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Mischa Gasch, left, Wyatt Hesemeyer, Sean Carscadden and Patrick O'Connor are Miss Lonely Hearts. Photo by Elisabeth Rose Photography

Music rooted in the past keeps eyes on the future

The West Coast Country Music Festival will be rich with warm, twangy steel guitar-driven melodies, breakneck bluegrass licks and rockabilly steeped in traditional country, honky-tonk, roots and folk music.

Look for Portland songsmith Caleb Klauder and his Country Band; Nashville singer and songwriter J.P. Harris and his band Tough Choices; NorCal honky-tonk band Miss Lonely Hearts; old-time bluegrass, swing and folk trio Honey Don't of Bend; honky-tonk shuffles and sweet old-time waltzes by San Francisco's Laura Benitez and the Heartache; and folk and bluegrass genre-benders Steep Ravine, also from the Bay Area.

Local favorites Don Maddox (The Maddox Brothers and Rose), Sage Meadows and High Country, Rainy and the Rattlesnakes and Eight Dollar Mountain also will make the scene, along with rounds of musical interludes by the New Autonomous Folksingers — Sage Meadows, Dave Hampton and Jef Fretwell — who will invite such local players as Justin Gordon, Eck Flynn and Bekkah McAlvage — along with kids 8 to 16 — to sit in. The music festival is sponsored by Modern Roots Foundation, an organization that provides instruments and instruction to kids.

This isn't Miss Lonely Hearts' first appearance at the WCC music fest. The Santa Cruz band performed at the event in 2015.

"I got to meet Don Maddox, a hero of mine," says Wyatt Hesemeyer, singer, songwriter and acoustic guitarist for the band. "I grew up in the Central Valley of California and listened to The Maddox Brothers and Rose a lot."

Live music will be from noon to dusk Saturday, Aug. 13, at Green Springs Inn, 11570 Highway 66, Ashland. Tickets are $20 in advance, $30 at the gate. A pre-fest party ticket for Friday, Aug. 12, is $45 and includes entry to the festival. Advance and pre-fest party tickets are available online at brownpapertickets.com/event/2488625.

Hesemeyer is one of Miss Lonely Hearts' core members, along with upright bassist Mischa Gasch, lead guitarist Sean Carscadden, drummer Patrick O'Connor and an occasional pedal steel or fiddle stand-in.

"We're inspired by that time in history when old-time country was moving toward rock 'n' roll," Hesemeyer says. "It's music rooted in traditional country but with a rhythm section behind it. Artists like Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash were recording it at Sun Records in Memphis."

Self-taught record producer Sam Phillips is highly accountable for the new sound. By cranking up the amps and distorting the music at Sun Studio, he could make a three-piece band sound like an all-night party.

"We try to capture that sound when artists took traditional tunes and made them more accessible, more danceable," Hesemeyer says. "There's a generation that thinks country music is Travis Tritt. They're pop singers, not country singers."

Hesemeyer says Miss Lonely Hearts' sound stacks up next to such artists as Wayne Hancock, Eilen Jewell, Fred Eaglesmith, The Devil Makes Three and others.

"Those songwriters are telling honest and heartfelt stories about life and experiences, rather than relying on such tropes such as trucks, cowboy hats, heartaches or dogs. Pete Bernhard, Eilen Jewell are writing music that tells honest, unaffected stories. I think audiences respond to that. You can feel the difference," he says.

Miss Lonely Hearts recorded its fourth full-length album "Lost Highway" earlier this year. It's a collection of cover songs by Hank Williams, Lefty Frizell, George Jones, Johnny Cash and Merle Travis — with the band's new country spin on them. The band also recorded arrangements of Judas Priest's "Breaking the Law" and Bruce Springsteen's "The River" on the album, and pedal-steel player "Country" Dave Harmonson makes an appearance.

"We wanted to record early music with the same spirit as the more contemporary artists had at Sun Studios," Hesemeyer says. "Presley was heavily influenced by The Louvin Brothers, Carl Perkins was inspired by Roy Acuff and Bill Monroe. He kind of had one foot in the early stuff and another in contemporary. He wrote "Blue Suede Shoes," and Presley made it popular."

"Lost Highway" is Miss Lonely Hearts' effort to introduce performers such as Merle Haggard, Cash and George Jones to a new, younger generation to be sure the artists' legacies of music don't get lost in time.

"If we don't actively carry that music into the future, I don't trust that it will survive," Hesemeyer says. "There's so much music, so much distraction, that it's easy for legacies to fall by the wayside."

Hesemeyer, Gasch and O'Connor have played together since the band's inception around 2010. They have three earlier, independently released albums of original music penned by Hesemeyer to their credit: "Into the Wolves Den (2010), "Crying Bottle Blues" (2012) and "O' Spring" (2014). The group moved to the Delta Bound label based in Sonoma, California, for "Lost Highway."

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