HUNTSVILLE, Weber County — Anna Wilson and Monty Powell were a songwriting force to be reckoned with in Nashville, but they never could’ve imagined one of their songs would become the heart of a U.S. presidential campaign.
Some may recall George W. Bush using the country-rock anthem “We the People” for his 2000 presidential campaign. Country star Billy Ray Cyrus recorded the upbeat number for his “Southern Rain” album, and the patriotic tune features the voices of several country legends, including Waylon Jennings and Montgomery Gentry.
Because Cyrus recorded it, very few are likely to know that Powell and Wilson are two of the writers behind that hit song.
The husband-and-wife duo, who came to Huntsville, Weber County, by way of Nashville, wrote “We the People” for Cyrus’ album and were shocked when it rose to such a national platform.
“It was a huge piece in our career,” Wilson told the Deseret News. “It just kind of found its way to the campaign, and that was pretty neat. They played it when George Bush walked out (at the) Republican National Convention. At the time, it was a big darn deal, and there’s so many people that won’t ever really know (we wrote it).”
It’s these kinds of behind-the-scene stories Wilson, Powell and other artists hope to share at Utah’s inaugural Troubeliever Fest Aug. 3-4. In the works for about a year, the festival — featuring country superstars Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, thanks to Wilson’s Nashville connections — brings a little bit of Music City to Snowbasin Resort.
‘A live experience of liner notes’
It was an easy decision for Wilson and Powell to make a second home in Utah, as the pair quickly fell in love with the outdoor beauty. They’ve also started gaining a following here with their new band Troubadour 77, and Wilson endearingly calls their fans “Troubelievers.”
“Our band was kind of the seed for this festival,” she said. “We come from a mindset that’s sort of prevalent in Nashville, Tennessee. There’s an experience called the Bluebird Cafe, and it was basically about singer-songwriters coming to the club and performing and telling the stories behind their songs. So when we formed Troubadour 77 (in Utah) … we still treated our shows that way. … It almost became like a glorified Bluebird Cafe experience.”
Now, Wilson hopes to expand that experience in Utah with the Troubeliever Fest. While headliners Harris and Crowell will be the biggest draw, Wilson said festivalgoers might be surprised to find themselves singing along to the lesser-known acts throughout the day.
“People will go, ‘I know every song you’re playing, and yet I don’t know you,’” Wilson said. “There’s a lot of people in Nashville, L.A., New York that have written songs — written the soundtrack to our lives — and are not famous artists.”
For example, Wilson’s husband, Powell, wrote several hit songs for Keith Urban, and Wilson said some of those songs will make it into Troubadour 77’s set at the festival. The inaugural festival will also feature Richard Page, writer of the hit song “Broken Wings”; David Pack, former lead singer of Ambrosia; Jim Peterik, co-writer of “Eye of the Tiger;” John Elefante, former lead singer of Kansas; Grammy Award-winning folk/country singer Shawn Colvin; and country singer-songwriter Billy Dean, among others.
“There are (even) songs that Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell have written … that were made famous by other artists,” Wilson said. “And they’re also going to do those songs in their sets.”
Indeed, Crowell, who was previously married to Rosanne Cash (daughter of Johnny Cash), has written songs for artists ranging from Norah Jones to the Grateful Dead, according to a news release. Wilson hopes that emphasizing such songs will give festivalgoers a unique “behind-the-curtain picture” of these singer-songwriters.
“(With) Troubeliever Fest … the songs are the stars,” Wilson said. “The only people that can play our festival are people who write their own songs. … That’s No. 1. No. 2, we want the artist to tell the stories behind their songs when they perform. A lot of times when you go to a big concert, the songs are delivered but they don’t necessarily tell you how it was created or why it was created. So we’re trying to create that conversation between the artist and the audience … (like) a live experience of liner notes.”
‘A large living room out on the lawn’
The two-day festival will kick off Aug. 3, and the first day, which is free of charge, will highlight local acts starting at 7:30 p.m. From 10 p.m. to midnight, Wilson and Powell will host a Late Night Acoustic Cafe that Wilson hints will be worth staying up for.
“You never know who’s gonna show up,” she said. “Rodney Crowell might just come over. Just like when Bruce Springsteen comes into the Stone Pony and you never know when he’s gonna come.”
Day two is the big ticketed event, kicking off at 9:30 a.m. with songwriting workshops before launching into a day of music around noon. If all goes well during the first run, Wilson would like to bring Troubeliever Fest to other areas of the country, such as Jackson Hole, Wyoming, or Sun Valley, Idaho.Comment on this story
“That would be the long-term goal — we’re trying to survive year one right now,” Wilson said with a laugh. “We wanted to create a culture, sort of a mountain bohemian kind of a festival where there’s multiple things going on — there’s music, there’s camping, there’s great food, there’s hiking, there’s beauty to look at. Our concept is a more intimate, smaller festival … 5,000-7,000 people on a mountain, like a large living room out on the lawn.”
If you go …
What: Troubeliever Fest
When: Aug. 3-4
Where: Snowbasin Resort, 3925 Snow Basin Road, Huntsville
How much: Free on Aug. 3, $50 on Aug. 4