Billed as the Emerging Youth Benefit Concert, a first-time partnership with Martin’s Town and Gown and the University of Tennessee at Martin music program on Monday night, saw young but seasoned performers taking the stage to support the arts in Weakley County.
Harrison Finks and Evie Grace Fowler belied the event’s title as they quickly proved to be established performers, comfortable in the intimate setting of UTM’s Blankenship Recital Hall. Finks, at 16, brought an extensive resume to his piano bench, including back up for American Idol finalist Jessica Meuse, sitting in with BB King’s All Stars and Memphis Soul Remedy, a regular gig with a Beale Street band and playing organ and piano at his ethnically diverse church in his hometown of Memphis. Fowler, a 15-year-old singer/songwriter proved equally adept at expressing her own lyrics and the familiar phrases of several pop tunes. Her original song “Lake Days,” included in Monday night’s set, was released in April of 2018 and can be found on iTunes and other outlets.
They have worked together before, including on Fowler’s “Lake Days.” In fact, capturing the song ended up being a bit of a Fowler-Finks family affair. After writing it, Evie recorded at Young Avenue Sound in Memphis through Young Artists, founded by Lloyd Finks, Harrison’s father. Featured on the record were Harrison Finks on organ, his mom Shannon Finks on backup vocals, Andy Willhite (Shannon’s brother) on electric guitar & bass, Jack Fowler (Evie’s brother) on rhythm guitar, and Elle Fowler (Evie’s sister) on a bit of backup vocals, in addition to Mary Golden Dunlap (a family friend) on fiddle, and Calvin Lauber (engineer and producer at Young Avenue Sound) on drums.
As frequent contributors of talent to various fundraisers, the couple was drawn to this most recent endeavor partly because of ties to the area. Finks’ grandparents Joe and Shirley Willhite are Martin residents and his grandmother was a professor at UT Martin for more than 30 years. Both sets of Fowler’s grandparents (Linda and Travis Shumate and Paula and Randy Chapman) are Union City residents.
The two also share some GRAMMY opportunities. He attended a 2017 camp in Nashville and a 2018 experience in Los Angeles and became the featured artist on the Nashville album on SoundCloud. She was selected to attend the GRAMMY Camp for music journalism last year and writes a music column for her Memphis school paper.
The concert benefitted the UTM Community Music Academy and the fledging Weakley Arts Can advocacy effort which Dr. Julie Hill, the chair of UTM’s Department of Music and one of the hosts Monday evening, is helping to launch.
In a meet and greet reception for the artists and supporters prior to the concert, Hill reflected on the course-setting encouragement she received as a young music student at Martin Elementary. She then expressed regret that overall the arts have “declined in the area, in our schools and communities.”
“Students need the opportunity to draw, to act, to dance, to play,” she said. “That’s what tonight is about.”
The Community Music Academy provides affordable music lessons for young people in western Tennessee and Kentucky. The Weakley Arts Can organizers are looking to increase interaction with the arts for students across the county beginning with a request for yearlong elementary music and art.
The concert was streamed live on the UTM music Facebook page.