News Column

David Mayfield, born frontman (with podcast)

November 13, 2013

YellowBrix

Nov. 13--Some performers seem born to be in front of a band, singing, playing and exhibiting outsized personalities that get crowds involved. David Mayfield would appear to be one of them.

But only in the past couple of years has Mayfield taken full control of his shows. For years, he could be seen and heard as a sideman or guest with the likes of Mumford & Sons , the Avett Brothers and Cadillac Sky .

It was with the latter act that Mayfield first made a splash at Kirk Avenue Music Hall, where he will bring his David Mayfield Parade on Friday. He was with Cadillac Sky in October 2010 when it rolled into the hall to support its final record, "Letters in the Deep," a Dan Auerbach -produced Americana-pop gem. At one point, the band ceded the stage to multi-instrumentalist and backing vocalist Mayfield.

He launched into a manic, compelling and even hilarious version of Jimmy Martin's bluegrass standard "Free Born Man." Mayfield displayed more energy on that cut than the audience had seen all night, and it responded with a whooping frenzy.

Later that same month, Cadillac Sky's lead singer, Bryan Simpson , left the band. They hired a replacement, but by January 2011, it was over. Mayfield was pondering what to do with his life and career. Seth Avett , of the Avett Brothers, suggested he start his own thing, Mayfield said in a phone call last week.

Not only was Avett familiar with Mayfield's talents as a performer, he was also familiar with the music that Mayfield had co-written for "Letters in the Deep," including the disc's opening track, "Trapped Under the Ice."

"And Seth was the one who really said, you know, you should do your own thing and front your own band," Mayfield said. "And as terrifying as that concept was, here I am."

If the concept frightens Mayfield, the execution does not. When he was 12, his parents let him talk (and work) his way into the bass guitar slot in their bluegrass band, to replace a band member "who couldn't stay sober enough to make it to the end of the night," he remembered. The act eventually included his sisters, Amanda Mayfield and noted singer/songwriter Jessica Lea Mayfield . Parents David and Valerie Mayfield schooled their children in showmanship.

"My parents taught us that as musicians, we're not there to serve our egos or to be rock stars," he said. "We're there to perform a service. These people have worked hard all week, and they come to see the show, and they want sort of an escape from their realities. Entertainment should be the focus, not standing up there and playing our songs and trying to look cool. We're serving the audience at all times."

In David Mayfield's case, that service is often vaudevillian, with comedy as part of the musical theatre of a Parade show. The broad gestures and the comedy long ago served to tamp down Mayfield's stage fright.

"If I go out on stage and I give everything and I let everything out and I'm over the top -- and if I make a mistake, I make it big enough so everybody can enjoy it -- then it really becomes this thing where everyone is involved in this show, and I can do no wrong. Because if I actually mess up, I'm messing up with everyone. The audience is in on it.

"That's kind of been almost my little secret. So I have no fear at that point. If I make myself look like a fool on purpose, then when I actually do it, then no one is any the wiser."

Make no mistake, though, the music is serious, even if the repertoire is hard to pin down. Mayfield's influences include both Doyle Lawson and Randy Newman , and through two records, "Parade" and "Good Man Down," the music has been similarly wide-ranging.

But the band is working on a new record, which a friend told Mayfield matches him better than the previous ones.

"I think it's the best set of songs I've ever written," he said, "and I'm real excited about that."

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(c)2013 The Roanoke Times (Roanoke, Va.)

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