan. I love that there’s no overlap, like I don’t have to leave Chaka Khan early to go catch Jon Batiste. And the local artists like Sifa, I met her this weekend, she’s so lovely. I’m excited to catch her set. I love Old Crow Medicine Show. I’m excited for every single day this year. It’s such a solid lineup every single day. If I wasn’t playing, I’d still be super excited about the whole festival from start to finish.
Catch all your favorites at Roots N Blues Festival in Columbia, Missouri, on October 7th-9th. Be sure not to miss Meredith Shaw’s opening set at 4:30pm on Friday at the MU Health Care Stage. Get your Single-Day or Weekend Passes here: https://rootsnbluesfestival.frontgatetickets.com/