Shawn Colvin, Darryl Jones, Jason Ringenberg – three examples of music notables who started their careers at Carbondale.
This month, River to River Community Records draws your attention to a rising musical star who, unlike these top three artists, is a born and raised Carbondale native, clearly on his way to fame and fortune.
His name is Dakota Holden. While continuing to lend his talent to local musical projects weather permitting, the 24-year-old may have outgrown the Southern Illinois scene. After moving to Nashville, Tennessee, he is now making a name for himself playing pedal steel guitar.
River to River: Where did you go to school?
Dakota Holden: I attended Unity Point Elementary School and then Carbondale Community High School from 2012 to 2016. I graduated from SIU in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in radio, television, and digital media.
R2R: How did you learn to play music?
DH: My first instruments were the drums and percussion of the Unity Point Concert Band. But when I was 13, I started playing guitar and recording songs using ProTools on the computer. At first, picking up the guitar was a very relaxed thing. I didn’t just pick it up and I said, “Yeah, that’s my thing now.”
A2R: Talk about your first groups.
DH: Just a few months after learning guitar, I met Nathan and Brandan Gill in college. I joined their band, “Mr. Swamp Fox”, and that’s when my musical energy really kicked in. I was surrounded by guys who could play their game, and I wanted to shred too! The camaraderie and creative fellowship has really made me passionate about music and audio engineering. After that I started to say, “yeah, that’s my thing now.”
In high school, I joined Jazz Band as a guitarist and started my first band with my best friend, Paul Goodin. We were called “Shutting Down the Moon” which was inspired by the Yellow Moon Cafe in Cobden. In this group, we explored the Americana genre with accordion, banjo, and violin.
R2R: What kind of experience have you had in the SIU Radio / TV program?
DH: I was introduced to Todd Herreman, who gave me a tour of the communications building and the amazing studios on campus. My spirits were a bit chilled when he accepted a job at Syracuse University, but then Jenny Pape took over audio engineering classes and delivered a killer program. I also started working with Jay Needham in digital media. These three people – Todd, Jenny and Jay – made the best experience I could ask for. SIU does a great job providing all the tools and time to make art and track whatever you want to pursue. Do I still look like a car salesman?
R2R: How did you learn and master the pedal steel guitar?
DH: I was at a bluegrass festival in 2016 and attended a very small workshop with Jerry Douglas, who said he started playing dobro because there were too many guitarists. During this whole weekend, with all the guitarists, mandolinists and banjo selectors on stage, I only saw one pedal steel player. So I sold one of my guitars and a few pedals, and bought a steel single-channel pedal. It took another year to understand the instrument and to muster the courage to ask Danny Weaver for lessons in Cobden. He’s the reason I play today.
R2R: How did you meet Hugh DeNeal?
DH: Towards the end of high school, I, among other things, participated in the merch work for Heather Smith and Hugh at MerchOp. That’s when we started dating. Later he asked me to join his group “The People vs Hugh DeNeal”. I was very new to playing steel, so playing original music was a good way to discover my place in musical arrangements.
A2R: Talk about “Miss Jenny and the Howdy Boys” and how you came to co-produce their latest album.
DH: It started from an independent study class I had with Jenny. “The Jenny Johnson Band” had just ended, it had unrecorded tracks and I wrote a handful of songs that ended up totaling 12 tracks. After that, we got a full band together with Nathan Graham on bass, Kyle Triplett on guitar and banjo, and Chad Shaffer on drums. The eponymous album was released in October 2020.
R2R: What was it like finding your first gig in Nashville?
DH: I’ve always loved Nashville, the idea of playing there, and I’ve always intended to do something there. I moved there and started to say “yes” to every opportunity. My first gig was to subtitle on pedal steel in the live band for the American Showdown rodeo. A good mate and a fantastic guitarist, Nicky V, offered me the job when their lead steel player came out this weekend. He shared the charts and setlist, and two weeks later I was on a bus heading to Mississippi!
R2R: What are your current plans in Nashville?
DH: I had the special opportunity to work with Grammy Award winning Avi Kaplan on her music video for “First Place I Go”. I am also a new addition to a local Gospel quartet, which is preparing to hit the road on trips across the United States.
But I also made frequent visits to the house for shows with “Miss Jenny and the Howdy Boys” and “The People vs Hugh DeNeal”. Last September I performed an Off the Rails show at Carbondale with Hugh and Jason Ringenberg. I also worked with Matt Garrison and Holly Hurt on a new record “Big Hurts”. We recently did a music video with Moonfield Creative for “To Make Do”, and it looks and sounds great!
R2R: What words of wisdom would you offer?
DH: My advice to any musician is, you guessed it, to practice! Being a good musician requires taking deliberate time to improve your skills. And when you’re not actively practicing, listen and observe. Be social, friendly, and know when to take a step back. It might sound incredibly cliché, but it’s true.