Will Overman is a singer-songwriter based in Charlottesville, VA. One of the highlights of Shenandoah National Park is exploring the hikes and vista views by cruising along #SkylineDrive. For National Park Week, Will curated “A Skyline Drive”, a free Spotify playlist for Shenandoah National Park Trust. Will also hiked the Appalachian Trail (no small feat! ) and told us a few stories about his journey into becoming a musician with an affinity for the outdoors.
Find more from Will Overman and listen to his music HERE.
Tell us about life growing up near shenandoah?
I grew in Virginia Beach, Va, I was a beach kid, but I’ve always been drawn West towards the mountains. I used to leave the beach every summer growing up and go to a camp in Rockbridge County where I ultimately ended up working as a camp counselor. And my dad and I started hiking in SNP when I was a youngin, like 5. We’d go on an annual birthday camping trip every October. Some of my fondest memories growing up are of my dad and I camping in Big Meadows, cooking steaks on a Coleman propane stove, and hiking Old Rag. Those trips were the seeds that grew into my lifelong love of the outdoors, a love that evolved from camping trips in SNP to backpacking expeditions in Wrangell-St. Elias NP in Alaska.
tell us about your connection to national parks?
My obsession with and time in the mountains no only shaped my inner outdoorsman, it also impacted my taste in music and overall upbringing. The music culture in Virginia Beach was rock-oriented, and while I love rock, I was drawn to the more traditional sounds linked so closely to the Blue Ridge. During my angsty teenage years I picked up the mandolin and guitar and found my way to artists like The Avett Brothers. Once I came in contact with their blend of Appalachian mountain music and pop-leaning punk, my mid-teens emo self was HOOKED. And though my music is always changing, I’ll never lose touch with my roots. There’s a candor to mountain life that I’ll always be inspired by and aiming for.
Tell us about your experience hiking the AT through Shenandoah?
Since I was a kid I’d dreamt of through-hiking the AT. So when I graduated high school in 2012 I set off for Maine to begin hiking South. My dad and I had always planned to do it together, but unfortunately, he couldn’t take off six months of work. Thus I began the solo journey of my life. I started hiking up North in July and entered Shenandoah in October. I remember hearing the lore of SNP from Northbounders for 100’s of miles before crossing into the park.
There were mouth-watering tales of burgers at every wayside, a hundred plus crushable miles, and great trail conditions. But oddly enough, when I got there I was in a really fragile state of mind. My girlfriend, now wife, had just gotten off the trail after a month with me from New York to Virginia, I had taken a couple zero days with my parents and leaving them and the comfort of parents proved very difficult, winter was coming so after swapping summer gear I felt my pack weighed a gazillion pounds, and last but not least, Shenandoah reminded me of my early days of hiking with my dad. So all in all entering SNP created this sense of yearning for home and familiarity. So I realized I had to make a change fast or I was going to hit a wall. My buddy Corey kindly offered to drive me down to Spring Mountain in Georgia (the southern terminus) so I could start hiking back up, back home, and that’s exactly what I did.
So the second time I entered SNP I truly felt like I was coming home. I had gotten off the trail at a random mile marker on Skyline Drive, and after some back and forth to make sure I covered every mile, I finally met in the middle and finished the AT just south of the park on Spy Rock. And funny story about SNP, I actually did my biggest day in the park. I woke up around 4am on one of my last mornings of the trail and hiked 43 miles to Rockfish gap. Pretty easy to be inspired when your girlfriend is at the other end with an endless supply of Tupperwared homemade food.
How do you use your music to speak to your connection with a sense of place?
Wow, great question. As an Americana artist, I think sense of place is implicit. That’s why I love roots music so much, it’s connected, it’s tangible, it’s not so abstract that it doesn’t hearken upon a real place and people. I aim for that kind of connection with my music in every song I write. My tone and sound often skirt various genres from pop to folk to county to rock to blues to bluegrass, but there’s always a bit of myself and my home in every word. I think it helps that I have a bit of a twang when I sing too, so no matter how hard I try you’re always going to hear a bit of the South and a bit of the Blue Ridge.
Tell me about your experiences as a local to Shenandoah National Park? What about your history with Skyline Drive?
My wife and I live in Crozet, so SNP is the ever-present gem that literally surrounds us every day. I’ve always lived next to something greater than, be it the ocean or the mountains, so SNP’s presence alone brings me joy and wonderment, and that’s not even talking about hiking. When I hike in the park it blows my mind how lucky I am to have this resource in my backyard. Whether it’s with my wife or my dog or by myself, I feel like I’m miles and miles away from the hustle and bustle of town when I’m hiking in the park, and in reality, I’m pretty dang close to society. I think that juxtaposition is what makes SNP and parts of the Appalachian trail so magical. It’s not the remoteness that makes a wild place feel wild, it’s the feeling of remoteness, and for me, that’s SNP as a whole.
Per Skyline Drive, man, that road means a great deal to me. I remember as a kid my dad and I would drive down Skyline spotting deer, turkey, bobcats, and bears. It filled me with a sense of freedom that I still feel now. I’m a touring musician, I love the open road, and Skyline is that and more. It’s all the grandeur of a desert drive through the Southwest combined with the intense history and culture of the Appalachians. I can’t get enough of it.
Why are the outdoors important to you? Why is it important to protect our national parks?
I think there are so few wild places and experiences left in our daily. lives. Our day to day can be so convenient and predictable (and sometimes not, life is good at throwing curveballs) that places like SNP and other parks are invaluable because they allow us to tap into a part of ourselves we can’t access anywhere else. I go into the woods because I want to feel free and alive. The outdoors reminds me of the bigger picture, it takes my mind off my worries, and it shows me how beautiful the world can be, which I think is especially important in times like the pandemic when everything can feel so heavy.
What aspects of Shenandoah are important to you and how can locals connect more with their national park?
Unfortunately, if we don’t protect these wild places, and designate them as such, they won’t remain wild. We as humans are fantastically skilled when it comes to development, but the feeling I get when I walk into a strip mall vs walking along the Appalachian Trail is vastly different, and I don’t plan to live a life in which I can’t experience the latter. In my humble opinion, being outside heals the soul, and I wish everyone had access to it like I do; it’s truly made my life better.
How has that experience hiking the AT informed your music today? Into the future?
Hiking the AT impacted my work ethic more than anything. I certainly have written about the trail and drawn from certain experiences for inspiration, but it was the day to day grind and commitment of it that I’ve applied to my career. Much like the Trail, a life in music takes a great deal of work and comes with its fair share of hardships. You have to have grit to wake up every morning, put on a frozen shirt, throw on a 50+ lb pack, and walk over mountains for 20 plus miles. Same goes for music, if was easy everyone would be doing it.
Tell us about the list of songs you compiled on Spotify and how they impact your experience of the region.
“A Skyline Drive” is composed of artists and songs based in and around the Blue Ridge. The sound of Southern Appalachia is so distinct that every artist on this list, albeit from different genres and backgrounds, all share some level of sonic and narrative affinity to one another while maintaining their own, individualized sound. From Virginia stalwarts such as Ralph Stanley, Patsy Cline and Old Crow Medicine Show to on the rise artists like Illiterate Light, Cris Jacobs, and Natalie Prass, this list expresses the deep pride I feel for Virginia music and its music history. I feel like folks don’t often think of Virginia as a musical hub, but when you start considering who’s from here, the list gets staggering quickly. Virginia and Virginians are so inspiringly beautiful that music tends to flow here like the trout streams flow from the mountains.
Listen to Will Overman by clicking here.