Mike River may be a newcomer to Maryville, but he boasts an impressive past resume.
“I have been playing music in various bands in the Denver, Colorado area since the mid-’90s,” River said. “I was raised out on the Wind River Indian Reservation in the heart of Wyoming and moved to Seattle in the early ’90s in the aftermath of the grunge music explosion. I eventually ended up closer to home in Fort Collins Colorado, where I put together the band Rexway with some childhood friends from Wyoming. This was a fire breathing, foot stomping western, y’all-turnative style punk band. Rexway toured together from the mid-‘90s through about 2006. During that time we recorded with Peter Distefano from Porno For Pyro in L.A., and were nominated as one of the best bands in Denver five years in a row courtesy of Westworld magazine.”
Fortunately, the breakup of the band didn’t deter River from pursuing future endeavors. A recent competitor in the Tennessee Songwriter Competition, he’ll perform this Friday as part of a multi-artist line-up at The Bird and The Book in Maryville.
“When Rexway split, I did some acoustic stuff on the side for a while, and eventually started up the band Thief River, which was a similar style music as Rexway and included the same rrummer and one of the guitarists from Rexway,” River continued. “Thief River played around Colorado until a year or two before the pandemic, when our drummer got real sick, and needed some time off. We slowed down our live shows, but during that time, I got a lot of requests to do shows on my own, so I started playing solo acoustic gigs, doing Rexway, Thief River and my own solo material. I recorded and released a few singles as Mike River and released various videos.”
With the onslaught of the pandemic, River was pulled off the road, but he managed to use the downtime to record a solo album, titled Pulling Sorrow. Several of his fellow Colorado area musicians contributed remotely to the project remotely, including Jeremy Lawton from the band Big Head Todd and the Monsters and Grammy Award winning producer John Macy, who had overseen efforts by Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Los Lobos, Gladys Knight and Big Head Todd.
River moved to Maryville last May, citing the rising cost of living in Denver and a newfound infatuation with the Smoky Mountains, which he had an opportunity to visit during the pandemic.
“I remember my dad singing songs like ‘Smoky Mountain Rain’ and other tunes that mentioned the area, and it inspired me to want to visit,” River said. “And when we did, we loved it. I had also visited Nashville at one point, and I loved the music scene and what it’s got to offer, but it’s grown so quickly and become very commercialized to a degree. What I found in the Knoxville area was a little more of a close-knit community of songwriters and artists working together, versus trying to be in competition with each other for that ‘top spot.’ There are a lot of bands, great artists and songwriters in Colorado, but there are just so many different styles of songwriters here that work on the art of writing songs. That was a big draw for me.”
Eventually, he was hooked.
“I started researching the area and just fell in love with Maryville and the foothills of the Smokies,” he said. “Townsend just felt like home and felt very comfortable. Everyone was so friendly, and the pace was much slower than in Denver. It just felt right for where I’m at in life. We started looking at homes in the area and ended up finding a place here in Maryville that we love.”
After making his move, River was able to pick right up from where he had left off while living in Colorado. He said he’s begun putting together a new album, while also working to secure some gigs at various local venues.
“When I moved here, I went to The Bird and the Book to catch a Punk Rock Flea Market hosted by Coffin Curse Records and met Mike Billups, who owns Coffin Curse,” River said. “Both Mike and Lisa, who owns The Bird and the Book, have been amazing. I’ve put together a few songwriters showcases there since I’ve moving to Maryville. They’ve always been very welcoming, and they’ve got a great set up for live performances and congregating with friends and family.”
He has other plans as well. “I’m working with Michael McMeel the drummer from Three Dog Night,” he said. “He also lives in the area and has an amazing YouTube channel called ‘Mickeys’ Place,’ where he invites musicians in for interviews, live performances in his studio, and hanging out at his ranch. It’s a very cool concept similar to what Daryl Hall does with ‘Daryl’s House,’ which is also on YouTube. I’ll be heading out to record a session with him in early summer 2023.”
In the meantime, River’s upcoming show at the Bird and The Book will find him opening for a punk rock band out of Maryland called The Downstrokes and a line-up that includes a pair of Knoxville area punk bands, Defiant State and Andrews False Consciousness. “My set will be a mixture of some solo acoustic original material, as well as some acoustic versions of old Rexway and Thief River songs,” he said. “I’ll include some storytelling, heartfelt Americana, and alt-law-country punk acoustic material.”
In addition, River said he’s intent on recruiting a full back-up band. “I’m looking for people to accompany me in the area, so any musicians interested can reach out to me through my website www.mikeriver.com.”
Welcome to the discussion.
Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.