Michael and AC, the duo known as Arbor North, head over to the UK on a working holiday
The UK remains a place where Nashville-based musicians can go on a busman’s holiday: they may look around the sights and taste the tea, but they can squeeze in a gig or three to try and impress themselves upon a market which usually only gets Nashville stars in small windows in March, May and October.
Arbor North are the latest tourists, with three big gigs in Birmingham, Scotland and London, the last of these as part of Nashville Meets London. Their Scotland trip is for Millport, a festival well known to Michael because he was up with his Lockeland trio, who have since disbanded.
‘We had a really good three and a half years. It kind of needed to end,’ Michael says, although perhaps the band was just a placeholder before Arbor North. You can catch them on Saturday afternoon at 4pm in the Acoustic tent, which will also house performances by Emma Moore, Kezia Gill, Kevin McGuire and Gary Quinn.
The meet-cute was very industry. AC and Michael met in 2020 at CRS, the big radio seminar where labels meet industry people and conflab about the big priorities for the year ahead. It happened in February, so the meeting was just before lockdown and the pair were married by the end of 2021. ‘We didn’t technically have a honeymoon,’ AC says, revealing that the couple will spend a few days in York before their London engagement.
Who could have known that Michael was sitting beside his future father-in-law at that dinner?
‘People ask us if there was a spark,’ AC says. ‘Well, not in the way you think. We were so in business mode it didn’t even cross our mind. Our first conversation was about production. We were both there to work! We didn’t realise the spark until months later.
‘I remember walking away thinking he was really easy to talk to. I could tell I was getting lost in the conversation. I found myself putting my elbows on the table and leaning into him as I was talking, and I caught myself.’
‘I saw her name pop up on my comments and I slid into the DMs as the young kids say! It was a divine meeting,’ Michael says, as he reconnected with AC after she responded to an Instagram comment and he suggested a coffee. ‘Does he mean professionally?’ she wondered.
Safe in the knowledge that they have missed the worst of the summer heat, they will have plenty to do in the UK on their visit, so long as the trains don’t wreck their transport. ‘We’re taking a bus up from Birmingham. Our good friend and promoter Gavin told us about the rail strike!’ they say.
The Birmingham gig was part of Nashville Sounds in the Round on August 17, where they played alongside Kenny Foster and Alyssa Bonagura, two acts very familiar with the UK. The hosts, Sally & Steve from Gasoline & Matches, are a couple as well.
At Millport they are looking forward to seeing Drake White, while Shy Carter headlines the first day of Nashville Meets London, where Arbor North join Matt Hodges, Ruthie Collins, Manny Blu and Sarah Darling on a packed bill. ‘We’re doing a full band slot so it’ll be the whole nine yards!’ Michael says, excitedly.
Michael, from New York state, moved to Nashville to study at Belmont. He graduated into the industry and became a session and tour drummer, as well as Musical Director. His collaboration with the Nashville Celts meant he had been inducted into the UK movement as well as playing the Opry with them.
The drummer is now upfront – ‘same industry but a different angle’ – sharing vocals with AC (Amanda Cosette) Jones. She is from Ohio and has a BSc in Biochemistry which she says gave her the ability to ‘trust myself, believe in myself, stay confident, work hard for what you wanted and that determination of getting through that degree. It’s okay to take a chance.
‘When I got into the music industry it made me so hungry to ask questions and not be afraid to ask them, learning as I went.’ AC’s solo material has come out over the last few years and there’s a lot of Bonnie Raitt in her vocal tone. There’s a Grand Ole Opry tribute called Stand In The Circle, as well as a meditative song called Castle.
Michael is familiar with how to market an independent act even when he was a hired hand. ‘I did a lot of the booking for Lockeland,’ he says. The division of labour in Arbor North gives AC responsibility for social media and marketing, while Michael took on the task of finding a pick-up band for Nashville Meets London.
‘We aren’t going to have a rehearsal,’ he says. ‘I sent out the information and made it as detailed as I could. It’s very mapped out so they can learn it ahead of time and we can play a great show.’
The three Arbor North releases so far are all of a kind, given that the pair have fallen in love with one another. All The Right Mistakes was the first offering in February, followed by the divine You Me & Jesus. Would’ve Met You Anyway is the third track, a country toe-tapper with some rapid-fire lyrics. That must have been enormous fun to write, and a listener can hear the smiles from the singers coming through the recording booth. Michael’s friend Kyle Pudenz is terrific on the fiddle.
On the duo’s website, which is run by AC, they both boast of being fans of Star Wars. ‘If I may,’ Michael starts when asked about the new Mandalorian series, ‘I recommend you watch all the movies, One through Nine. That’s the main story arc…’
‘It’ll enrich the Mandalorian so much more for you. You’ll notice nods,’ AC says.
‘The team of directors really are knocking it out the park,’ Michael adds. ‘You can tell they are very passionate and know the weight that they carry.’
At this point there should be some kind of Star Wars quotation to end the piece, but the force is strong with Arbor North.
Arbor North play Nashville Meets London at Trinity Wharf on August 24. Tickets cost £34 and are available here.