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Maygen & The Birdwatcher: Where Art and Agriculture Meet


Maygen & The Birdwatcher
Maygen & The Birdwatcher

 

By Cassidy Spencer

 

Early in June of 2023, Lynn Betts was doing consulting with the South Dakota Grassland Coalition, developing a public service campaign through the USDA to highlight North America’s native grasslands. Videographer Joe Dickie had crisscrossed the grasslands for years already, collecting footage of the country’s authentic ranching livelihood and the grasslands’ expansive, multifaceted beauty. With all this footage, and an aim to bring attention to the wonder of the grasslands– Betts decided to start seeking the right artist to write a song encapsulating the mission to save the grasslands, to bring the message and the footage together into one piece of art.

 

Joe Dickie was skeptical. So often music about the landscape, about nature, can ‘dip into cheesy territory, into jingle territory’. Joe didn't want a jingle for the grasslands. He wanted a piece of art that could reflect what he found so stunning and so imperative, after studying this landscape for so many years.

 

Lynn Betts set out to listen through all the Midwest music acts and groups he could find. 

 

“I believe it was Lynn, who wound up in my inbox, saying that he had listened to all the different Midwest artists trying to find the right voice or the right style for this campaign. That they were looking for music to be written, and would we be interested in writing about the wonder of the grasslands?” says Maygen of Maygen & The Birdwatcher. “And he found the right people, because we sure were up for it. We had just been touring earlier that year through the grasslands and admiring the beauty of everything, so that imagery was fresh for us.”

 

Maygen & The Birdwatcher is a band led by Maygen Lacey and fellow singer/songwriter Noah Neumann. The band began as a duo between the two in 2017, and they have slowly been building their group, their voice and their repertoire since then.

 

“Over the past few years, we’ve just been getting our music out to as many places as possible and it's been fun to see kind of where it turns up and who hears it– including Lynn,” says Maygen.

 

Maygen Lacey grew up listening to 90’s country music that her mom was a fan of. She knew she loved music, and sang in high school, but had extreme stage fright following high school, so she did not perform at all. It wasn’t until after she had kids that Maygen realized that if she didn’t start to face her dream and fear of performing, she never would. She began as a studio vocalist and co-leading her first band, a female-fronted duo called Sparrow’s Rising. 

 

At one of their gigs, Maygen met a guitarist, Noah Neumann. She saw his talent and wanted to expand the band and invited Noah to join as a musician. They soon branched off from there as they realized they both had similar songwriting goals that took them away from the genre they were currently in.

 

Neumann did not grow up listening to country music– he was raised in a small town north of the Twin Cities and played the contrarian, pushing against country music for a lot of his youth, listening to classic rock and playing in metal bands. Eventually a family friend brought country music back into Noah’s life as an adult and something clicked. 

 

“I started to see it from a different perspective. So, I was bopping around through different projects, and I started to feel like I wanted to have a bit more artistic influence on a project's artistic identity. And I didn’t want to do it alone. And I met Maygen, and the rest is history,” says Neumann.

 

Their collaboration has only blossomed since then. 

 

“When we started with our first EP, he was only playing guitar and I was writing the lyrics. But over the years our voices have kind of grown together. He started writing for our debut full-length album Moonshine and he is an amazing writer and fantastic melody guy. And has a lovely voice. And all these talents came out of the woodwork through this project,” says Maygen.

 

“-And Maygen used to not play any guitar and now she does,” adds Noah.

 

Where Good Things Grow

A piece of the perfection regarding Maygen & The Birdwatcher as the choice for this project, is that the band had toured through Montana, through the grasslands, through the Midwest and agricultural landscapes. Fresh on their mind was the beauty and the wonder of this landscape, and the importance of calling attention to it.

“It’s easy to not notice it, but agriculture is everywhere. Like Montana, we played a festival, and the festival was just surrounded by farmland. Or we went down to Palisade, CO, which is on the western slope of the Rockies, which is a peach town. They farm peaches. That’s what they're all about. You would never know. And it's one of our favorite places we’ve ever been. So, agriculture is everywhere. The livelihood of it, the history, and the families who do this,” says Noah.

 

In the lyrics for the song, Noah and Maygen wanted to capture and honor the history of the families who have tended this land so long and how much the land means to them; their livelihood, their community. The song begins with the line “Oh, the wonder” to call the audience’s attention to nature’s amazing capacity for care and regeneration and to not take it for granted– as these farming families have not taken it for granted for all these generations.

 

“For me a lot of the writing was kind of about how interconnected everything is and how important it is to keep it that way– you need the birds, you need the buffalo, you need all that stuff for the soil to get to do what the soil needs to do to keep life moving along the way that it should the way that it's meant to be,” says Maygen.

 

Once the song was written Joe, Maygen and Noah went into the Lac Qui Parle grasslands in Southwest Minnesota to film video of the two playing and singing the song. The resulting video footage of Maygen singing and Noah strumming the guitar in the radiant warm late-day light over the prairie, spliced into footage of grassland livelihood that Joe had been collecting for years. This music video went on to win Maygen & The Birdwatcher ‘Music Video of the Year’ at the Midwest Country Music Organization Awards, where they also won ‘Entertainer of the Year’.


Maygen & The Birdwatcher
Maygen & The Birdwatcher

In the future, the band aims to release another full album in the upcoming year. Earlier this year they completed a successful Kickstarter to fund their future projects, and recently released their songs ‘Jericho’ and ‘Right Where You Belong’ to streaming platforms, meant as the first of much new music to come from the rising group. In the meantime, their most recent collection is the forthcoming ‘Leap Year’ EP, due out August 2nd.

 

“Basically we have plans for the next many years, so many songs and so much we’re trying to do. So we’re like, ‘here's this EP,’ while we’re also trying to make the next full-length piece this fall or winter,” says Maygen.

 

Watch the full video for ‘Where Good Things Grow” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FklZNJWNxcY 

 

To find out more about Maygen and Noah, go to: https://www.maygenandthebirdwatcher.com/ or follow them on Facebook or Instagram. @maygenandthebirdwatcher

 

To listen to the full interview CLICK HERE

 

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