In the first ever N-CCS Alumni Spotlight, Newton-Conover High School Class of 1985 graduate, Jonathan Birchfield, has taken some time off of the road to share his experiences as a Red-Devil-gone-professional-musician with us. Since graduating, Birchfield has made a name for himself in the music industry, serving in nearly every aspect of production and performance — and this year, he is making his way back home.
Check out the full interview below — and to stay connected and hear more of what this Red Devil’s music has to offer, be sure to like his music page on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/JonathanBirchfieldMusic/!
Q: Tell us about yourself.
A: I graduated from Newton-Conover High School in 1985. After I left N-CHS, I went to Lenoir-Rhyne College and took music. I moved to Nashville when I was 19 and got a call to play Jimmy Buffett’s place in Key West after a couple of years playing in Nashville, so I went on the road and did some shows with Jimmy. I did this for a while, during which time I moved and lived in New York City, played shows in Brooklyn, and even played in Bermuda. After I played there for several years, I moved back to Nashville and spent 13 years there as a songwriter and publisher; honestly, I worked in just about every aspect of the music business. After those 13 years, I moved back closer to home in Charlotte and started working in TV. I worked in it that until just this past year. Now, I’m moving back home to Hickory. My goal now is to bring live music back to Catawba County. There is so much good talent from there and in surrounding counties, and Catawba needs this. I want to give back from my experience and expand live entertainment in the area.
I started playing music when I was 12 or 13, and myself and two other alumni Robert Kearns and Greg Simmons had a band that became regionally popular, called the Southern Knights. We continued playing music together after we left High School, but Greg eventually left. My dad, Ray Birchfield, was a teacher at N-CHS and would take us around to gigs in his truck. It was a really great feeling.
Soon, it got to where I couldn’t march in the band on Friday nights because we were playing music so much, and since then, I’ve been playing all my life. When I’m writing music, my niche is classic country meets the ‘Stones.
Q: What were you involved in as a student in Newton-Conover? Any highlights?
A: When I was in Newton-Conover, I played baseball, I played golf, I marched in the band, and loved it. I actually won the Louis Armstrong award for Jazz while I was playing in the band, which was a great experience. I actually never missed a day of school until I was a junior in High School. I loved being in Newton-Conover.
Q: What is your proudest moment since graduation?
A: My proudest moment was when myself and seven other N-CCS alumni climbed Mount Rainier in 1999. We actually summited. When I’m not playing music, I climb and hike, and I love to trout fish. I always wanted to see Mount Everest, and now I’ve been there. Basically what I’m saying is that I’ve gotten a lot of my bucket list checked off!
Q: What are your career and life plans for the next several years?
A: My focus is on re-enlivening Catawba County’s entertainment. I really want to focus on songwriting, just music. I want to get back into the community I left. There are so many musicians out there who are trying to make a dollar and it’s hard to help others. I know it’s possible to make a living off of music because I did it for several years, and now I’m planning to work with others to share their talent and inspire.
Q: What was your favorite course/teacher at Newton-Conover?
A: Besides my dad’s class, Coach Willard’s history class was my favorite. I really enjoyed it because I loved history, and Coach Willard made the class great.
Q: What have you learned from your career that you wish you knew as a Newton-Conover student?
A: I wish I would have written original music starting off. I was in a cover band forever and didn’t write my own material until later in my career. Anyone in the music business knows that if you’re in the business, you need to write, write, write. Playing cover material doesn’t give you an identity, and some of your most creative years are in your early 20s-30s. I missed that and wish I would have started earlier.
Q: What was your favorite moment/event as a Newton-Conover student?
A: Besides graduating, when I was going to the Newton-Conover Junior High, it was the first time that our band, Southern Knights played in front of the student body at the talent show. We hadn’t ever been accepted as true players in front of a large crowd before that time. In that moment, I realized that I had to play music because I wanted to impact people.
Q: How has your N-CCS experience helped you to be successful in your personal and professional life?
A: The teachers at N-CHS really helped with giving me a focus and helping me with my goals. I think it’s helped me to grow up in a good way. I still have great friends from Newton-Conover. Teachers like Coach Willard, Mr. Stockner, and Coach Scott really helped me learn how to be a better man and a better person. Newton-Conover was a cool school to grow up in. That school also introduced me to some of my best friends, such as Robert Kearns who currently plays for Sheryl Crow.
Q: If you had one piece of advice to offer current and future Newton-Conover students, what would you say?
A: I would say that you should always follow your God-given talent. Be true to yourself. If you stick to it and you can dream it, and you say to yourself every day that you will make your dream come true, it will come true. This has been true for several Newton-Conover alumni, like myself, Dale Jarrett, etc. Having a big dream besides being a dentist or a doctor is still possible. And with technology and social media, you can play any kind of music you want to in this day and age. Stick to your dreams. If you have a chance, go to college. I would never tell anyone that I didn’t need an education. Me not graduating from college is not my regret.