Nurturing the pulse of Brookhaven’s music scene

Published 9:05 pm Saturday, June 4, 2016

Photos by Kaitlin Mullins

Photos by Kaitlin Mullins

“If your sole purpose [in music] is to make money, you’re probably going to get your heart broken,” local musician Tony Norton said.

But if you’re just looking for a way to express yourself in a fun environment, there’s no better place than right here in Brookhaven.

In December, Norton released “Songs from an Unfinished House,” his first album, and as of Memorial Day weekend, it’s hit major download services such as iTunes, Amazon, Spotify and Rhapsody.

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The album itself has been a labor of love that encompasses almost seven years of writing.

Photo by Kaitlin Mullins / Tony Norton, above, has spent the past two years working to make Magnolia Blues BBQ weekly open mic night a success.

Photo by Kaitlin Mullins / Tony Norton, above, has spent the past two years working to make Magnolia Blues BBQ weekly open mic night a success.

“I collected life experiences and stories for a long time,” he said. “I knew I wanted to do it, but I never would have been pushed to do it.”

But then about three years ago, a friend of his talked him into playing for Tyler Bridge, owner of Brookhaven Music.

“Halfway through, Tyler starts laughing, which is the last thing you want when you’re already nervous,” he said.

Luckily, the laughter was a good thing.

“I didn’t expect it to be as good as it is,” Norton recalls Bridge saying.0605ALBUMCOVER

Not too long afterward, Bridge and Norton teamed up to begin the yearlong process of recording an album. Norton wrote or co-wrote all of the songs on the album as well as provided lead vocals. Bridge produced, engineered and played lead guitar. The album also includes Jake Patrick on banjo and violin, Marvin Curtis on piano, Nick Bridge on drums and background vocal, Shelley Smith on background vocals and Scott Albert Johnson on harmonica.

“When you have a good pool of artists, it makes it easy,” he said.

Norton has been playing live shows for about three years, and it’s been the interactions with the crowd that have boosted his performance. But recording an album was a different animal.

“You’re isolated,” he said “You freak out at first.”

There was a process of focusing on a part over and over until it was perfect.

“Tyler would say, ‘It was good, but we can do it better,’” he said. “You get inside your head. You start doing it, and you forget what you’re doing.”

There were times it would be perfect the first time, but more often than not he’d work on the smallest aspects to make sure the album was his best.

Norton’s favorite track on the album, which features 10 original songs, is “The Case.”

“It’s the most stripped down track on the album,” he said.

Norton described the acoustic song as wordy. Most of the time, he tries to keep his songs to three verses and kind of short, but with this one the listener has to pay attention to hear the story. This song emulates one of his favorite songwriters, John Prine.

Overall, it can be hard to pinpoint exactly what genre Norton’s music falls into.

“It’s not rap. It’s not reggae,” he said. “I think I could name the things it’s not easier than what it is.”

The album falls somewhere between indie folk and Americana.

“It’s not what country is like on the radio,” he said. “But if you described it as older country, that would be fine with me.”

Artists are often influenced by what they experience, and for Norton it’s the local musicians who inspire him the most.

“The people who have come out of nowhere of the past couple years as the music scene has exploded,” he said naming off local talents such as Cole Powell, Zach Lovett and Andi Cotton.

Of course, one of the biggest local names in the music scene, Shaw Furlow, has made a huge impact on Norton.

“He’s got a new song called ‘Home.’ I’ve heard it four or five times, and I can’t make it through it without tearing up,” he said.

In fact, Furlow has inspired more than just Norton’s music.

“Shaw has helped me, and I want to do that for the younger generation,” he said. “I want 10 years from now for this (the music scene) to be here and thriving. I want to see Brookhaven as an art hub.”

One way he is achieving that goal is by hosting a weekly open mic night on Wednesdays at Magnolia Blues BBQ Company for the past two years.

“It gives people a voice and place to play without a whole lot of pressure,” he said.

It’s particularly important for young musicians because they probably don’t have a whole set they can play, but they want to perform a song or two they have written. One of the young artist who has emerged through open mic night has been Betsy Berryhill, a 18-year-old who has just blown away Norton.

“The first time I heard Betsy play I got depressed,” he said. “I thought I’ve got to go home and work harder.”

Although music is Norton’s passion, he believes all art makes a difference helping to create a vibrant community.

“Without art, communities become stagnant because there’s a lot of things that happen around art,” he said.

From local shows at Magnolia Blues and Georgia Blue to special events such as Hog Wild BBQ and Family Festival and Ole Brook Festival, Norton’s goal is to spread the music and encourage others to help grow the thriving arts community in Lincoln County.