Emily Dunn (right), lead singer of Avonlea, sings her heart out while Dara Mathis provides the harmonies.
It’s now become a game of weather versus tradition.
Give tradition the edge.
As thunder and lightning carried over from last week and threatened to put a damper on the opening ceremony of the 32nd annual Tennessee Iris Festival, Emily Dunn and her band, Avonlea, took center stage and fought off the storms to ring in another year of Dresden tradition.
Two years ago, Dunn was singing solo at the opening ceremony when she was approached by the soundman, Jimbo Crawford, with the idea to lend her talents to a band.
“I didn’t know him (Crawford) at the time. He asked if I would be interested in starting a small band and over time we gained new members,” Dunn explained. “We have been writing our own original music and we are now in the process of almost completing our first CD, which hopefully will be out very soon. We are very excited about getting it finished.”
J.J. Phelps joined in on the mandolin, Crawford took up the acoustic guitar, Ricky Eaton occupied the bongos and congo drums and Dara Mathis backed up with harmonies. Put them together with Dunn, who has been singing “since she learned to talk” and comes from a large family of notable voices and musical talent, and you have a blending of various backgrounds fusing into a unique alternative-country sound.
“We have played at local festivals, KP’s Music Rodeo in Troy, on the river front in downtown Paducah, in downtown Jackson and local establishments and we have even opened up for Brady Seals, the lead singer in (the group) Little Texas,” Dunn remarked.
On the green portable stage set up in a corner of the basketball courts in Dresden’s Wilson Park, Dunn and her band seemed right at home. Because they were.
Head just a few miles north and you’ll run into Dunn’s home that she shares with husband, Joe, and several animals. Go northward still and you’ll find Dunn’s family’s farm on the outskirts of Palmersville. Growing up in the small community, Dunn attended school in Palmersville and Dresden, goes to church in Palmersville and like most any Weakley County citizen, is tuned in to the May arrival of the Iris Festival each year. Her roots are very evident in the music,
“It is a mixture of everything that we have been brought up on. The combination of all our different backgrounds really gives our music a different twist,” Dunn commented.
And what about the band’s name?
It is a word known primarily to fans of L.M. Montgomery books and merits explanation to those people who are not avid readers.
“Coming up with a name for our band was hard. It was important for me and the other members for it to have meaning and we wanted it to be unique,” Dunn admitted.
“After weeks of racking our brains I finally came across the name Avonlea which came from an old movie that I watched growing up, ‘Anne of Green Gables.’ Avonlea means meadow beside a river. Avon means river and lea means meadow. I loved it and, most importantly, the others did, too.”
Avonlea was able to beat the rain and the fireworks show went off early to avoid being canceled by the storms.
The next day, Sunday, did not bode well as storms rained out the cemetery walk. An entire week full of events remains on the horizon, however, including the parade on Saturday.
Last year’s Iris Festival parade was the first ever to be called off due to rain and storms.
With Avonlea helping get the festival off to a solid start, community members remain optimistic that tradition will continue to win over violent and unpredictable weather and hometown pride will defeat oncoming storm clouds.
To find out more information on Avonlea visit its Facebook page to see videos and pictures and hear the original song, “By my side” that debuted on KYTN 104.9.