The new counterculture lives in the middle.

Grace Bowers is Ready to Fly

Grace Bowers rockin‘ a smile and a Gibson at Percy Warner Park on a fine sunny day. Photograph by Michael Weintrob
Grace Bowers rockin‘ a smile and a Gibson at Percy Warner Park on a fine sunny day. Photograph by Michael Weintrob

It’s hard not to wince when Grace Bowers references “when she was younger” or some event happening “a long time ago.” But it makes sense for a young woman who’s lived out more bucket-list dreams than most musicians of any age.

She’s played at Bonnaroo, on the hallowed Ryman Auditorium stage with members of the Allman Brothers Band, and at Willie Nelson’s Luck Reunion — twice, where she shared the stage with The Redheaded Stranger. She’s endorsed by Gibson Guitars and regularly plays to packed audiences here in Music City and at festivals nationwide. And she’ll celebrate her 18th birthday on July 30 by making her Grand Ole Opry debut, which will also be the anniversary of her professional debut, playing a brief instrumental that Rolling Stone described as ‘transcendent’ at the renowned Newport Folk Festival.

Her first guitar hero was the great Saul Hudson, better known professionally as Slash of Guns ‘n Roses. When she first picked up a guitar at age nine, her mother didn’t think it would stick, so she understandably didn’t pay top dollar. Bowers describes it as a “cheap little black acoustic guitar.”

The 17-year-old is still sentimental about it: “I’ve still got it in my room.” In fairness, that was half a lifetime ago for Bowers. So, her sentimentality can be forgiven.

The summer before her first year in high school, a family friend originally from Tennessee invited the Bowers to visit Nashville. “We actually had no intention of moving here; it never even crossed our mind at the time,” says Lisa Bowers, Grace’s mother.

After visiting with their friends and taking in some of the music and scenery of Nashville, the idea gained steam. Discussions ensued, and then, “One night at a winery, we decided right then and there that we were moving to Nashville,” Lisa Bowers says. “My husband stood up and announced it to the entire winery! The next day, we were talking to a realtor, and four days later, we were under contract for a house in Nashville, and our place in California was under contract.”

Six weeks later, the Bowers were Tennesseans — a move they have no regrets about. “We love the Southern manners; we love the Southern hospitality; we love the family values here, and of course, Grace’s music was a huge part of it, but it was more for the whole family. We just thought it was a better place for our children.”

Before the move, back in California, Grace Bowers had sent a video submission to Gibson, looking to land a slot in their G3 mentoring program for young guitarists. “I sent this video of me playing “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” and it was terrible!” she laughs. “I honestly had forgotten about it, and with the whole move, didn’t think about it again until I noticed one day that Gibson had followed me on Instagram. They hit me up in my DMs and were like, ‘We’d like to work with you.’ And I was blown away!”

Gibson’s help has been vital to getting Bower’s musical career started at such a young age, “I’m so grateful because they’ve set me up with a lot of the shows I’ve gotten to play, and they’ve put me in touch with a lot of great musicians, not to mention I get to try out new cool guitars!”

Bowers now regularly plays a variety of guitars, but you’re most likely to see her playing a 1961 Gibson Les Paul Standard (seen in the above photographs). For those unfamiliar with this particular model, the Gibson website states that “1961 brought some big changes to the Gibson Les Paul, most notably a sleek, all-new, double-cutaway, all-mahogany body design that would later be renamed the SG.” She played this guitar when she joined Dolly Parton for her Pet Gala on CBS, saying, “It was one of the weirdest things I’ve ever experienced — in the best way possible.”

Watching her early videos — the ones that would go viral on Reddit or Instagram, sometimes getting millions of views of her solo jam/practice sessions — one can see that she’s come a long way. Even early on, she was ahead of her time as a young guitarist, but those videos only show a fraction of the time Bowers has spent practicing and developing her sound. But she doesn’t do it all alone as much anymore.

Having spent over a year in Nashville sitting in with virtually anyone who asked, she always relishes the opportunity to gain experience and sharpen her chops. Consider it the never-say-no stage of her career: “As long as I’m playing music, I’ll be perfectly happy doing it wherever and however,” Bowers says.

And the opportunities were not hard to find. Until recently, with her ever-increasing time on the road, you could see Bowers playing in Nashville seemingly every night. She’s constantly in demand, and her professionalism and attitude amplify her undeniable talent and feel.

Grace Bowers — attitude with gratitude. Photograph by Michael Weintrob

Nashville veteran country crooner Boo Ray puts it like this: “There’s absolutely no BS with Grace. She gets all of it on a deep level and operates with amazing focus and intention.”

She doesn’t take it for granted, though. She recognizes having benefited from help from others, including Gibson, the William Morris Agency (with whom she recently signed), and the people she’s met in Nashville. “I don’t think there’s anywhere else that would be as open to letting me play or giving me all these opportunities,” Bowers says. “It’s like people just want nothing but to help me; I feel like the good people are not competing here.”

This sense of gratitude and cooperation has also endeared her to the local scene, as Allen Thompson, songwriter and frontperson for Nashville soul/rock/jam outfit LadyCouch, attests: “She loves to listen and learn, and she’s just as happy comping and watching as she is stepping up front and crushing a solo. She’s aware that both are equally important. She knows onstage is the best seat in the house, and she’s grateful to have that seat. It’s a real joy to look over and see that smile and know she’s having as much fun as the rest of us.”

