The Newtown Band

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Author: Scarlett Coleman

Who are NewTown?

NewTown released another album in October 2018 under the label of Crossroads Records. Contrary to its title, Old World had both contemporary and current sound which is what NewTown is well-known for. One of their singles, Naomi Wise, is a new song from Donna Hughes, an Americana country bluegrass singer. Jr and Kati Penn sang in duet, gave a bluegrass sound to the old ballad song which tells the story of a young girl who was killed at the hands of an undeserving lover. 

Hughes, in an interview, described the band’s new take to her song, “It was more than exciting to learn that NewTown would be recording this song!” Starting as folklore, the tale of Naomi Wise was turned into a ballad song performed by many artists such as Bob Dylan, Shirley Collins, and Judith Henske. The story revolves around an American orphan teenage girl and her lover Jonathan Lewis. Lyrics to the original version of the song were written shortly after the murder itself; wherein it shared the story of Naomi who was murdered by her lover and her body was disposed of in a river. Around the same time, their new album has been released, the band announced the addition of Jared Hensley on guitar in their team.

Everything was going well with the band – recording their songs, shooting the music videos, live shows – until Jr Williams had to go for a medical break from their busy schedule. Williams dismissed the exhaustion he was feeling in weeks as just something to do with his age and the band’s busy schedule. Little did he know that it was more life-threatening than he thought it was. In an interview, he shared that his heart rate had dropped to a dangerously low level, “Kati and I were out driving around one day and I started having a strange feeling in my chest.” When the feeling around Williams’ chest didn’t go away, he decided to go straight to the emergency.

By the time they reached the hospital, his heart rate was in the low 40s so he needed to be admitted immediately and done some testing. Turned out that Williams had Bradycardia – a serious heart problem characterized by slower than normal heart rate caused by heart doesn’t pump enough oxygen-rich blood to the body – and the only fix recommended by his doctor was a pacemaker. “My cardiologist, Dr. Craig McCotter here at Baptist Health in Lexington, said it would only get worse and could lead to a heart attack or stroke.” He felt grateful that his heart issue was addressed soon considering his family medical history. Williams made a speedy recovery.

In 2019, NewTown received several nominations in International Bluegrass Music Awards (IBMA). IBMA is recognized as one of the most prestigious music awards honoring musicians in the bluegrass industry and winners are determined by IBMA members through voting. 

NewTown and its band members received the following nominations:

Album of the year – Old World
Kati Penn – Female Vocalist of the Year /Fiddle Player of the Year
Entertainers of the Year
Vocal group of the year
Instrumental group of the year
Jr Williams – Males Vocalist of the Year / Banjo Player of the Year
Mitchell Cannon – Mandolin player of the Year
Travis Anderson – Bass player of the Year
Jared Hensley – Guitar player of the Year

NewTown was also one of the showcase artists at 50th Appalachian last year which brings about ten thousand people at Coney Island during its three-day event. They are currently signed up with Mountain Fever Records and there are plans to get the group into the studio soon, with hopes for some new music to be released early in 2020.

Currently, the band members are:
Kati Penn – Fiddle
Jr Williams – Banjo
Travis Anderson – Bass
 Jared Hensley – Guitar
 Mitchell Cannon – Mandolin

NewTown’s Road to Fame

NewTown’s start to recording world was quite unconventional. While most new bands will first record a project together, reach the promoters, then tour to sell their album, NewTown tried a reversed approach. They toured and played for three years in different parts of the country, honed their craft, find themselves as a musical band, before launching a record. In December 2011, NewTown released their first single to radio from their self-titled album NewTown and shot their first music video to introduce the song, the upcoming CD, and themselves as a band to a wider bluegrass audience.

In December 2012, the husband-and-wife duo had their first personnel loss when their mandolin player, James Kee announced that he was leaving the group to focus on his landscaping business. After a series of auditions, he was replaced by Clint Hurd. 

