Oklahoma native Mallory Eagle grew up in a creative family; her father is an artist, and her mother teaches design. That kind of upbringing, combined with annual treks to the International Bluegrass Festival as a kid, is the ideal situation for a budding “honky-grass” artist.
“My parents are one-hundred percent on the support train,” Eagle said. “They’ve done the whole self-employed, creative making a living lifestyle, and they get it.”
Her first album, “Red Dirt Home,” dropped in February 2018, which included backing work from bluegrass-fiddler legend Byron Berline, but it would be six more months before Eagle headed to Nashville, her current home.
“Nashville was always the plan,” she said. “I had finished at ACM-UCO, but I still had a list of things I wanted to accomplish before I left. I wanted to write and cut an album, which I did, and I wanted to gig heavily in Texas, play Tower Theatre and sort of get my thing rolling before I moved.”
Eagle has that quality that so many would-be musicians lack: a strong work ethic. She gigged as often as she could, made connections, built a network, accomplished her goals, and then headed for Tennessee. The network she’d built in Oklahoma paid off almost immediately. She reached out to Forrest O’Connor, son of Grammy Award winning Mark O’Connor, and Grammy winner in his own right.
“Forrest had actually played a barn show here in Oklahoma,” Eagle said. “We met, and he said to hit him up when I got to Nasvhille, so I did.”
Forrest and his band mate-wife (multiple Grammy winner Kate Lee O’Connor) checked out Eagle’s album, and they liked what they heard enough to enlist her in their new project. Connecting with people who have this sort of pedigree is a dream for many new artists, and getting help from them along the way is beyond expectation, but Eagle has a knack for building connections.
“Mallory always worked across disciplines well,” Dustin Ragland said. Ragland is a percussionist and instructor at ACM-UCO. “She was always well connected to production students, even though she was a performance student. She didn’t just build connections for herself either; she was great at connecting people.”
When a connector shows up in Nashville, a city bursting with talent, good things can happen. “There’s so much talent in Nashville it hurts sometimes,” Eagle said. “It’s like can one of y’all suck sometimes? But the guy who’s serving you breakfast at Denny’s is going to outplay you that night. I didn’t really understand competitive talent until I got to Nashville, but it’s pushed me to be my best.”
She also learned that in spite of all the talent and the competition, Nashville is incredibly supportive. “I go out to see a friend’s show, and they pull me up on stage to do a few songs, so of course, I do the same for them. It’s incredibly supportive. It’s the kind of environment that pushes you in the best way.”
Characterizing her transition as seamless wouldn’t be totally accurate, though. She moved to Nashville without a job, and she actually found a place to live by scouring Facebook marketplace. She took a retail job to pay bills, and did what she’s always done—built connections and gigged. She’s bringing that same value set with her for her next album, which she calls “honky-grass,” a term she coined to describe her hybrid development in red dirt, honkytonk, and bluegrass.
“It’s harder to pick a band than I expected,” she said. “It’s ridiculous to have so many options. I never expected this to be a problem, but I have so many talented friends that I’m having to really think about the best possible team for the album.”
One of those who is definitely in—so to speak—will be with her at Ponyboy on Monday, January 30, where she’s headlining a show with Ottoman Turks and Tanner Fields.
“Adam Grant will be playing guitar at the show, and he’s going to be part of the band for the album,” Eagle said. “He’s from Jones, Oklahoma, so I expect most of Jones will be at the show Monday.”
Tickets for Mallory Eagle’s Country Kicks on Monday are $10. The show is at 8:30 p.m., upstairs at Ponyboy.