Duo emerges from the wilderness into songwriting scene
By Lauren Jette
Texas is known for its music scene, with Austin being considered the “Live Music Capital of the World”, but breaking into that crowded scene can be tough.
For one Liberty Hill music duo, their recognition will come on Sunday morning, when they are featured on the “Songwriters Across Texas” TV show.
Bear Creek Wilderness, comprised of husband and wife duo Ken and JudyAnn Lloyd, will see their final segment on the show, which airs at 11:30 a.m. on CW Austin – KNVA.
“It’s a great show,” JudyAnn said. “The people are so nice to work with and they have great music every Sunday. The genres are all over the map, it’s just terrific.”
The show was founded by Pitt Garrett three years ago, as a way to give Texas songwriters a chance to get their work heard, JudyAnn explained.
“(Garrett) wanted to get into music and songwriting and he tried to break into the industry and found out if you try to get into Nashville, it’s like, ‘nope. We have our own people, sorry’ and so he got so frustrated, he thought this was so wrong, so the show is all about independent songwriters and giving them a chance to be heard.”
With more than 200 episodes since then, the show doesn’t just showcase new musicians, but has also featured “Texas legends” such as Dale Watson.
Bear Creek Wilderness met Garrett through Ken’s “first girlfriend from elementary school” while she was staying with Ken and JudyAnn. They ended up inviting Garrett over, JudyAnn said.
“He came over and sat down in the studio and I did (the song) ‘Grandma’s Old Guitar’,” Ken explained. “I’ve gotten a pretty good reaction to it live. He’s sitting there and he’s got his hands on his belly and he closes his eyes while I’m playing and all of a sudden he’s relaxed and his mouth is kind of open and I’m thinking, I’m putting the guy to sleep.
“When I get done he just looks at me and goes ‘Stunning. Absolutely stunning.’ He says ‘I want you on my show’. So that’s how that happened.”
Ken and JudyAnn packed up all their instruments and drove to Austin for the taping.
“They do a taping all at once, two or three songs all at one taping and then they spread them out through several shows with all kinds of people,” JudyAnn said.
This week’s episode will feature Bear Creek Wilderness playing a song JudyAnn wrote, called “Bear Creek Cravin’”. Two earlier episodes included Ken’s song “Grandma’s Old Guitar” and Ken playing “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” on the dulcimer.
Being included on the show is “amazing. Just amazing,” she said. “Our first Christian CD was on the local Christian radio station, the Candle,” Ken said. “For about a year, we were getting regular play on that. So to be on radio, and to be on TV a couple of times already…to be included in the Austin musician family is humbling.”
The two have been making music together almost as soon as they met, 15 years ago, through an online dating site, Ken said.
“It was one of those miracle type things,” he explained.
“We met on that site my last week, because I met some real nut cases on that site. My last week, I met her and she was the last name on my list and actually I did renew for one more month just to keep talking to her and then we moved on to the phone pretty quick after that. One morning, I prayed if it be God’s will that we meet, that he orchestrate it.”
Ken planned to ask his boss to take a Friday and the following Monday off, to fly out to California to meet JudyAnn. As it turned out, Ken’s boss told him that same day that Ken needed to be in California the following Monday for training.
“It just seemed like that was what God wanted me to do,” Ken said. “So I asked her to marry me totally out of faith and here it is 15 years later. People are just amazed at how perfect we are together. We’re amazed by how perfect we are.”
“Our music together fits perfectly,” JudyAnn said. “I was never able to sing harmony. I have been singing since I was born and I couldn’t get harmony. When we got married, within a month, I was singing harmony for the first time in my life, like I had done it forever. It was a blessing.”
With backgrounds in Christian music, Ken and JudyAnn started out calling themselves Joyful Noise before finding a new name.
“We started calling ourselves ‘Wilderness’ because both of us have a pretty colorful past,” Ken said.
“We came from a wilderness,” JudyAnn added.
Bear Creek refers to the creek that runs alongside their property in Liberty Hill, where they have lived for 13 years.
For Ken, coming out of the wilderness was recovering from a bad accident where he broke his neck in five places. Doctors told him he would never walk again, but Ken proved them wrong, learning how to walk with almost no feeling in his feet.
“People are surprised when they hear I’m a walking quadriplegic,” he said. He has reduced feeling from the neck down and doesn’t have any feeling in either one of his ring fingers, “so that makes playing a challenge.” Both of those fingers are really key, not just for any guitar instrument, but also for the Native American flutes and Irish whistles he plays.
“Sometimes I really nail every hole perfectly, sometimes I don’t,” Ken said. “There are some challenges. There always will be.”
While Ken wasn’t sure if he would ever be able to play the guitar again after the accident, he worked his way up from being able to play three songs during a church service to playing through a multiple-hour set.
“That’s what’s so beautiful about it,” JudyAnn said. “He overcomes all the challenges.”
The sound of Bear Creek Wilderness reflects anything from Americana, Celtic, Country, Folk, Rock, and traditional music.
“We go all the way from old, traditional Hank Williams country, Gordon Lightfoot, John Prine, Rolling Stones, Led Zepplin,” Ken said.
“We do Fleetwood Mac, (JudyAnn) does Stevie Nix. We do Kasey Musgraves stuff, we do stuff that’s on the radio right now that you hear on the radio today. We’re just all over the map.”
In addition to playing covers, Bear Creek Wilderness writes and plays original songs when performing.
“We always throw in a few (originals),” Ken said. “That’s the thing about us, we can’t just manufacture music. It has to be from personal experience,” he said.
For more information about Bear Creek Wilderness, see their website at www.bearcreekwilderness.com or their Facebook page.