While most kids his age were dreaming about becoming astronauts and professional athletes, David Mayfield was touring the country in his family's bluegrass band.
By his early 20s, the Ohio native was surviving as a "gun-for-hire" in Nashville, writing songs for other artists and eventually stepping into the world of producing, where he earned a Grammy nomination for his work in the studio. Still, despite performing as a member of progressive bluegrass outfit Cadillac Sky, the versatile player remained largely out of the spotlight.
Then, playing bass on a tour with his sister, noted songstress Jessica Lea Mayfield, David befriended and began collaborating with The Avett Brothers, who pushed him to consider stepping out on his own.
Enter the David Mayfield Parade, an unmistakably authentic blend of vintage country, twangy rock ’n’ roll and delicate folk ballads. It turns out Mayfield's knack for songwriting rivals that of his award-winning picking. And it certainly doesn't hurt that the singer also has the sort of gentle, inviting voice that could keep a performer afloat on its own merits.
But as great as Mayfield is in the studio, his ease and charisma onstage distinguish him from the ever-growing old-school country scene.
"I feel like when I'm up on a stage my goal is to engage people and get a reaction from them and entertain them somehow," he says of the often theatrical shows, which incorporate humor and skits into the repertoire. "I look at being a live performer as providing a service like a plumber. You pay your hard-earned money and you could have gone to see the Hunger Games, but instead you came to see me. … I'm not just going to stand here and kind of be pretentious and sing for my own glory."
That's not always easy though. As Mayfield's popularity grows, so do the size of his engagements (take, for example, Bele Chere). He admits that can make connecting with audiences more difficult. But the seasoned performer welcomes the challenge.
"It's still definitely attainable," he says with confidence. "It's almost like they say in theater: Everything has to be bigger and more exaggerated. If I was playing The Grey Eagle I might be able to convey a certain emotion with a few facial expressions, and everyone would see what I'm going for. But at a big show or a big festival everything has to be grand. And you have to climb up on the speakers and throw your arms in the air and let them know what's going on."
Clearly, this is one performance that’s well worth a walk across town.
— Dane Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
who: David Mayfield Parade
when: Biltmore Stage, Friday, 6:45 to 8 p.m.