Singer Bethany Davis is a chameleon of sorts.
Her main project, Bethany and the Southside Boys (with guitarist Keith Petersen, bass player Deveran Roof and drummer Thomas Reid) started out as a side project to Delta Cane, the bluegrass band with which she broke out into singing professionally about six years ago.
Bethany and the Southside Boys is her full-time gig now, but Delta Cane still gets together to make an appearance every once in a while — she also sings with other musicians, including Ed Turner & Number 9 (voted Metro’s Best Local Band) and ABBA Baby Daddy, a jazz band made up of professional musicians, music instructors, students and others in the CSRA.
Davis grew up singing, but she never imagined herself making a living off of it — though she had long dreamed of doing so. She sang the National Anthem at all kinds of events as a kid, sang at church and did karaoke contests. She had no formal lessons but taught herself to sing by picking out harmonies to melodies while listening to songs in the car.
After she graduated from North Augusta High School in 2003, she immediately moved to Charleston, living on Folly Beach for about seven years. She moved back to North Augusta to be near family after she became pregnant with her daughter, Veda.
Davis ended up working at a tax office to support herself and her daughter, but Delta Cane’s Michael Balducci — who told Davis he could not get her voice out of his head after hearing her sing — invited her to sing with his band. The band ended up loving her voice.
“I had just started with Delta Cane, and they were like, ‘just quit your job. Just quit your job.’ And so one day I just woke up and decided if I’m gonna quit my job, my real job — I was managing a tax office at the time,” she said. “I’m a smart girl, I used to work a day job, and I was tired all the time from trying to gig out and then work the next day, and my boss heard me play a couple songs and he said, ‘Bethany, you are not supposed to be working this job; you’re supposed to be a singer.’
“So he said, ‘I’m not gonna fire you; you’re gonna quit, and you’re gonna sing, and that’s what you’re gonna do.’ I was so pissed off at him at the time, because I thought I needed the job. But as soon as I was able to focus all my attention on singing, it just took off from there, and I’ve just been so lucky that the community has been really supportive and they come out. … Now, (Bethany and the Southside Boys) is at like four or five gigs a week, and I’ve never looked back. I’ve never had to get a temporary side job or anything like that; the music is fully supporting me and my kid.”
As time went on, Bethany and some of the others in Delta Cane noticed people were wanting to hear cover songs more than their originals.
“So we started Bethany and the Southside Boys as a spin-off from Delta Cane to be able to do covers and perform more to the mainstream crowd, because bluegrass is a niche market,” Davis said. “With Southside Boys, it kind of opened up the area of us being able to play all kinds of different music. We do everything from rap to country, and now we’ve started to write our own. We have one album that’s out (an EP called “Raunchy Tonk”), and one that’s in the works, so we’re now performing originals, as well.
“So it started as a spin-off about three years ago, and the Southside Boys’ name came from, literally half of Delta Cane was there, and the other half wasn’t. So we couldn’t call it Delta Cane. Both of the guys that were playing with me grew up in the Alleluia Community in south Augusta, and somebody looked up in the bar and said ‘look, it’s Bethany and the Southside Boys,’ and that’s the name came to be — they were literally Southside Boys,” she said with a laugh.
Davis noted how much the community has been coming out for live music and other entertainment in the Augusta area, compared to a decade ago.
“The support of the community has been huge. The festivals have been building; people have been coming downtown, we’ve got very involved in lots of work during Masters Week. The tourism has been starting to pick up. There’s more reasons for people to visit, which is pulling new people in, which we weren’t hitting that demographic five or 10 years ago,” she said. “And now we’re seeing people that are coming out at night from ages 21 to 60, instead of just ages 21 to 35, 40, and it’s making the fan base larger.”
That support for arts and music in the community has been showing up on local radio, in a segment Davis is doing with former Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver on his show “There It Is with Deke Copenhaver.” Davis helped start the Midweek Music Mashup, which can be heard on his show from 9 a.m.-noon Wednesdays on 95.1 FM WGAC. [Editor’s note: Beasley Broadcasting canceled “There It Is” the morning of Wednesday, Oct. 11, after this story was written.]
“It’s my new favorite thing,” she said. “I have such a blast with him; he’s the nicest dude, and I went on one time to do my music and play a little bit, and we just got along so well, I was like, ‘What if you did a music segment?’ So every week, I call a different friend of mine, and it’s been a different person every week for eight months. I haven’t had to repeat anybody. … It’s really about Augusta and the community, and anything that’s gonna improve the community — we do talk strictly music because I’m scared to death to talk politics on conservative talk radio, because I’m like, if you go to the left and then make a left-hand turn, that’s about where I live in my political beliefs. So it was very ‘I won’t say the F-word if you won’t say Trump’ — that was the deal when I did the radio show. And we were like ‘cool,’ and shook hands on it.”
