William Elliot Whitmore
A man armed only with a banjo and a bass drum can be a formidable force, especially if his name is William Elliott Whitmore. Making his Bluesfest début, William is bringing his brilliant new record, Field Songs with him, on which he uses this two-instrument attack along with his honest, powerful voice that leaves no doubt that he will be heard. This approach is testament to his home, William comes from the land, growing up on a farm in Lee County, Iowa, between the Des Moines and Mississippi Rivers. “It’s some of the most fertile land in the world,” William proudly proclaims, still living on the same farm today.
Where he comes from says a lot about where William Elliott Whitmore is going. Son & grandson of musicians, and he never had to go far to discover great new music. “My parents’ record collection was amazing and inspiring,” Whitmore remembers. “It included everything from the country music of Charlie Pride and Willie Nelson to the soulful music of Ray Charles and Leon Russell.” Around 15 or 16 when his hands finally got big enough to go around the guitar neck he started strumming some chords and writing lyrics. He hasn’t looked back since.
Still, there was hard work to be done on the farm while the music settled inside him. It wasn’t until he found himself living in Iowa City and watching other professional musicians ply their trade. After attending a few local punk rock and hardcore shows Whitmore quickly grew interested in the music, lifestyle and DIY culture that surrounded this scene. It wasn’t long before he would hit the road with a friend’s hardcore band, playing his folk songs in between the band’s sets. "It was just weird enough to work," he laughs now. "I found out how to be an entertainer and get the audience's attention. It taught me a lot."
He was signed to Chicago-based Southern Records label and extensive touring ensued as he left an undeniable mark on any audience he could get in front of. As word spread, Whitmore developed many friends in high places, sharing the stage with such diverse acts as The Pogues, Clutch, Murder By Death, City and Color, Frank Turner, Chris Cornell and Converge to name a few. His willingness to take his show to any playing field proved to be invaluable as he turned strangers into diehards with every performance. It wasn’t long until Anti- Records hunted him down to sign him, he recalls “Anti- plucked me out of the cornfield.” His first Anti- Records album, Animals In The Dark, was a rich combination of bluegrass, blues and folk protest music that was instantly recognised as an important voice.
This later release, Field Songs is a striped back, starker and striking record that is “meant to be listened to all the way through,” William says. “It’s really one song, cut into eight parts that hopefully places the listener on the front porch with me. The story has a beginning, a middle and an end, just like a working day.” It honors the long tradition of folk music, while allowing Whitmore’s punk, rock, blues and soul influences to shine through. The passion and power in his voice is one that can be felt at long distances, but best heard up close and personal in the live setting.
His live performances are of a caliber to leave one completely stunned in silence; his albums full of songs not only from the heart but also from the heartland. William Elliott Whitmore is one of the most interesting contributions to today's diverse collection of musical ingenuity and we couldn’t be more excited to be watch him turn strangers to diehards this Bluesfest.