“What a righteous time to be alive / right here with one another,” sings Magnolia Boulevard’s Maggie Noelle roughly a minute into the joyous and jaunty “Ride.” The words are ostensibly about a budding relationship between two individuals, but Noelle could just as easily be referencing the singular and special connection that exists between her and her Magnolia Boulevard bandmates—guitarist Gregg Erwin, keyboardist Ryan Allen, drummer Chad “The Beard” Gravitt and the quintet’s latest addition, bassist Chad Justice—or, as likely, their bond with the fans that have been packing clubs in the band’s hometown of Lexington, Kentucky and beyond to shimmy, shout, and dance to the music.
“When we’re onstage we play with a lot of emotion,” Noelle says. “And then we feed off the crowd’s emotional reaction to us and we give it right back to them.”
Central to the Magnolia Boulevard experience is a sound that flows easily and seamlessly from a multitude of stylistic tributaries. There’s plenty of blues, soul and rock ‘n’ roll in the mix, but also elements of funk, jam band, folk, country, bluegrass and psychedelia. It’s all fueled by the rhythm section’s elastic grooves, shot through with Erwin’s expressive and incisive slide guitar licks, and topped by Noelle’s soul-stirring, powerhouse vocals.
Now nearly two years removed from the release of Magnolia Boulevard’s debut EP, a four-track offering titled New Illusion that was produced by famed guitar maker and owner of PRS Guitars, Paul Reed Smith, the band is eager to show the world what they can do with a proper full length debut album. However, the road to this precipice has proven to be far more difficult and soul-wrenching than anybody could’ve ever anticipated.
Tragedy struck on September 2nd , 2021, when Todd Copeland, Magnolia Boulevard’s founding drummer and spiritual backbone, passed away in his sleep. Already weighed down by the seemingly insurmountable burden of spending the past year-and-a-half trying to establish a name for themselves during the Covid-19 pandemic – a period in which any up-and-coming act surely couldn’t be blamed for wanting to call it quits rather than cutting their chops on a suddenly dire and disjointed touring circuit – the band was now forced to deal with the loss of their brother-in-arms head on.
“At first, we felt guilty even thinking about what we were going to do [without Todd], or how we were going to do it,” says Erwin. “Of all the conversations that we had on our long trips together, the subject of ‘if something ever happens to me’ never came up. But guilt aside, we realized that Todd would’ve wanted us to continue, to not let the music die with him.”
Against all odds Magnolia Boulevard did just that, slowly but surely, taking the rest of 2021 off to properly grieve Todd, regroup, and continue fighting. Now having found a suitable replacement on the sticks with the addition of The Beard, a Lexington-based percussionist with a quarter century of experience under his belt and a natural camaraderie with his new bandmates, the band is ready to finish what they set out to do in 2018: bring their unparalleled blend of soul, funk, rock, and jam to the masses. Forever powered by the spirit of Todd, and with a full slate of tour dates and debut album on the horizon for 2022, that mission is closer to realization than ever before. Just ask anybody who’s ever seen a Magnolia Boulevard show – they’ll tell you that it’s only a matter of time.
“I think it was Gregg Allman who once said, ‘If there’s 10,000 people in the audience and they have one-and-a-half problems each, that’s 15,000 problems out there,” says Erwin. “So if you can put your heart into something and get onstage and help the audience forget about those problems for a couple of hours, then, you know, your job’s done. That’s the greatest satisfaction one can achieve, I believe.”