The Road Less Traveled
By Stephen Pitalo
“I love playing for other artists, but at the same time, I’ve always felt called to do gospel music,” said Nashville resident Sarah Davison, guitar player and leader of the country-bluegrass-Christian-gospel hybrid quartet known as HighRoad.
“When HighRoad first started, it awakened this part of me I didn’t even know God had in mind,” Sarah explained. Since that awakening, and the group’s formation, Sarah and bandmates Kinsey Kapfhammer (guitar, vocals), Kristen Bearfield (mandolin, guitar, banjo, vocals), and Lauren Conklin (fiddle) earned six SGM Scoops Diamond Award nominations and an Absolutely Gospel Music Female Group of the Year award. With gigs at leading gospel music events at the Gatlinburg Gathering, Myrtle Beach’s Singing In The Sun and the National Quartet Convention, to name a few, HighRoad certainly is traveling in the fast lane -- with God always riding shotgun.
“I started the band with a dear friend of mine who played the fiddle,” Sarah explained, “and we began playing at small churches around our home areas. I fell in love with hymns from a very early age, so it was like second nature to arrange them for fiddle and piano. We started getting busier and busier, and we kept adding people to the group as members changed. Now, here we are, having a great time writing tunes and playing music that we love!”
As a gifted pianist and vocalist in her own right, Sarah has toured with country superstars from Hall of Famer George Jones, current hitmaker Chris Young, and even ACM Award-winner Mark Wills at none other than the Grand Ol’ Opry. She formed HighRoad in 2010, and most recently, the combo played the Country Music Hall of Fame in her home base, Nashville.
With the band’s third full-length release, Somewhere I’m Going, HighRoad partnered with GRAMMY®-nominated producer Ben Isaacs, who helmed their 2014 sophomore set, Angel at the Crossroads. It’s grassy instrumentation, lush harmonies and gentle nostalgia-laden melodies that connect with Sarah’s rural roots in southwestern Iowa.
Penning eight of the album’s 12 selections, Sarah and company sing about heart and home, especially on the title track with lyrics like “Home is not just somewhere I’m from / It’s somewhere I’m going.”
“The song is about going home to see friends and family, but a lot of our friends and family are not there anymore because they’ve gone on to be with the Lord,” Sarah explains. “I think every person can relate to looking back on their childhood, those memories with aunts and uncles and friends who are no longer here with us. We can be assured we’re going to see them again someday.” Unfortunately, in the past year, she has endured the loss of numerous family members—including two grandparents.
Somewhere I’m Going also features fresh arrangements of favorites “In the Sweet By and By” and “I’d Rather Have Jesus.” Including hymns on each of their recordings continues to be a significant part of High Road’s DNA. “Those old songs are so good, and the words just tug at your heart,” Sarah says, noting that the hymns they record for each album are a traditional staple that’s here to stay. She keeps a list of song ideas in her smartphone to document or record the melodies in her head when she’s away from the studio or her guitar.
“When I do sit down to write, it's usually the melody that comes to me first, but not always. Every song is different!” she said.
For Sarah, the best part of performing is watching people laugh, cry, or smile during their songs, and seeing folks sing along with the band, but the way she connects with her faith seems contagious during those moments.
“Music is a language of its own and for us, it's always great when God stirs in people's hearts and they leave differently than they came in that night.”
Sarah wouldn’t say it’s tougher to be a bandleader or to navigate the music business if you’re a woman, because it’s not really on her mind.
“I honestly don't think too much about the fact that I am a woman doing what a lot of men do -- I just go for it and try to do the best I can! There have been times where I'll sit in with a band full of grown men and I'm the only girl in the mix. They act surprised when I load my own gear, and don't complain about stuff! (laughs) I enjoy driving and loading a trailer, writing charts, and getting everyone together for a weekend of concerts. I grew up on a cattle farm, so doing ‘chores’ that require a little extra effort is just a way of life to me.”