Photo: Sweet Tea Trio members Charity Bowden, Kate Falcon and Victoria Camp (pictured, from left) gather for a photo prior to their concert at Rockin’ the Banks of Greensport on October 30. (Chris McCarthy/Messenger
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
Kate Falcon has come a long way since performing the national anthem as a 12-year old at high school football games and summer festivals in and around Etowah County.
The 2017 Southside High School graduate, along with Victoria Camp of Tuscaloosa and Charity Bowden of Hope Hull, make up the Sweet Tea Trio, a fast-rising country band that features soaring three-part harmonies, solid musicianship and catchy song lyrics that get to the heart of what it means to be a native of the Deep South.
The band recently performed on October 30 at the Rockin’ the Banks concert at Greensport Marina, opening for Confederate Railroad.
“Of course, I’m excited to be right near my hometown, but I’m even more excited to have my girls with me,” said Falcon. “It’s always fun whenever we play anywhere near Southside, because I always end up running into people I went to school with or knew from around town when I was growing up. Tonight is also special because all three of us have our parents here, which doesn’t happen very often because we’re from different parts of the state.”
Falcon and Camp have been songwriting, performing and recording together since the age of 14. Bowden joined the band six months ago, replacing original member Savannah Coker.
Sweet Tea has been based in Nashville for the past several years. In fact, Falcon moved to the Music City the day after her high school graduation. For the past five years, the band has been managed by nationally known recording artist and producer Kid Rock, aka Robert Ritchie. Ritchie discovered Sweet Tea via social media and invited the band to participate in his annual Kid Rock Music Cruise. Ritchie was so impressed with their performance that he eventually signed the group to a management deal along with Ken Le-vitan from Vector Management.
The trio draws upon a wide variety of musical influences to shape the band’s sound. Falcon cites Martina McBride as her biggest influence.
“I love Martina and always will,” she said. “Not only because of how she presents herself as an artist, but also as a person. She is so kindhearted and genuine. I feel that it’s ‘what you see is what you get’ with her. I also grew up listening to a lot of classic rock, like Journey. I love Steve Perry; he can sing anything.”
Camp’s tastes veered toward outlaw country and rock n’ roll.
“I like to listen to Merle Haggard, Johnny Paycheck, Waylon Jennings and Hank, Jr. I also like blues artist like Bonnie Raitt and Susan Tedeschi. But I’m a rocker at heart and like Fleetwood Mac, Bad Company, Foreigner, Journey and Led Zeppelin.
During the Greensport concert, in fact, Sweet Tea performed a unique arrangement of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love,” with Camp doing justice to the vocal range of Robert Plant.
Bowden was raised on “old school” southern gospel and country dating from the 1930s.
“I like the family-band kind of gospel like the Issacs or the Hensons,” she said. “But that wasn’t as fun to me as the country singers like Patsy Cline. I also listened to a lot of Merle Haggard growing up, because he was my dad’s favorite, and Johnny Cash and David Allen Coe. If you named someone in the country music world, there’s chance I know their name. Once you get past the 1990s, though, I’ll drop out.”
Bowden began playing guitar at around the age of 14 when she decided that it would help in her development as a singer and songwriter if she played an instrument.
“I had been trying to sing a little bit, and I was sick of playing the tracks,” she said. “When it comes down to writing songs, it’s incredibly helpful to be able play an instrument, and I knew that I wanted to do that one day.”
Bowden also plays the piano, mandolin and “a little bit” of ukulele.
“I’ve never been super good at any one thing,” she admitted. “I kind of learn a different part of something and move to the next one.” Camp’s guitar playing grew out of a serious injury as a youth.
“I was a competitive swimmer for years, and I injured my back and had to be on bed rest for a while. So I had to find something to do. I was classically trained on the piano, which taught me a lot about theory and gave me a really good foundation. But I couldn’t play a piano in bed, so I played guitar and wrote songs. I started on an old nylon string 1969 Alvarez with a hole in the back, and I’ve been playing ever since.”
Camp said she “dabbles” with the mandolin, but not in public as of yet.
Falcon plays the tambourine, acoustic guitar and ukulele.
“Singing was my first love and still is, but the first time I picked up the guitar was when we opened up for Bon Jovi in Birmingham so there’s nothing like jumping headfirst into the water. I’m also learning how to play the harmonica like my grandfather does.”
