Going “Places”: Cullman native chasing musical dreams to Tennessee

 Joey Wasileski

MURFREESBORO – Shannon McNeal lived in Alabama, then Tennessee, then Alabama again, then Georgia, then Alabama again . . . again.  Then she started fourth grade.  In a highly mobile childhood, she had at least two constants: family and music.

Of music, she said, “I was basically just immersed in it. My mom is a very musical person, so I grew up in a house filled especially with piano music and song.  She used to give my two brothers and me music lessons.  My dad also plays guitar and writes songs, and my two older brothers sing and play multiple instruments as well.

“I wasn't very receptive to piano lessons, but when I was in fourth grade I began learning classical violin. I continued that only for a few years, but that lead me to a broader knowledge of reading music which gave me an advantage when I started playing trumpet in beginner band in sixth grade.”

McNeal stuck with the trumpet, ending up as first chair and president of the Cullman High School Band.

As she developed her ability to perform music, she was also trying her hand at creating music.

“I ‘wrote’ my first song in second grade,” she related, “but I probably stole the melody from another country tune, and the lyrics were pretty horrid as well. I was very interested in poetry by the time I was in third grade, and by the time I reached middle school I began actually writing songs.”

McNeal defined her style as “folk-pop,” saying, “I enjoy everything from Frank Sinatra to Fetty Wap.  I would say that my favorite artist, Ed Sheeran, falls somewhere in between those two extremes.  I look up to him as a performer, writer and person.  I would also say that old-school Taylor Swift influenced my writing.  I grew up listening to my mom play John Denver on piano, and both parents play lots of other folk music CDs, so maybe that explains why I write in the style that I do.”

McNeal took up guitar in high school, and began performing at open mic nights at Berkeley Bob’s.  By the time she graduated, she had played her first full show, and was posting videos on YouTube.

Today, she lives in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and is studying music business at Middle Tennessee State University.  She regularly plays festivals and open mic nights around Tennessee to get her music heard, and still comes back home for events like the Strawberry Festival.  She has even found time to record and release an EP entitled “Places,” that is available on iTunes, Spotify, Apple Music and Google Play.  If you’re not the purely digital sort, you can pick up a hard copy at Berkeley Bob’s.  "Places" is a collection of six original songs about, as McNeal describes, "physical places, places of mind, or places in time."

McNeal hopes that what she’s doing now is just the beginning, saying, “I hope to make this my career.  I know I am getting a degree in music business, which is definitely teaching me about the industry and benefiting me, but my ultimate goal is to perform shows and make it as a singer/songwriter.”

Look for Shannon McNeal on Facebook and YouTube; and visit www.shannonmcnealmusic.com for more information, or to book a performance while she's home this summer. Catch her live this Saturday, April 15 at Art in the Park at City Park.

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