Terrace Views

Onstage at the Wisconsin Union: Nate Gibson & the Stardazers

Nate Gibson’s love of music runs deep – he’s an audio-visual preservation archivist at the University of Wisconsin–Madison Mills Music Library, radio show co-host at WORT’s Wednesday “Back to the Country,” author of “The Starday Story: The House That Country Music Built,” lecturer at UW–Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music, and a musician specializing in vocals, guitar, upright bass and trumpet. 

In short, if there’s a way to study, commemorate, or celebrate music, Nate is all about it. He’s the frontman and lead vocalist of Nate Gibson & the Stardazers – in which he performs with bandmates Andrew Harrison, Eric Salisbury, and “Spider” Mike Hobson – a Madison-based country band that will grace the UW Credit Union Terrace Stage on July 20. 

Nate Gibson & the Stardazers are a Madison-based country band that features members Nate Gibson, Andrew Harrison, Eric Salisbury and “Spider” Mike Hobson. Photo by Dialed In Digital.

We had the chance to catch up with Nate and learn more about how an archivist, ethnomusicologist, folklorist, audio preservation engineer, curator, and musician finds his way to the Terrace as part of the Wisconsin Union Directorate (WUD) Music Committee’s music season.

How did your love of music start?

My pop was an opera singer, and my mom plays piano. They had myself and my brother, who was a great trombone player. I went to the largest high school in Kansas, and I didn’t make the baseball team, so I decided to really lean into music. I played trumpet in the concert band, pep band, marching band, jazz band, symphony, pit orchestra, and also sang in the show choir and in a few musicals. I joined a punk band in high school, playing trumpet and keyboards, and then got my first guitar at 18 and started writing songs. I went to college in Boston where I got to play jazz and rock at Berklee College of Music while working toward my bachelor’s of fine arts in creative writing, with an emphasis on poetry and song, at Emerson College.

Where did “Stardazers” come from?

The name is definitely a callout to Starday Records, which was the largest independent country music record label in the 1950s and ‘60s. I’ve been obsessed with it since I left Emerson and found a Starday record in a record store for 50 cents that had been recorded in the early ‘60s. I found out that the guy who made that record lived an hour outside of Boston – Kenny Roberts. I invited Kenny to come to Boston and sing some songs I had written for my senior writing project and he graciously accepted the invitation. During our rehearsals, he gave me yodeling lessons and told me all about his own storied recording career. That’s what sparked my interest in Starday Records.

Shortly after I graduated with a songwriting degree, I didn’t know what to do. So in addition to driving trucks and trolleys and giving tours of Boston, I started writing a history of Starday Records. Anytime I had enough money saved up, I’d go down to Nashville and interview all of these Nashville musicians and Texas musicians. I ended up writing a book about it and got really into country music through that process. 

I met so many great artists doing it that when the book was done, I still felt like it wasn’t the end of the project. So I made a record covering a lot of my friends’ songs, and then I made a record with Marty Stuart and members of his Fabulous Superlatives band, backing up many of the living Starday artists, who were by then in their 70s and 80s. 

Were you already interested in country music before finding Starday Records?

When I was growing up, my dad was an opera singer, but his name was Don Gibson, and that’s the name of a famous country singer. People used to give my dad these Don Gibson records as a joke, and he would say, “Oh, it’s terrible – these country singers singing through their noses! It’s not actual music! It’s horrible!” and just dismissed it. 

So I always did too, until I got to Boston and I met Rex Trailer, my undergraduate advisor and a famous New England singing cowboy, and Kenny Roberts, and I started listening to country records. I really dug it! And then I found a great traditional country music scene in Boston and I was really lucky to be a part of that for about a decade.

What did your more classical-approach family think when you started to fall in love with country music?

I had the greatest parents in the world. My dad would come to the shows – he’d be like, “You’re shredding your vocals! You are not singing correctly at all! Please, let me show you how to do it!” But he would still come to the shows, and he loved it. I think my dad was grateful when I moved out of punk into country – it’s a little softer on the vocal cords.

