The Barefoot Movement have distilled an inventive iteration of bluegrass Americana that is invigorating and pensive concurrently. It’s exactly the product that a frosty December in Chicagoland is calling for, and it also happens to fit the personality of Space (the venue they are playing) in Evanston acutely—this is music that will keep you warm and make you smile.
The Barefoot Movement have been officially together since 2011, with a self-proclaimed mission of occupying the “Fleetwood Mac of Bluegrass” requisition that we didn’t know existed (but are so happy to have filled). Led by Noah Wall (vocals/strings) and Tommy Norris (fiddle/guitar), the band has a genuinely heartwarming origin. The two met in high school in Granville County, North Carolina, with Norris initially attempting to beguile Wall by inviting her to sing in his rock band, an advance that was initially rejected. Upon eventually bearing witness to his virtuosic guitar talent in consequence of an English class project (by Norris), Wall agreed to sing with his band, and thus the genesis of The Barefoot Movement.
Today, The Barefoot Movement have toured internationally and released three LPs, two EPs and a covers collection. Wall and Norris are also married—a fact they keep somewhat in the background of their artistry so as to keep it all about the music, but a fact impossible not to write about.
Norris and Wall use a rotating hired band that operates as a four-piece arrangement. They have a captivating aptitude for making all-time classic rock tracks sound like something both new and familiar (their covers of “Fire” and “Penny Lane” are two favorite examples, but part of a long list). It’s impossible not to smile when you start to recognize the lyrics in these covers and get hit with that “Ah, of course!” feeling, but their originals are just as intriguing. Their most recent EP “Pressing Onward” (2021) represents a significant flash point for the group.
During the pandemic, the band went through a “soft” breakup, particularly once original members (prior to Norris and Wall using a hired band) began to move to disparate locations upon emerging from lockdown. Faced with the choice of hanging it up or trying something different, Wall and Norris (thankfully) decided to press forward and wrote “Pressing Onward,” a triumphant statement of bluegrass intent with themes of squaring up to challenges armed with Appalachian strings and indie-rock influence.
“Anywhere I Plant My Feet” thematically sets the table for “Pressing Onward” about as clearly and accessible as it could—particularly because Wall sings with gripping soul and offers a beautiful voice in general that makes for easy listening:
Looking in on Nashville, gotta see it for myself
Ain’t nothin’ good about nowhere, you can’t find somewhere else
Well I’ll be fine anywhere I plant my feet
But in time, I will grow some roots beneath
This will be a special show because it’s a holiday concert—The Barefoot Movement will be covering anything from Chuck Berry’s to Perry Como’s holiday songs, providing covers that will likely only exist in that room.
The Barefoot Movement plays at Space, 1245 Chicago, Evanston on December 17. Doors at 6pm; tickets $15-$25.