Summer “Brooke” McMahan graduates from college in December (2017). Most young folks in that position are ready to head out to look for a job in their chosen field of study – or perhaps aren’t even sure what they will do next. Not Summer. She knew what she wanted to do before she went to college, even though she told me that she changed her major nine times throughout the course of her college journey. “It was music,” she said. “I knew that’s what I wanted to do.” It’s a good thing since she has been steeped in it for over 18 years now.
Summer is the lead singer for one of the newer grass bands emerging on the scene. It’s funny to say that, knowing this has not been an overnight path. But for the musicians, and Summer, who collectively call themselves Mountain Faith, it’s all part of a day’s work – literally.
Original Garage Band
Summer’s dad, Sam McMahan and his brother have owned a tire shop for 27 years – High Country Tire, in Sylva, North Carolina. Everyone who’s ever played in a band knows that there’s something unique about jamming in a garage. Summer says she and her younger brother Brayden have worked at the tire shop as long as she can remember. “We would go to the shop everyday after school to help dad roll used tires,” she remembered. “Music was just an extension of that; something we did for fun.”
Exposure comes in all kinds of interesting ways though, and as fate would have it, it was a jam session that turned this into something bigger than they could have imagined. “We were in the garage practicing one day – my dad, brother, my cousin, and I – just for the fun of it,” Summer recalled. “And a news reporter was in there getting her tires changed. (Imagine that) She took a few pictures and wrote an article about us.”
That exposure was the spark. The band started getting invitations to sing at churches all around town. “It literally was like a domino effect,” she said. “Itobviously just grew into way much more than we ever planned on it being,” she said. “That’s why we call ourselves the original legitimate garage band – we literally started in the garage of dad’s shop.”
For Summer though, it still wasn’t quite real. “During elementary, middle school, and even early in her high school years, she said all that she really cared about was playing sports and hanging out with her friends. The band was just something else she did on the weekends. “I actually wanted to be a lawyer,” she said. “That was my plan going into high school. “But by the time I was senior, I couldn’t make up my mind on what I wanted to do in college because I knew what I wanted more than anything was to make music.”
Summer did go on to college, and says she really did change her major nine times because she couldn’t make up her mind. “I kept thinking, there’s nothing I want to do more than to make music. So that’s how I ended up in business because I finally decided that it was something that could actually help me with, not only music, but anything else I might end up doing with the family business.”
Although there have been other band members along the way that weren’t directly related, they would all end up working for the tire shop too. “We were there everyday and they would come in with us, and end up being legitimate employees. All of us being in the tire shop together allows things to work out really well because it makes things so flexible. We own it, so if something comes up tomorrow and we’ve got to leave, we can just go.”
America’s Got Talent
A few years ago the band members sat down and talked about possibilities and what would be necessary to make a serious run at being a professional road band. The band started getting serious about writing songs – put out a record – then found a record label (Mountain Fever Records) who took a serious interest in the band.
The lesson here is to never say never because you never know what might happen until you try. “About a week later we were on our way to St. Louis to sing at a bluegrass festival when a weird number shows up on my phone,” Summer said. “I decided to take the call. It was a producer from America’s Got Talent. They said, ‘we got your video – I know it’s a long drive and it’s very short notice, but is there anyway you could make it to St. Louis this coming Monday?’ I said, you’re not going to believe this, but we’re here right now. So we stayed and extra day to make the audition.”
It Pays Off
“We weren’t even thinking we’d get to be a part of the show, so we’re very thankful that we got to be on there as long as we did.” Not only were they a part of it, but the Mountain Faith Band made it all the way to the semifinals, performing in front of millions of viewers weekly during the show’s run that year.
That experience not only broadened their audience, it also broadened the type of shows the band was getting to take part in. “Now we’re getting to do a lot other venues like arts festivals and theaters. The neatest thing that came out of it, though, is that schools started asking us to play for the kids. We started working it out that if we were at a theater on a Friday evening somewhere, we would go early and play at a local school.”
“My mom, being a school teacher, said ‘you are not going into schools unless you do something educational,” Summer quipped. “She started a non-profit foundation called I Write My Story. Now we give every kid a journal, and not only play our songs, but talk about the songs we’ve written and tell the stories behind them and encourage them to start writing. Then we close it out with one of our songs called “Follow Your Dreams.” That’s the neatest thing, because it’s what we really wanted anyway.”
Summer Brook and Mountain Faith average 148 concerts per year. Aside from their AFB appearance, they see performing for over 3,000 military men and women at Al Udeid AFB, Doha Qatar as one of their 2015 highlights.
They’ve since shared the stage with music greats like Willie Nelson, Charlie Daniels, and Loretta Lynn just to name a few. They’ve also appeared on the Grand Ole Opry, and performed the National Anthem for the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, Atlanta Braves, SF 49ers, and halftime shows for The Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers.
They’ve released four albums to date. That Which Matters debuted #1 on Billboard Americana-Roots Charts. They’ve also celebrated multiple #1 songs. Last year were nominated for the 2016 Emerging Artist Of The Year 2016 by the IBMA, and Summer was the 2015 IBMA Momentum Vocalist Of The Year.
Not bad for a bluegrass garage band born at a place called High Country Tire in Sylva, NC.