Kamara Thomas

Kamara Thomas is one of the organizers of the Country Soul Songbook Summit, which takes place online Oct. 15-18.


An effort to draw attention to an often overlooked, yet growing force in Country-Americana music is hitting warp speed with the Country Soul Songbook Summit, which will take place Oct. 15-18. The four-day online music festival and conference will feature performances, conversations and interactive workshops.

“We thought, at first, it was going to be this Triangle-based event that we would do quarterly,” said Kamara Thomas, who, with Heather Cook and Kym Register, is organizing the event. “We had these longterm plans for a YouTube channel, to gather community around specifically to spotlight the bi-population and LGBTQ artists in country and Americana music.We thought we’d do these events around the Triangle first and then in a couple of years we’ll start reaching our tentacles out nationally. Our second show was scheduled for March 15, which was the day before the lockdown.”

In a bit of a twist of fate, the pandemic has accelerated the program more quickly toward its goal of representing a wider group of artists and reaching a larger audience.

“Our producer, Heather Cook, took us virtual. After that, we were, like, ‘We just went virtual. We can do our three- to five-year plan now.’ So we started planning a virtual summit where we want to get an intersectional conversation going on around Country-Americana, which is an industry that has made some gestures toward equity and inclusion,” Thomas said. “But from where we’re standing, none of it was happening fast enough for us. We know of a lot of great artists who aren’t getting any exposure. Even the gestures that are being made are small fry in terms of the change that we want to see. We decided to do it ourselves.”

Performances were being recorded and shot at various locations throughout the area, including on a pair of stages at Uniquitiques in downtown Hillsborough. The store’s owner, Jeannie Petterson, often provides props and clothing to local musicians for performances. Some of the musicians wanted to make sure the summit recognizes the contributions of small businesses. 

“We’ve done some shooting at Uniquitiques in the ‘Boot Room,’ Thomas said. “We know business hasn’t been good over here since the pandemic. So we want to support her (Jeannie). The whole festival isn’t just about music. We want it to be about community, culture, activism and all the ways artists interact with their communities. I feel like the music industry sometimes will separates artists out of their communities. These artists don’t exist in some kind of a bubble where they’re doing just one thing. They’re doing lots of things. We’re trying to represent that at the festival. Fashion’s a part of that. Activism’s a part of that. Culture is a part. Food is a part of that. All the ways creatives are generating culture is what we’re trying to address. We haven’t addressed everything, but we’re trying to throw the net as wide as we can.” 

Steph Stewart and Mario Arnez who form the Chapel Hill-based band Blue Cactus, are among the performers taking part in the summit. The two have been playing a blend of Americana-Indi Country for about eight years.

Also performing at Uniquitiques were two members of Dirty Dubs Charlie Pride Project. Will, aka Dirty Dub, and Myk’l Hanna have been playing country music mixed with soul and reggae together for about seven years.

From the group’s press release, the Country Soul Songbook Summit is intended to celebrate what we know this music can be: equitable, integrated, truth-telling, and future-minded. Summit happenings include performances, panels, workshops and curated conversations brought to you by a colorful array of creatives and cultural activists. Beginning with land recognition, we’ll take a four day journey through the hearts and minds of Black, Indigenous, Queer, Southern, Spiritual, Working Class contributors to the Country/Soul/Americana community.

For more information, you can contact Kamara Thomas, Heather Cook and Kym Register at countrysoulsongbook@gmail.com.