Chattanooga Now Nightfall headliner Firekid brings guitar chops, soulful vocals to Miller Plaza

Chattanooga Now Nightfall headliner Firekid brings guitar chops, soulful vocals to Miller Plaza

August 4th, 2016 by Casey Phillips in Chattnow Music

Dillon Hodges is Firekid.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

If you go

› What: Nightfall concert series featuring Firekid.

› When: 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 5; Ogya opens at 7.

› Where: Miller Plaza, 850 Market St.

› Admission: Free.

› Phone: 423-265-0771.

› Series website: nightfallchattanooga.com.

› Artist website: firekidmusic.com.

The opener

Ogya is a Chattanooga-based West African/Caribbean music band led by Kofi Mawuko. For more information, visit the band’s Facebook profile, Facebook.com/OgyaWorldMusic.

Growing up, many kids breeze through a mercurial stream of flash-in-the-pan interests that are as ferociously intense as they are short-lived.

That's what Florence, Ala., native Dillon Hodges' parents thought they were facing after he received an acoustic guitar for his 11th birthday.

He'd flirted with soccer, but most of his time had been relegated to playing video games and Dungeons & Dragons. At first, they underestimated his interest in learning to play and were reluctant to pay for lessons.

"I don't think they understood that I was serious about it," Hodges says.

His neighbor took him under his wing, however, and after a few months of lessons and trips to jam at bluegrass festivals around the Southeast, it became apparent that Hodges wasn't just infatuated with the guitar. He was good at it. Really good.

"[My teacher] was entering me in guitar contests to compete against people who'd been playing their whole lives and who were five times my age," Hodges says. "I was racking up all this money from winning contests on the weekend.

"All of the sudden, I was able to buy whatever I wanted. I was saving up and buying guitars and gear and sound systems."

In 2007, a then-17-year-old Hodges won the prestigious National Flat Pick Guitar Championship at the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, Kan. Incidentally, he beat out Chattanoogan Roy Curry, who finished third that year (Curry had already claimed two championships, in 1980 and 1991, and won a third in 2012).

Now in his mid-20s and performing under the name Firekid, Hodges has received national attention for playing music that is a novel blend of bluegrass instrumental complexity a la artists such as Doc Watson and Tony Rice with electronic/synth production more commonly associated with hip-hop and pop.

Onstage, he wields nothing more than a guitar made by Gibson — whom he endorses — but behind him, his bandmates, Josh Kleppin and Heidi Feek (daughter of country musician Rory Feek) accompany him on a synth pad and trio of synthesizers. Also a Game Boy, which has been rigged to lend its electronic voice to his sets, a niche musical form called "chiptune."

"I think I'm constantly trying to make things fit together that wouldn't naturally fit together and try to make them feel natural," he says. "I find that I do that with a lot of different things, using elements that wouldn't normally work together to make music."

The last two years have seen Firekid performing for outlets ranging from Paste Magazine to USA Today and onstage at events such Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza and the SXSW festival. Friday, Aug. 5, he'll take the stage at Miller Plaza as this week's Nightfall headliner.

The blending of decidedly old with the new and novel has been a winning one for Hodges, who in 2014 signed with Atlantic Records, which released his self-titled debut album last year.

"Hodges combines these disparate sounds with an assured sense of melody and engaging vocals for a surprisingly winning album that's reaching for commercial crossover even as it's layered with a variety of dissimilar styles," writes American Songwriter reviewer Hal Horowitz. "It's the mixture that makes Firekid's music deeper and more emotionally involving than most pop."

Contact Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfreepres.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.