Though Bethany typically doesn’t use her platform to state her political beliefs — and she said the rest of the Southside Boys definitely stay out of getting political — she has been very vocal recently about the possibility of the James Brown Arena moving to the Regency Mall site. She and Mayor Hardie Davis even got into a heated back-and-forth on Facebook about it. But she says the reason she’s gotten involved in speaking out against moving the arena from downtown is because it would directly affect her way of making a living, along with affecting that of others who work and play downtown.
“I think that a lot of the money that we make down here stems from these big shows that they’re having from the James Brown Arena,” she said. “Downtown is what I’m all about right now. They’d be taking money right out of our pockets that we’re used to having. When shows let out, they come this way; we play the music. They tip really well because they’re happy; they just saw a show. They’re all about staying out and hanging out. And if they take it away, they’re not gonna have anywhere to go. People are not gonna want to drive from (south Augusta) back down here again. … And somehow the mayor has decided that, that’s the best decision, and unfortunately a few of the Coliseum Authority members agree with him. I just think it makes absolutely no sense. No. 1, what are you gonna do with the one here? We’ve already got an 8,000-seat arena that we can’t fill. Why are we gonna build a bigger arena in a place that is away from the popular area as far as people going out to restaurants, the entertainment district? And they’re wanting to build a bigger arena, and we can’t even keep a second-string hockey team. They couldn’t fill enough seats to keep the team here, so why in God’s name would you want to build a bigger one?”
She promises to go back to not being political once the James Brown Arena issue is settled.
While Bethany and the Southside Boys’ first album was an EP, Davis said they are working on an LP for their second album. They’re shooting to have it done in mid-2018.
“It’s gonna be kind of a mixture of funk and jazz fusion-ish. (The band wants) me to go soul, jazz, you know — meaty singing,” she said. “So that’s kind of my plan is to listen to the style of the people I play with, which after three years of playing cover songs, we’ve finally found where we want to go stylistically ourselves. And that takes a while to get your footing and get comfortable and share your ideas with each other and be creative together, cohesively as a unit. The past album we put out, I did most of the writing and I bought a couple songs from other people and used them on the album. So they were all originals, but I didn’t write them all. This next album, my only goal is for us as a cohesive unit to write all of the songs together. Because then we have a foundation to build off of, and we’re representing ourselves more adequately than probably the last one. I didn’t know which way I was going on the last one, and now we’ve honed in on where we need to be.”
Davis is the lyricist on her band’s originals, and she usually keeps the subjects of her songs positive.
“Love, for sure; love is a very fickle beast. You know, love, life, happiness,” she said. “I generally go for things that make me happy instead of things that bring me down. I’m not really a Debbie Downer kind of a girl. So they’re all positive. But they’re thought-invoking. Existence, I guess. One of them is ‘What is time?’ — what literally is time? What is it? Who knows? But most of it is all love and happy. … I have a couple about moving back to North Augusta from living in Charleston, which was a very, very huge transition for me. But life experiences, I guess, in general. Things I’ve been through, things (the band has) been through.”
Davis expressed being so grateful to the community and how she and her band have been received. She’s also grateful to have come into doing music professionally in life when she did.
“I wanted to be a musician my entire life, and I just resounded to the fact that it was not gonna happen, and I was working a normal 9 to 5 job,” she sad. “And I guess in the grand scheme of life, I’m glad it eventually happened, but I wish I hadn’t waited so long to jump on it, because I may know how to play an instrument. But starting that late makes me so much more grateful for it than people that have been doing it for 20 years. I’m like 20 years away from my first burnout. I love every show; I don’t care where I’m playing, I’m happy to be standing there with a microphone in my hand rather than behind a computer desk. I know that life. I lived that life, and I felt like an outsider and could not figure out what was wrong. When you don’t know what you’re missing, there’s no way to put your finger on a problem, and once I started playing, I immediately my first show knew, ‘Oh my God, I feel normal. This feels good. This feels right.”
Bethany and the Southside Boys play 220 to 250 gigs a year. Some upcoming shows include: Metro Coffeehouse & Pub on Thursday, Oct. 12; Surrey Tavern on Friday, Oct. 13; Trucks N’ Tunes festival at Gyles Park in Aiken at 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 14; Metro Coffeehouse & Pub at 10 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 14; Amp the Alley in Aiken from noon to 3 Sunday, Oct. 15; The Highlander with ABBA Baby Daddy (w/ Davis and guitarist Keith Petersen) on Wednesday, Oct. 18; Augusta Canal Heritage Festival at 1:15 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 11; and The Highlander on Friday, Dec. 29. Follow the band on Facebook at facebook.com/BethanyandtheSouthsideBoys.