I stumbled upon Dacota Muckey by accident. Wendi*, some good friends, and I had just finished downing what seemed like a half-keg of Chilly Water’s blood orange IPA while Brother O’ Brother ripped open the Saturday leg of 2017’s Virginia Avenue Music Fest. Warner Swopes had spent the last half hour hammering on his drums like a giant Lannister playing a game of “Winterfell Whack-a-Mole.” Chris Banta, meanwhile, cranked acrobatic barre chords…literally jumping off the trash cans and playing a couple riffs with his butt. I had seen something like that before, but never on an early Saturday afternoon next to a busy intersection. I can’t speak for the rest of my gang, but when I crossed the Avenue after the set I felt electrified.
I was still preoccupied as we grabbed four available seats next to the Hotel Tango stage. Savoring my old fashioned, my mind gradually swam away from Brother’s energetic opening salvo. Slowly, I turned my attention to the group under the Tango Tent. Three young fellows and couple guys older than me. It looked like an interesting set up. Muckey—front and center, very young in the face, barefoot, with wisps blonde hair flapping across his face—commanded the show.
They called themselves The Trip. Yes, they were musically solid. And no question, they were entertaining. But what hooked us was Muckey’s voice. When I first heard it I was at a loss to find a parallel. A gravely, young Rufus Wainwright came to mind, but even that’s missing a handful of key elements. Muckey’s intonations worked a pretty wide octave range. When he went low he rattled off his lyrics with the confidence of a New Jersey street fighter. But when he climbed to the upper ranges he tapped into a distinct warble, the sort of vocal control and power that every band wishes they had…if only for one gig…if only for one set.
They played a sort of cosmopolitan rock—grainy hints of metal mixed with dashes of eclectic 90’s angst. It was good stuff, and the four of us (adults from our early 40’s to early 60’s) agreed that we could have listened to them for another hour or two after their set ended. When they wrapped up, cleared the stage, and hunkered along the grass by Tango’s parking lot to watch the next band I kept observing that kid who’d led the whole shebang.
Today, Muckey is in his early 20’s, so at the time of that gig, he was barely (if even) old enough to drink. I have four kids, all under 30, so when I say that the “swagger of adulthood” takes time to develop, I sort of know what I’m talking about. On stage and off, Muckey carried himself with that hybrid mixture of the carefree teen and the budding grown up. That was pretty cool when Muckey and his bandmates worked through their inventive set-list on that warm May afternoon.
But in his solo work, This is the Music That Heals Your Soul, that youthful swagger has found its footing. Trading in The Trip’s electric reverb for sounds ringing of acoustic guitars and piano keys, Muckey’s record (released early last spring) showcases a musical dexterity of style and gravitas. From haunting ballads such as “To Forgive is to Love,” to his triumphant declarations of solidary in tracks like “We All Bleed Red,” Muckey’s album declares that his transition into adulthood is final.
Whether Muckey stays with this style for the lifetime’s worth of records to follow is open to conjecture. He’s more than proven he can adapt and change, and he’s clearly establishing that he’s open to experimentation. What he puts out later, however, matters then. What matters now is that he’s on the forefront of the Midwestern music scene. And with both and talent and youth on his side, it’s a vantage point he will be holding onto for a long time to come.
*Wendi is the author’s fiancée, Wendi Evans. She travels pretty much everywhere with him…and he’s all the better for it.
Wheeler proudly teaches AP Language to some bright and lovably obnoxious kids in a small college town. He also contributes to the craft beer website Indiana on Tap and writes for other publications. He started learning to play guitar last fall, but he remains terrible at it.
Featured image by Destiny Cooper of Destiny Cooper Photography