- Matte Graham
Somewhere in every musician's story, they reach a crossroads. One path leads them to life as a solo singer-songwriter who connects with audiences through intimate narratives set to thoughtful fingerstyle guitar. The other leads to band life, where the priority is getting audiences on their feet for an evening of ass-shaking and bad decisions. Heber's resident folk songstress Alicia Stockman dwells in both worlds. When she's not performing her solo material around Park City, she's getting loud and sassy fronting the rock/country hybrid Bonanza Town.
"The music we play in Bonanza Town is high-energy and focused on having fun and getting people to dance," she says. "As a soloist, what I like to do is tell stories."
Stockman, 31, grew up among the lush valleys and foothills of Midway, so she's made the Park City area her musical turf. She started playing music in her junior high orchestra, and her interests deepened when she got her hands on her dad's guitars. "That exposure led me to want to learn how to play something a little bit cooler than the clarinet," Stockman says. Over the years, she scoured the Online Guitar Archive tablature database, teaching herself how to play some of her favorite songs.
It was when she joined Bonanza Town in 2011 that she seriously considered music as a career. The band made a name for itself by playing gigs at Park City music hubs The Spur and Flanagan's on Main, and they released a self-titled EP in 2014. The following year, Stockman took a break from the band.
"I learned most of what I know about music from Bonanza Town," she says, adding that her years with the group gave her the confidence to explore music alone. She embraced the fact that solo artists can only rely on themselves while performing. "I learned a lot about playing as a soloist and not relying on the band to cover up mistakes," she says. Stockman proved a quick study by winning the Susanne Millsaps Performing Songwriter Award at the 2017 Utah Arts Festival—a huge honor for local musicians.
When Stockman plays solo, her folksy blend of country and soul drives lyrical narratives. "When I went off on my own for a while, I was trying to figure out what my sound was and what I was trying to do," she says. "And I think my interests led me down the folk path."
As the genre defines itself by its lack of boundaries, Stockman felt that her path to becoming a folk musician was often beset by uncertainty. She credits a Daily Show interview with contemporary folk artist Jason Isbell with helping her to find a bit more direction in her solo career. "He said that it's folk musicians' job to tell stories, and take that oral narrative history and pass it down," she says. "He also said that it doesn't matter if you wear skinny jeans or Wranglers, you can still be a folk musician. What your music sounds like isn't the point; the point is how you capture the story."
While Stockman's solo material treads a different path than her work with Bonanza Town, it's clear that they're both cut from the same musical cloth. BT combines toe-tapping bass lines and howling guitar solos with Stockman's dangerously sultry voice. When she's on her own, she brings her audience in closer with her beautiful acoustic songs about loneliness and heartbreak. Listening to both projects, you hear an externally tough country woman—the type who would punch you for giving her a funny look from across the bar—who also harbors deep, soulful insights for those lucky enough to see her softer side.
Bonanza Town reformed early this year, with Stockman reprising her role as lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist alongside lead guitarist Joe Woodward, bassist Nick Steffens and drummer Nick Price. Stockman says her experience as a solo performer has helped her become a better frontwoman for the band. "Even though Bonanza Town is more about having fun and getting people to dance, I still make it a point to try and connect with people, which is something I learned from being a soloist," Stockman says. And it goes both ways: "Playing with Bonanza Town has taught my solo music to have better performance quality."
Moving forward, she plans to write new material for both of her projects, but says, "I have a strict goal of trying to produce a full solo album." The more immediate plan, though, is to book a full slate of fall and winter gigs for herself and the band. It's shaping up to be a busy year for both projects, but despite her proclivity for writing sad songs, she couldn't be happier. "I have an established solo career and a really fun band to play with. I have the best of both worlds," she finalizes.