As comfortable onstage at a local venue as with megastars at the Ryman, Bowers is aware of the unique position she’s wedged herself into. Most places she plays in Nashville don’t usually allow people under the age of 21, let alone under the age of 18. But Bowers, often accompanied by her parents, has become a known quantity in this town that loves music so much. This isn’t lost on Grace or her parents.

“I have to say that I don’t think I would have felt safe letting my 16-year-old daughter go to bars to play in L.A. or New York,” Lisa Bowers says. Their experience in Nashville has fostered trust. “It took us a little while to get here, but now there are plenty of nights where she goes without us and plays and does her thing, and she’s safe and has a good group of people looking out for her, and that never would have happened in another city.”

Recounting a few of her daughter’s earliest encounters, Lisa Bowers says, “When we first got here, she was introduced to Annie Clements and her husband Thad, who are both just amazing musicians and people. Annie was a huge influence on Grace during the first year or two that we were here.”

Clements gave Bowers lessons and helped her develop her sound and professionalism. She also set her up with one of her first opportunities on a big stage by connecting her with the “Girls of Nashville” hosts at City Winery. “We thought it was so great for [Grace] to be around other young female musicians. [Annie] is so professional and just such a great example of a successful female musician,” Lisa Bowers says.  

“No one in my family is musical,” Grace Bowers says. “I grew up around a lot of sports. When I was younger, I wanted to be a football player.”

Bowers’ dad, Damon, was an accomplished college wide receiver who played in the Arena Football League for several seasons. Lisa Bowers corroborates this: “Football has been a huge part of our household. When she was younger, she was the only girl on a flag football team, and she crushed it and loved it until they got a little older, and the difference in size became more obvious. She’s got two brothers, and she was always skateboarding or throwing the football. She was never the kind of girl who played with dolls.”

Lisa Bowers does have some background in the arts. “I grew up in ballet, and I was really serious, much like Grace with her music.” But what Grace Bowers has tapped into with her music goes beyond any explanation other than the magic of music in a talented, driven, singular individual like her. She carries the traits of harmony, synergy, and cooperation in her guitar playing and her sense of community here in her new home. 

Nashville singer-songwriter Paul McDonald is one of many collaborators, and he has hosted her at his benefit concert series, One Big Love. “Grace is the real deal,” McDonald said. “She’s obviously wise beyond her years in terms of her playing and the fact that she’s already using those gifts for all the right reasons. Speaking up for causes she believes in and helping to bring the community together says it all.”

Nowhere was this sense of purpose and community on display more than the benefit concert for Covenant Heals and MusiCares, held at the Basement East last summer, which raised over $25,000 and featured some of Nashville’s finest talents such as Aaron Lee Tasjan, Audley Freed, Butch Walker, Daniel Donato, Devon Gilfillian, Kyle Tuttle, and Jared James Nichols. Bowers has another benefit show, benefiting MusiCares and Voices for a Safer Tennessee, on June 10 at Brooklyn Bowl that promises to deliver a fantastic show once again for a great cause.

As the bookings and opportunities expanded, she put together piecemeal bands to fill these bills. “It was never a set band, and honestly, it didn’t really work every time. It was difficult because I was looking to find some consistency, so I called it “The Hodge Podge,” kind of as a joke. Then, with these guys, it worked, and we just kept calling it that anyway.”

This iteration of the band (consisting of Bowers on lead guitar, Esther Okai-Tetteh on vocals, Nate Felty on drums and percussion, Eric Fortaleza on bass, Prince Parker on guitar, and Josh Blaylock on keys), which would officially be billed as Grace Bowers & The Hodge Podge, found its groove and has played two residencies at East Nashville’s The Underdog, at which each performance had crowds pouring almost onto Gallatin Pike.  

The band just finished recording their first release (with Brandon Combs on drums). One single has already been released from the nine-track, John Osborne-produced debut. Titled Wine on Venus, the songs were written by Bowers and Okai-Tetteh (“mostly in my room”) except for one cover song. “I think people might have expected me to make a more rock or blues record, but I think this is a funk and soul record, actually, and we’re really proud of it,” she declares.

totally shreds …

Osborne concurs, “Grace came into the studio knowing exactly what she wanted to do and how she wanted to do it.  She’s stubborn in the best way, and she reminded me of my younger self, except with way cooler hair and much better at guitar.”

For a debut record, most people do not take the kinds of chances Bowers took in the studio for this record. These challenges made the recording difficult but worthwhile.

“She didn’t want to use any autotune or metronome, and she insisted that we do the recording live with her amp in the room with her,” Osborne continues. “It was the loudest tracking session I’ve ever done. Every night after recording, I was equal parts exhausted and inspired.”

The opportunities aren’t slowing down for Bowers, either. She recently again partnered with CBS, playing at the NCAA Final Four in Indianapolis, to what she described as the “biggest crowd of people I’ve ever played to.” This year, she’s already slated to take The Hodge Podge to play Pilgrimage Festival here in Middle Tennessee, Bourbon & Beyond in Louisville, Floyd Fest, Bottle Rock in Napa, and many more. 

Nashville rock goddess Amy Darling says, “Grace is the epitome of raw, unadulterated talent and pure star power!” 

“Tell Me Why U Do That“
the first single from
Grace Bowers & The Hodge Podge
is out now.

Their debut album, Wine on Venus, drops August 2024

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