NORMAN — Richmond County’s smallest municipality is planning a big event on April 28 — its Chick-n Pick-n Bluegrass/Country Jamboree — but it couldn’t plan the path one its performers took to get back to her former home.
Abigail Dowd always wanted to be the best, or at least that’s what she was told. Growing up she had to be the “smart kid,” and as she got older that translated into a need for that “big job” — which she got.
At 26, she was elected to the Southern Pines Town Council where she fought and won a zoning dispute with a major land developer that wanted to build 400,000 square feet of commercial retail she believed would threaten an already thriving downtown, putting her in the spotlight in a way she’d never been.
But even when everything seemed to be going right, she felt like she was moving further away from what she really wanted to do: play music.
“We’re almost conditioned to not really listen to our natures,” Dowd said. “I was always fighting on the council … but I didn’t know who I was.”
BORN TO SING
On those same report cards that told her she was excelling, her teachers would leave notes about how much she was singing in class. She sang at her church in Norman when she was 3 years old, and started to teach herself to play on her great-grandfather’s guitar, later studying classical style. Music was always the way should could cut through the troubles in her life.
“Nothing matters when you’re singing, everything dissolves,” Dowd said.
She had a moment of clarity in a conversation with her mother and decided to quit the council and move to Florence, Italy with her great-grandfather’s guitar, a piece of Norman she kept with her. After that, it was on to Maine where she began to hone her musical talent.
Norman doesn’t always bring up fond memories for Dowd. Her debut album, “Don’t Wake Me,” released in January of last year, deals heavily with the loss she experienced in her youth growing up in Moore County. Her father died when she was 12, her great-grandfather, John Hancock who owned a combined barber and music shop in Norman, died when she was 13.
In “Goodbye Yesterday” she sings “goodbye yesterday/see you here tomorrow at the same time/meanwhile I’ll be here staring you down … goodbye sorrow/time to leave this old friend behind.” She calls this song a turning point in her music because it coincided with her meeting her fiancé — Jason Duff, who now plays on stage with her — and a newfound ability to write happy songs.
“It was a very conscious goodbye to all that struggle and all that sorrow,” Dowd said. “(The death of my father) was always part of my story, I had to let go of that.”
The song “Some Divine” deals most directly with Norman. It describes a home that “wasn’t always full of love,” and a place to get away from, but still a place God is listening to with the final line, “born and blind/there must be some divine who can see you and me.”
“Norman has this mystical quality to me … it was a magical place to me as a kid but the not-good things — I was three, I didn’t know,” Dowd said.
In her new album to be released later this year, she says she gets more upbeat, pushing her vocals even further to reach the “underlayer” of emotions dealt with in her first.
When she plays on Norman’s prized stage on the 28th, she’ll be looking at her grandfather’s house across the street. Her great-grandfather’s barber and music shop (where, according to a family story, the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards once stopped to buy guitar strings) was right next to where the stage now sits before it was torn down.
She only lived in the town for a little over six months when she was a toddler, but was nearby, visiting her great-grandfather frequently over the last few months of his life. This will be her first time performing in the town since she was 3 singing in church.
“To get to play in Norman and share that vibration and music … I’ll feel like a 3-year-old — the same little being I always was,” she said. “There’s no good, there’s no bad — it just is.”
SHARING THE STAGE
Norman Mayor Kenneth Broadway said he wants to make the event a regular music series for the small town and hopes to make it the spring version of Norman Fest, which is held in October.
Dowd will be the third to take the stage (2 p.m.) during the event, sandwiched in between two performances by Flint Hill Bluegrass. Uwharrie Pickers, another bluegrass band, will kick things off at noon with The Rusted Rails, a rockabilly band, closing the show.
The Jamboree will also feature antique tractors, classic cars and trucks and a motorcycle ride. For more information on the ride, contact Sally Ingram at 910-997-1524. For more information on the Jamboree, contact Broadway at 910-997-1524 or [email protected]
Reach Gavin Stone at 910-817-2674 or [email protected]