The Josh Stewart Band, a local band that originated seven years ago and now plays 30 to 40 shows a year at festivals, casinos, parties and private events all across Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia, recently signed with MC1 Nashville, a subsidiary of Sony Music.
MC1 Nashville will deal with distribution and promoting the band’s music to music row and charting radio stations across the country, according to Josh Stewart, the band’s leader, lead vocalist and songwriter.
“During our 18-month contract we will release three singles,” Stewart said. “Our first single released July 15. It’s called ‘Homegrown Paradise’ and is available on all digital music sites (iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, etc.). We are still booking our own gigs and performing locally. If one of our singles has a lot of success, Sony can step in and take us to the next level.”
Needing a band to open for one of its artists, MC1 reached out to Stewart at the end of March, 2019. Josh declined the offer as the band was already booked to do another show elsewhere.
“They asked if we were signed or had any backing and when I said no, they asked that I send them some promotional materials and our best three recordings,” Stewart said. “A few weeks went by and they finally contacted me and said they really enjoyed what they had heard and seen and wanted to meet me. After a few video chats and phone calls and discussing what all MC1 Nashville would be able to provide for us, I decided it was in the band’s best interest to sign on with them.”
The band plays “anything from the 1950s to what’s on the radio today”: country, rock, Motown, pop, top 40 tunes and originals, according to Stewart.
“Our original music has more of the modern country rock sound,” Stewart said. “On our website we say we’re a ‘progressive country rock’ band because we personally feel that our music is not truly country but it’s also not 100 percent rock. We’re somewhere in between the two genres.”
Besides Josh, the band is comprised of band members Matt Bennett (drums), Tyler Payne (guitar), Danielle Stewart (singer, auxiliary percussionist and Josh’s wife), Denver Triggs (bass), Mark Smith (keyboard), and Matt Radford (sound engineer).
The band has performed at numerous festivals.
“There are very few (festivals) that we haven’t performed at,” Stewart said. “Last year we opened for Pure Prairie League at the Dogwood Festival. Most of our shows (take place) between Columbus and Huntington, West Virginia.”
Earlier this summer, the band performed three shows in Florida.
“I vacation in St. Augustine, Florida, every summer with my family,” said Stewart. “There is a huge live music scene there and I always hoped to one day perform there. The last three years I have submitted for my band to perform at the Music by the Sea Concert Series at the St. Augustine pier but we were always denied since we’re not a local group. This year they gave us a chance and booked us (after many emails and Facebook messages).”
In order to make the trip possible, the band needed to book “a couple more” shows.
“We released a patriotic music video last November called ‘Coming Home,’” Stewart said. “I forwarded this to several American Legions and VFWs in northern Florida. An American Legion in Jacksonville and a VFW in Middleburg got back with me and said they’d like to book us while we’re in the area.”
Stewart’s musical ability surfaced in his early childhood.
“I’ve been singing since I was five,” he said. “My grandma encouraged me to perform at talent shows and church functions. I had incredible elementary music teachers who got me in front of a microphone any chance they could. As I went through school I had many more amazing music, choir and band directors.”
“I started in band in the 5th grade on the trumpet,” said Stewart. “I then switched to the French horn in 7th grade. I started learning piano during my junior high years and I just never looked back. I showed interest in the guitar when I was very young but didn’t start seriously playing until I was in college.”
Stewart started the band while a freshman at Marshall University, a school from which he would graduate with a bachelor degree in music education in 2016.
When he was 16 years old, Stewart began “playing around” with songwriting.
“I was getting tired of singing everyone else’s songs so I figured I would give it a shot,” he said. “The first song I ever wrote was for my grandma who passed away in 2001. I very rarely perform this song in public but will sometimes pull it out if the setting is appropriate. After that, lyrics just started to come from everywhere.”
Stewart’s first experience with songwriting for a band came when he was a high school student in Scioto County.
“As a senior at Valley High School some friends and I started a band called ‘Hidden Drive,’” Stewart said. “We recorded a few songs I wrote and the guitar teacher, John Craig, sent the CD to local radio host Steve Hayes at 99.3 WNXT in Portsmouth. The next thing we knew our music was playing on the radio and we became overnight celebrities at our school and in Scioto County.”
The Scioto County resident has written nearly four dozen songs since he composed his first song during his teenage years.
“Everything that my band records is my original music,” Stewart said. “Most of my inspiration comes from real-life experiences.”
A portion of Stewart’s inspiration comes from living in southern Ohio.
“A lot of my songs talk about living in southern Ohio or have references to our area,” he said. “Our newest single, ‘Homegrown Paradise,’ speaks of having our very own paradise right here in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains.”
The optimism in Stewart’s songwriting carries over into his view of the region.
“I will be the first to say that southern Ohio is not perfect,” he said. “We have our issues and battles just like everywhere else. However, there’s no other place I’d want to live. Southern Ohio has been good to me. A lot of people have helped me get to where I am. My band has a huge fan base that follows us and does everything they can to help us succeed.”
Although Stewart “appreciates” all music genres, his favorites are classic rock and country.
“I grew up listening to Rick Springfield, Def Leppard, Poison, Journey, Toby Keith, Rodney Adkins, Josh Turner and Billy Ray Cyrus,” he said. “These artists helped me find who I am as a mainstream musician.”
Stewart also credits Rick Springfield and Neil Diamond as being his “biggest role models.”
“I grew up listening to their albums and my style as a musician and songwriter is somewhere between those two,” he said.
An elementary music teacher at Waverly City Schools, Stewart said the most rewarding aspect of performing in his band is the enjoyment children get from from the band’s music.
“The majority of us are music teachers,” Stewart said. “A lot of our students show up to our shows. I love looking out and seeing a student point at me and tell their parent or friend, ‘That’s MY music teacher.’ We want to inspire our students and all children (to) always pursue their dreams. No matter how old you get, never stop dreaming. A lot of us are married and work full-time jobs but we still go out every weekend and do what we love.”
Stewart said his biggest support group is his family.
“They have had my back the entire time,” he said. “When this all started it was more of a part-time hobby. Now that it’s more of a full-time job, I am away from them and have to miss a lot of things. They’re very understanding and know I have to follow the music if I really want to be serious about this.”
Stewart describes the members of the band as “like family.”
“We have been through a lot together and we all work really well as a group,” he said. “I couldn’t ask for a better group to have my back. A lot of this is really new to all of us and we’re learning as we go. It’s a fun journey. Nashville is an amazing city rich in history when it comes to country music. We hope that one day this small-town band from Ohio leaves its mark on Music City.”