Rooted in folk: New generation blends folk genres in St. Augustine

The Wobbly Toms
lauren of the willowwacks

Lauren Gilliam of The Willow Wacks

By Matthew Goodman |

After the the massive success of bands like Mumford and Sons, St. Augustine has become a Florida hub for a youthful, revitalized folk music scene.

While folk has been a part of St. Augustine going back to Gamble Rogers’ time, it has recently taken a more youthful turn.

In order to stand out among  all the diverse musical acts emerging from St. Augustine, local bands The Willow Wacks and The Wobbly Toms, have blended genres and supported each other for years. Others like the Sweetest Punch and even The Dewars have found local audiences with their own styles of folk music.

The Willow Wacks’ new self-titled EP shows a softer side to the married couple’s music, but they can definitely rock out when the venue calls for it. Micah Gilliam said that the band got to perform their softer folk style in the “proper setting” when they received a standing ovation at the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall.

As for performing their alternative routes and rock flair, local venues such as Shanghai Nobby’s and Planet Sarbez have been glad to let them rock out.

The couple has been based in St. Augustine for two years now. They and another local folk-inspired band, The Wobbly Toms, agree that the town is becoming a great place for live music.

“There’s so many great artists in such a relatively small town,” Zachary Lively, guitarist, harmonica player and vocalist for the Wobbly Toms says.

The Wobbly Toms are made up of seven varying musicians. The original trio met at Flagler College and formed the band in 2003.

“It’s always a joy when locals show up to our gigs, but all music in St. Augustine needs more support from music lovers in town,” Lively added.

Both bands support each other and agree that more local bands need to work together to grow the scene and increase each other’s popularity.

“The local scene is great for the size of the city, but it’s not as inter-connected as it could be, in my opinion,” Gilliam said. “There’s a lot of people I meet who have never heard of each other, and I think it’s because people are just in their own little circuit, which is kind of boring to me. Otherwise, it’s a great place to work on your art, no doubt about that.”

willowwacks full band

Lauren and Micah Gilliam of The Willow Wacks

One thing that sets artists in St. Augustine apart is that many have a wide variety of styles. They keep their shows ever changing and evolving.

“A lot of folks would peg us into the Americana category,” Lively said, “but our influences range far beyond that – we are fans of everything from Prairie Home Companion to the Muppet Show, Roger Miller, John Denver, Sonic Youth, Radiohead, Bauhaus, REM and many, many influences all over the musical spectrum.”

The Willow Wacks are planning on recording a full album at their home sometime in the near future. They plan to use it to show more of their varying talents and genres.

“It’s gonna be more simple, quirky rock stuff,” Gilliam said. “Lauren has a great song about watching a costume store burn down on Halloween night with all the kids watching in their costumes. Funny stuff like that, and then I come in and throw in the dire ‘woe is me’ lyric here and there. Luckily, I’m trying to get Lauren to write more of the songs.”

The Wobbly Toms’ have a style more closely associated with Mumford & Sons. They are glad that their sound and the instruments they enjoy are becoming more popular.

“Bands like The Avett Brothers and Mumford have encouraged a lot of kids to pick up more traditional folk instruments,” Andy Calvert of the Wobbly Toms explained. “They certainly didn’t invent the music, but they sure made it mainstream. It has grown and it’s pretty awesome seeing younger kids picking up banjos and mandolins more when it used to be nothing but half stacks and Ibanez guitars. The world is a better place for it.”

Regardless of what the bands are playing, their talents have given them increasing success over the years, and 2014 looks to bring them even more.

The Wobbly Toms

The Wobbly Toms

“Right now most of our time is being taken up working on some new material for our next album,” Calvert said.

The band mentioned an assortment of upcoming shows around Florida, including sponsored shows and local pubs.

The Willow Wacks will continue touring this year as well.

“We’ll be doing shows here and there, more regional stuff,” Gilliam said. “We prefer to push our music in the smart ways so we can get better shows and travel farther out. That’s a big desire for us. To get to visit amazing places and live on the road, but do it our way.”

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