Nashville may be known worldwide for exporting country music, but Music City is also home to a percolating indie scene.
“If you care to see what (that part of Nashville is) about, buying a ticket to God Save the Queen City won’t hurt,” says Mike Harris. He’s a Mooresville native who plays guitar in Apache Relay, one of the bands headlining the fourth annual Charlotte indie music festival.
Saturday’s bill at Chop Shop is heavy on Nashville artists, including Apache Relay, Natural Child, Jeff the Brotherhood, Jonny Fritz, Clear Plastic Masks, the Promised Land Sound and several locals.
“It’s such a smattering of what’s going on in Nashville,” Harris continues. “All those bands are totally different, and everybody knows everybody for the most part. It’ll be the same hang that happens on a Wednesday in Nashville, but in Charlotte.”
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For Harris, it’ll be a bit of a homecoming, although he never spent much time in high school in Charlotte.
“Before GPS I was scared I was going to get lost and someone was going to have to come find me in Charlotte,” he says with a laugh, on the way to Indianapolis with the band last week.
Although he’d been going to rural bluegrass festivals with his parents since childhood, his show-going in the city was limited to his youth pastor taking him to see Switchfoot at Tremont once.
Harris’ dad played bluegrass mandolin and his mom sang, but his own interest in rock led him to explore the guitar.
“My dad played around the house. I was getting into rock ’n’ roll and heard my dad play ‘Stairway to Heaven,’ ” says Harris. “I thought, ‘My dad can play some of my favorite songs. He could teach me.’ ”
A high school teacher told him about Belmont University in Nashville, and his sights were set. That’s where he met the other members of Apache Relay.
Eventually the guys chose the band over school and carved out a niche on the Americana circuit with frontman Michael Ford Jr. as an anchor and hirsute Harris’ larger-than-life persona lighting up the stage.
North Carolina served as a second home, where they could hop among college towns or hit venues like Evening Muse.
“We toured North Carolina so much, we always had an open door there,” Harris reminisces. “I especially love bringing people to Cookout for a Cheerwine and to Lake Norman. I take a lot of pride in that. Take them for barbecue in Concord or Kannapolis, or to the Diamond in Charlotte.”
Apache Relay was on the rise with its first official album, “American Nomad” (an earlier album was released under Michael Ford Jr. and the Apache Relay). It closed out Bonnaroo in 2011 (“I think only Widespread Panic was playing when we went on,” Harris recalls) and opened for Mumford & Sons in 2012. But just as folk-rock was exploding, Apache Relay took a left turn at harmony-rich ’60s pop, removing itself from the Mumfords’ tag.
The self-titled record released in April was recorded with producer Kevin Augunas at Fairfax Recordings – the old Sound City Room – in Los Angeles, and pays homage to both California country rock of the ’70s and Phil Spector’s lush production.
Harris says the departure is on purpose.
“The (most fun) part about being in a band to me is about trying to create something you can’t really compare to a lot of stuff.”