South 85: Highway to Fame

Country rockers South 85 are setting local stages on fire

On a hot August night, as local country-rock quintet South 85 nears the end of a blazing two-hour set, the stage at the Visulite fills with friends and fans. The scene captures what the band, which just released its second album, Too Much Town, is all about—a good time.
When South 85 burst on to the Charlotte music scene five years ago, lead singer Tracy Wyatt’s (below, right) stage presence—a homegrown hell raiser who could wring buckets of emotion (sultry, sad, or funny) out of guitarist/vocalist Kathy Noonan’s songs and lead a boot stomping, booty shaker—grabbed audiences’ attention. Listen harder and you’ll hear Noonan’s Nashville-ready songwriting, guitarist Mike Bader’s blues chops, and the tight rhythm section of Andy Burger and Eric Howard. Added to Wyatt’s sass, it’s a dynamic combination.

“Our plan was to play coffee shops,” says Bader, settling into a booth at Lupie’s Café. The comment garners laughs from Wyatt and Noonan. Noonan recruited Eric Ambel, a one-time Blackheart (as in Joan Jett and …) who owns a club in the East Village and a studio in Brooklyn, to produce Too Much Town. “I liked the songs,” he says. “There’s no trickery involved in how good they sound.”

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