In 2013, Newtown signed with Crossroads Music’s Pisgah Ridge Records and had Moore Bass Entertainment to help represent them for live bookings. For their first album with Crossroads, the group tried a crowd-sourcing approach, but instead of working with one of the popular online crowdsourcing sites such as Kickstarter or GoFundMe, NewTown offered an opportunity for fans to pre-purchased their music prior to its official release. To help fund their CD, the band offered 10 options for their fans ranging from $10 for song download and a signed photo, a video shout-out, a chance to shave Jr William’s hair, to a $10,000 private house concert. The album, Time Machine, was released in October with ten tracks. Most of them are originals – six were written by the band’s guitarist, C.J. Cain, and one cover music from master songwriter Guy Clark’s Dublin Blues sang by Penn.

2015 was a year of big changes for NewTown. The husband-and-wife grassers welcomed their first child in January. After a few months, the band’s original bass player Terry Poirier has left the band and was replaced temporarily by Tony Mowell. In mid-2015, after working with fill-in bass players for some time, Travis Anderson joined the group. Another major change was when their longtime guitarist CJ Cain, who also penned many original songs for the band, decided to leave the group. In an interview, Cain thanked his bandmates for the ten years he spent with the band “I thank all of the members of NewTown for helping me make so many musical memories.”

NewTown released another album in 2016 which was the first album with their recently-revised lineup, which includes Hayes Griffin on guitar (lives in Grand Rapids), Travis Anderson on bass (lives in Knoxville), and Mitchell Cannon on mandolin (lives in Burnsville, N.C.). The band collaborated with fellow-Kentuckian Tyler Childers who have four songs cut. Harlan Road is composed of eleven tracks and also prominent in the album was Americana songstress Sarah Siskind who wrote one song for the group. The band’s mandolin player, Cannon, missed some of the promotional shows for Harlan Road when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer at the age of 23. He was able to record some songs with the group for their new album before he had undergone surgery and chemotherapy.  

To promote Harlan Road, the husband and wife duo was also featured on the pilot episode of Nashville Insider, a tv program aired on multiple cable and satellite platforms hosted by a Nashville performer and a former contestant on The Amazing Race on CBS, Caroline Cutbirth Hobby. They were featured alongside Carrie Underwood and Brett Eldridge. The feature was a promotion for their CD released in July 2016.

Post written by Jeff Mortimer, contributing writer at TechCrunch and CreditGlory, where his latest post on the Amazon Prime Rewards has been gaining some steam!

NewTown: Some Background on the Band

Bluegrass is a genre of music traditionally played on acoustic string instruments such as mandolin, fiddle, banjo, guitar, bass, and occasionally harmonica and harp. It has cultural origins from Scottish, English, and Irish folk, and in old-time African American blues and jazz. Apart from horse racing, bourbon, and Kentucky Fried Chicken, the state of Texas is popularly known for its bluegrass music. Lexington, Kentucky has served as home to a number of bluegrass musicians, and most notable is James Dee (JD) Crowe, bandleader of widely considered as one of the most influential bluegrass group, The New South.

One of the many contemporary bluegrass bands based in Lexington is NewTown. Self-described as Acoustic/ Bluegrass/ Americana genre band, the group got its start when Jr Williams left his former band, NewFound Road, to partner with his wife, Kati Penn. They then formed a new band which they named Kati Penn & Newtown in 2009. They were joined by other members – Terry Poirier on bass, James Kee on mandolin, and C.J. Cain on guitar. Jr Williams plays the banjo and Penn is the vocalist and fiddle player. 

After playing music for over a decade, the group has released five albums – their previous effort Old World had received several nominations at the International Bluegrass Music Awards 2019. The band’s 2018 album, Harlan Road, made it to the Top Ten on Billboard’s Bluegrass chart. The group also opened for Rhonda Vincent & the Rage, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, and the John Cowan Band. The musical band is also frequent performers in various festival scenes.

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