How did Nate Gibson & the Stardazers begin?

Many of the artists from that Starday project have since passed on, and so now I think the goal is to keep promoting Starday Records and keep their memory alive through music and song. I love the songs and think they should be shared. 

I met Mike when he was working with me at Mills Music Library as a graduate student, and he now works just a couple floors above me in Memorial Library. After hearing Andrew play around town with some stellar bands, I asked if he had time for another band and I’m grateful he did. I got connected with Eric through a UW–Madison recruiting event in San Francisco, oddly enough, as he works for the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association. I love playing with these guys! They’re all phenomenal musicians and people.

How long ago did you start Nate Gibson & the Stardazers?

We’ve been together for about a year. We played the Terrace last year, but the band has evolved pretty differently from the last Terrace gig. We’ve come up with our own arrangements and twin guitar parts and three part harmonies. I really dig what we’re putting together!

Do you have a favorite song you all play?

A lot of what I do is try to play some of the more obscure songs out there. It’s not like coming to a show and hearing the songs you would hear at every show – I’m reaching deep into the catalog to revive some forgotten, but really great, songs.

What artists or bands are some of your inspirations, in addition to those found at Starday Records?

I draw inspiration from all genres – I’m a music archivist by profession and a record collector by hobby and so I am often obsessed with a lot of different musical styles. That said, this band is pretty rooted in midcentury country music and its many varieties, such as rockabilly, western swing, bluegrass, honky-tonk, cowboy yodels, and gospel music, to name a few.

What is it like performing on the Memorial Union Terrace?

Last time we performed on the Terrace, we had a great night with beautiful weather. A lot of people were dancing and having fun at the stage, and so it was a combination of people who were there by chance enjoying the water, people who were there to see us, and people who were just there to have fun. It was a great night! 

Shout out to the WUD Music Committee! They are such awesome hosts. It’s a beautiful venue and it’s a privilege and an honor to play that stage. It’s a great place to relax, get work done or just kick back.

You’ve lived, worked and performed in several cities not just across the country, but around the world. What sets the Madison music scene apart?

Madison has an incredible music history. I’m curating records for the Wisconsin Music Archive as part of my job here at Mills Music Library. I’m constantly researching the history of Madison and Wisconsin music, trying to find local recordings from the 1920s to the present, and I’ve been really immersed in that side of things. I love learning about Smart Studios, Cuca Records, and Paramount Records, not to mention artists like Clyde Stubblefield, Richard Davis, the Goose Island Ramblers, The Fendermen, Jack Penewell, and more. There is an incredible abundance of talented musicians in this town, so I’m just grateful to be a part of it.

What is the importance of music for a community?

Music is one of the things that brings people together – it forms community, in the same sense that it divides people. If I like Bon Jovi and you like Nirvana, we might go our separate ways, but if you like George Jones and someone else says they like Garth Brooks, they’re different but there’s common ground where you can meet people and form bonds with people through music. 

To me, it’s always been a way to be part of a community – not just musicians, but music fans and friends who come together for that. It’s always been the driving force in my life and the means in which I find my people.

What’s next for Nate Gibson and Nate Gibson & the Stardazers?

Well, I’m getting married in two weeks! And I just bought a house, so those are pretty big things. I’ve moved around a lot in my life, but I’m excited to make Madison a permanent thing, to be in it with my fiancée Rachel, and to play music with the Stardazers for a really long time. As long as these guys will do it, I’m excited to keep making music with them.

We have some fun summer festivals lined up this year, and we’re hoping to book a few more. I’m still collecting and researching Madison and Wisconsin music history all the time, and I’m currently working on a book project on Cuca Records. Incorporating some of that music catalog into what we’re doing as a band is down the line as well.


Looking to catch some great free live music on the Terrace, featuring bands like Nate Gibson & the Stardazers? Check out TerraceSummer.com for the full schedule of Terrace music, activities and more, and union.wisc.edu/music for free WUD Music Committee-hosted concerts throughout the year!

Author: Madeleine Carr

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