Ashley McMillen in Morgantown
Country singer and Morgantown native Ashley McMillen returns home to perform for the first time.
Photos Courtesy of Ashley McMillen
In the music business, the saying is that the hardest city to break into is your own hometown. Morgantown native Ashley McMillen, a country-inspired singer/songwriter whose career has exploded in Virginia, can attest to that paradox.
But this week, she’ll finally get the chance to come home.
When West Virginia University asked her to sing the national anthem when the Mountaineers host the Oklahoma Sooners on February 5, 2014, Ashley recognized a prime opportunity to also bring her five-piece band from Charlottesville, Virginia, for their first performance in Morgantown at Schmitt’s Saloon. Ashley and her band will perform at Schmitt’s on Friday, February 7, at 9 p.m. While she’s in town, she’ll also play a private show for the WVU Children’s Hospital on February 6.
“I’ve been waiting for the right time to come back. After I got the call from WVU, I reached out to Schmitt’s and asked if we could perform there, so we’re putting the whole band in a huge Suburban and coming over the mountains,” says Ashley, whose music has been playing on rotation in Virginia for some time. “I’m really excited.”
As a former WVU student, Ashley feels honored to be singing at her old stomping grounds. She has played huge venues before but admits that singing at the Coliseum will be a different ball game. “I’m terrified. I’ve opened for Sara Evans and Gary Allan, but I’m so scared to do this because I have to sing it a capella. They won’t let me bring my guitar so I have nothing to hide behind,” she jokes. “I pretty much grew up at Mountaineer events. When my life began to change significantly about two years ago, when my music started taking off, I took time to think about all the things I’d ever wanted to do with music. Singing the national anthem was absolutely one of those things I’ve always wanted to do and nowhere on earth would it mean more to me than to sing it in my hometown for the Mountaineers.”
In 2012 Ashley released her first EP, Now I Know. The band identifies as country-rock, using pedal steel guitar, electric guitar, drums, and bass. But Ashley’s songwriting, a talent that has always come naturally, spans different genres—Americana, country, folk, and pop. And although listeners can expect to hear all new songs for the two-hour show at Schmitt’s, Ashley always draws from the same inspiration: the raw emotion of her own life and experiences. “I write from my heart. I never sit down and say, ‘OK, today I’m going to write a song about drinking a beer, because that’s what’s ‘cool’ right now,” she says. “My songs all have an underlying intense emotion. ‘Patient With Me,’ my newest single that I released in 2014, came from being afraid to just let go and fall back in love again, along with all the confusion that comes with moving on from a bad relationship. People relate to that.”
Ashley admires strong vocals in music, citing Adele as an artist who effectively uses vocals to create a mood. Her new material reveals the evolution of her own voice. “I had spent so many years singing other people’s songs that I didn’t explore my own, true voice,” she says. “Over the last year, I have evolved into a very unique country sound. It’s different from the very distinct sounds you hear on mainstream country radio or coming out of Nashville, which was never intended, but will definitely work in my favor in the long run. People like different.”
Along with her rising popularity as a musician, Ashley is a successful radio personality on Virginia’s Hitkicker 99.7. She hosts her own show, “The Hitkicker Homegrown Hour,” every night at 11 p.m. EST, as well as a monthly music series, “The Hitkicker Homegrown Sessions,” which promotes regional country music talent.
What's your favorite thing to do when you come back to Morgantown?
Sleep. My life is so hectic I never get a free moment. I always get the best sleep when I'm at home with my family. And, my mom is one hell of a cook. So, I guess eating would be my other favorite thing!
What do you miss the most about Morgantown?
I miss my family. I'm very close to my parents, my brother, Clayton, and sister, Alicia. I was also raised with a huge extended family and we were all very connected, cousins, aunts, grandparents, etc. There's nothing like being with your family. That's actually the reason I finally caved and joined Facebook, so I could stay in touch with all of them. I can't wait to see them!
Favorite restaurant in Morgantown?
Oliverio’s. I can remember driving to Bridgeport to go to Oliverio’s as a kid. Now that there's one in Morgantown—even better!
Favorite WVU sport?
This is impossible to answer! I love them all!