Ever just get the urge to hit the road and see where you end up?
That’s precisely the route that local musician Shannon McNeil is taking. He stood out locally for years, winning the local “Chewelah’s Got Talent” contest twice in front of large local crowds thanks to the efforts of Chewelah community radio station KCHW.
Most recently, as a member of “Triple Threat,” McNeil swashbuckled his way in a three-man group to win the 2016 version of “Chewelah’s Got Talent” with their rendition of the Pirates of the Caribbean theme via eletronic keyboard and fiddling. The people that know McNeil probably weren’t surprised by this, as he can command a room with his wide range of musical talents.
“I love the competitive yet friendly atmosphere of the event and how involved the community is,” McNeil said.
Now McNeil is hitting the road and touring for two years in the United States and Canada as a traveling musician. A big believer of finding his own style and being true to the music he loves, McNeil wanted this experience to be a big part of his life — not just a side job or hobby.
“On the trip I will be focusing on my music,” McNeil said. “said. “I plan to do a lot of busking and playing music in coffee shops and on street corners. But one thing that I am really excited for is that I will be able to work on some of my personal goals and acquire new skills.”
Busking is performing in public places for gratuities. Around the world, this practice is common but McNeil laments that sometimes it can be looked down upon in the United States. This doesn’t deter him, however, as he wants to experience growth as a musician.
His musical inspirations come from all places. McNeil said he loves artists who can clearly tell a story with their music and make you feel like you’re right there with them.
“One indie artist that I’ve followed over the years is a guy named Ron Pope,” McNeil said. “But one more recent inspiration of mine is Charlie Puth who wrote the tribute song for Paul Walker ‘See you again.’”
Puth’s latest album “Nine Track Mind” is one of the few albums that McNeil said he can listen to each song on repeat all day.
McNeil’s skills are already impressive. The local musician began taking piano lessons at nine years-old and picked up a fiddle at age 11. His supportive parents wanted their kids to have a background in music.
“They spent a lot of time and money driving us around for lessons and competitions over the years,” McNeil said. “I grew up playing Bluegrass and Texas swing fiddle but my passion isn’t for Bluegrass,” McNeil said. “I listen to and play several genres of music right now. From Pop and some Classic Rock to Classical and maybe a little Folk or Country. I can’t say what genre or category I fit in right now. I’m still kinda finding my musical ‘niche.’”
This isn’t the first time that McNeil has been away from Chewelah. He spent a lot of time working in Clarkston and Lewiston as an apprentice for a screen printing shop and a salesman at a sporting good store and on an assembly line at a factory.
“I learned a lot but I realized that living a life without passion is empty and meaningless and that going after our ‘society’s norm’ wasn’t for me,” McNeil said.
The musician admitted that he wasn’t happy working fifty hours a week just to be out on his own with his own apartment and that he wanted to do more than just the normal rat race.
“I had been thinking about taking a new direction when I had an accident and fractured my L5-S1 vertebra and I decided then that I was going to make some changes,” McNeil said.
After the accident, McNeil came back to Stevens County where he grew up and it was here where he hatched the plan to tour the country and do so in the best way possible.
“I had wanted to travel for quite a while but after my back injury I knew I just had to do it,” McNeil said. “The van was the best option for me to travel cheap and play music.”
The van is where McNeil will call home for the next few years. He took an old Dodge passenger van and began the project of converting it into a living space.
“I basically ripped everything out of it and started from scratch,” McNeil said. “I wanted to make it as functional and comfortable as possible in the small space which I think I was able to achieve.”
Instead of going for a bigger apartment or house, McNeil went the other direction. He wanted to declutter his life and start living a more minimalist lifestyle. Now everything he owns fits inside the van.
“I am so thankful for the support from my family and friends in this endeavor,” McNeil said. “I couldn’t have made this work if it wasn’t for the help from my mom and dad while in the process of remodeling the van. They’ve tried really hard to support my brothers, sisters and I and for that I am so grateful.”
You can check out Shannon’s music and enjoy his travels by checking out his Facebook Page and his YouTube Channel, along with his blog www.shannonmcneil.com.
By Brandon Hansen/The Independent Staff