Last updated on August 13th, 2023 at 09:42 pm
If you’ve attended any of the past nine Mile of Music festivals, there’s a high chance you’ve seen Christopher Gold playing. As one of the few artists that have performed at every “mile,” Christopher is the gold standard of local artists calling Appleton, Wisconsin home. A veteran in the music industry and passionate songwriter who has sneaky good recommendations on finding records, Christopher sat down with me at the start of the festival.
I learned quite a bit by catching two of Gold’s sets. First is the importance of family to him; his son Oliver joined him multiple times onstage, adding immediate charm. I also witnessed his ability to quickly add humor and wit to any moment. Add a voice with the warm character of Darius Rucker, wrapped up in a “Sons of Anarchy” shell, and Gold is a must-catch for any future “milers.”
Music in Minnesota: You’re in a very small category here at Mile of Music Festival as someone that has performed at all 10 Miles. You’ve had the chance to witness this festival from the very beginning to this year’s 10th anniversary. How has it evolved from your perspective?
Christopher Gold: The cool thing about it for me is that the underlying idea has not changed: it’s about music discovery. It’s about going to see a band you’ve never heard of. It gives a lot of artists an opportunity to do something cool that they might not otherwise be “established enough” to do. There are a lot of festivals where if you can’t draw a certain number or have this many streams, you won’t get on. From the beginning at Mile of Music, if the people booking the festival like your music, they’ll put you on. You’re almost guaranteed to get to play to a decent-sized crowd of people that are excited to hear something new.
MiM: Has the format stayed the same, where you’re playing multiple sets over these days?
Gold: It’s slowed down. Well, I say “slowed down,” even though I have 10 shows this year. There was one year that even I was like, “Okay, this is crazy,” because it got up to some 26 shows. I do solo shows, and I do rock and roll full band stuff. Then I was doing a radio appearance here or a TV appearance there. By the end of the weekend, I picked up a guitar 26 times in four days.
MiM: Has there been a favorite memory over the course of 10 years that stands out?
Gold: As a performer, there have been tons of special moments where, when people are just ready to listen, you can sort of do more. So there’s been a lot of totally unplugged, “in the middle of the crowd” kind of things.
As a music fan, I always go back to the first year when I got to open at one of the main stages. It was Justin Townes Earle, Rodney Crowell, and me. I got to hang out with Justin; God rest his soul, he was lovely. I’m such a fan of his, but also I showed up early and got to watch Rodney Crowell just sit there alone in a chapel and play a couple of songs unplugged. Ten feet from a legend, no big deal, man, it’s fine [laughs]. “Act like you’ve been there!”
MiM: As a hometown artist here in Appleton, what’s the value for you in playing this festival?
Gold: I’m from Kentucky originally, but I’ve lived here for 30 years, which is impossible because I’m only 27. But when we play the Mile, we still meet new people, which is always exciting. Then there’s my large music fandom, and it’s always fun to get to see new people, and occasionally they really will stun you. This year Chris Eldridge from The Punch Brothers is here. A Grammy-winning, one of the best bluegrass guitar players on the planet is here, like right now. I know you’re supposed to be like the cool jaded musician guy, but I’m like, “Frigging what? We gotta go to that.”
I think for me, it’s felt more and more crucial in recent years to have things like this, where everybody’s just cool and nice doing the same thing at the same time. It really does feel communal in that way. Especially in the last few years, everyone feels so closed off and shut off and locked away, and it’s just nice to get a bunch of people together to do a thing and feel like everyone’s there for the right reasons and in staggering amounts.
MiM: We all descend into Appleton and then depart after 3 to 4 days. Can you share your perspective from the community here about the festival? Is there a general consensus or feeling the community has on the rush of people?
Gold: I think it depends on where you focus your attention. There’s people that don’t like it. There’s people that love it. There’s people that are probably too harsh about it, and there are people that are probably too rosy-eyed about it. I don’t think anything is perfect, especially a thing that grows and changes. But for me, I choose to put my focus and my energy into the excitement of it. It brings people together and gives people an opportunity to play for a crowd that maybe they’re not used to. I always joke that I live here on purpose. I checked out other places, and I like it here. It’s a nice opportunity to showcase the best of Appleton.
MiM You share in your bio that you write and release an album on an average of every nine months; for many artists, that consistency is hard to keep up. What’s been your process for being so consistent in releasing new music? Is it having six months of winter that locks us down?
Gold: I heard Dave from Trampled by Turtles say the same thing. There’s nothing to do but hunker down and write some stuff. I think you should work at whatever pace you work at. If it takes you three years to make an EP, but it’s great, and you’re happy, that’s awesome. The thing that excites me about the whole process is the writing. I like performing, and I like making records, but I love writing a song. I love that there was nothing, and then I sat down for 20 minutes, and now there’s something. I don’t feel like the best guitar player or the best singer, and I’m not a good networker, but I love a notebook and an acoustic guitar and the excitement I get from coming up with a line that’s pretty cool. I feel about a single lyric the way people feel about riffs and drum fills.
MiM: I think of songwriting like cooking. You are creating something out of nothing. If you could theoretically think of your recipe of ingredients that you pull into your music, what would those be?
Gold: I’m definitely what you would consider an autobiographical songwriter. As you get older and start thinking of bigger things and as you try to avoid sort of the cliche of like, “Here comes a white guy with an acoustic guitar and his stupid feelings,” it starts with me and something I saw or did or heard or felt. I’m also big into philosophy, and some forms of spirituality, and having a kid gives you all kinds of stuff to write about. I have this deal with the universe that if it comes, I’ll write it down.
MiM: I see you’re playing a bus show. Do you always play a set on the bus?
Gold: Yeah, I think we’ve done it every year. It’s remarkable because 30 people show up to get on a bus and ride around for 15 minutes. There’s a PA on the bus, so it’s not even an unplugged show. It’s the craziest thing.