The band members said that their songwriting is a collaborative effort.
“It depends on the day or the moment,” said Falcon. “V’s great at picking on the guitar and coming up with a catchy melody. I’m more of the lyric kind of girl who can do some fine-tuning with the words. Charity’s a good medium between us.”
All three ladies agreed that the image of the songwriter sitting in the back of a smoke-filled barroom alongside a whiskey bottle with plenty of time to spare is pure Hollywood.
“On average, you want to finish a song in two to two and a half hours when you book a co-write,” said Camp.
The trio’s outdoor-themed lyrics are not borrowed from other sources, as all three members are avid hunters. Bowden grew up on a cattle farm in Hope Hull and Camp grew up on a farm outside of Tuscaloosa.
“Coon hunting is my favorite, along with turkey hunting,” said Bowden.
“We have 40-plus acres, and I’m constantly checking game cameras,” said Camp. “I’m more of a deer hunter but I also love turkey hunting. I love to bow hunt.”
Falcon and her father LeRoy turkey hunt on a hunting camp just outside Ashville.
“It’s literally right down the road,” she said. “We have some beautiful mountains here that come right down to the water.”
Like most of the entertainment industry, Sweet Tea experienced a shutdown of sorts for most of 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“You essentially lost your job,” said Falcon. “As an entertainer, you go through slumps anyway with gigs and slower months of the year, but everything stopped with COVID.”
Camp pointed out that the pandemic affected the Nashville songwriting community as well.
“People wanted to co-write, but nobody wanted to get together in a room in case someone had [COVID]. We did a lot of co-writes over Zoom, but it’s not the same when you’re trying to write a song through technology.”
Bowden, who had not yet joined the trio during the worst days of the pandemic, saw a number of her solo performances cancelled.
“I did some shows on Facebook live, but it’s not the same. I played to the cows many a time [during the pandemic], and people are better. At least you know where you stand with a live audience. With the cows, you can’t tell if their moos are boos or cheers.”
Bowden was named the 2020 Miss Alabama runner-up and the 2019 Miss Northeast Alabama and was a Team Miley contestant on NBC’s “The Voice” in 2018.
Among the lessons the trio learned from the pandemic was to know their limits and pace themselves accordingly.
“We went from playing a lot of shows to playing almost no shows at all, so after we came back in full force, we never realized how much we were working,” said Falcon. “It put it into perspective, so we take care of ourselves when we’re on the road. We try to eat well and get a workout in if we’re not too exhausted. We’ve also learned to be diligent when it comes to taking care of our voices.”
The band recently released a few short videos via social media, including the new song “All Hat, No Cattle,” during which the band members are shown skeet shooting on a farm outside Nashville, Tennessee.
“We had to leave [Nashville] for a while during COVID, but we’re glad to be back up there and getting things done,” said Falcon. “We love the Music City; it’s a home away from home for us.”
The group’s members have different tastes when it comes to snacks while traveling between concerts. Bowden likes M&Ms (“the original ones,” she stressed), Camp is partial to sour-tasting treats and Falcon enjoys Reece’s cups or chips and salsa. They all agreed on cheese puffs.
No matter how high the temperature gets onstage, the band’s members avoid drinking cold water.
“Cold stuff restricts your vocal cords, so we stick to lukewarm water,” said Falcon.
Falcon noted that the songwriting for the band’s upcoming album has been a three-year process so far. The band plans on releasing a six-song EP in January and will release a single in either March or April. The EP will be available on most social media platforms.
“We’re excited because we think we’ll have our best songs on it,” she said. “2020 was a real doozy, so we’ve had a lot of time to focus on this EP and the turnaround time from the start of the songwriting to a finished album has been a long process.”
The group considers their supporters family as opposed to fans.
“You go out and work Monday through Friday and spend your hard-earned money on tickets to see us and smile and give us hugs, and that means more than anything to us,” said Falcon. “COVID put it into perspective of how truly blessed we are to be as busy as we are. The shows we’ve done this year have been amazing, because it felt like forever since we’ve been able to play in front of people.”
“No matter how old you are or how young you are, we hope that our music reaches out and touches everybody in some form or fashion,” added Camp.