Long Bio


Shannon Wurst commands a stage.  Born in the Ozark hills, this singer-songwriter can keen out a soulful, old-time ballad just as well as she wails on a rockabilly anthem in full-throated force and strum.  Blending classic country with traditional bluegrass, Wurst’s musical arrangements effortlessly push her style into new territory. This work has landed her national attention.  The timeless, roots-based songs from her latest album Sugar and Kerosene (released in Spring 2018) like “Better Than Bourbon” and “Devil and Saint” have a yearning tension that she delivers with sweet smile.  “Shannon Wurst is among that rare breed who can make you sit upright and wonder aloud, ‘Who is that?’ She is unquestionably arresting” (from Sing Out Folk Music Magazine, John Lupton).  Shannon Wurst, of Fayetteville, Arkansas, is a rising star who has opened for Robert Earl Keen, Railroad Earth and Carlene Carter. 

Character-based narrative is at the heart of her songwriting.  Through other people’s stories, Wurst begins writing in first-person.  Her comfort with the audience often lets her take on stories that are dark.  Her humility in the work keeps these reaches from feeling false. “Writing in first-person gets me closer to a situation, and I want these songs to be more about those listening than about me,” says Wurst.  When asked about taking these stances while performing and what folks might think, Wurst jokes that vulnerability is hard. “On stage, you’re exposed. When a song takes a turn so that it’s really no longer about me, in that moment, it’s only what’s in the song that’s being understood.  So there’s a risk where the song gets confused with the real me. No way to avoid that.” Wurst also relies heavily on metaphor. For example, in “Measure Twice,” the speaker admonishes a carpenter-beloved to take care in his approach toward life, just as a skilled craftsman knows to take care before cutting boards in constructing. 

“I write to better understand the world and myself, even if most of the details in my songs take on a life of their own,” Wurst says.  The emotion in Wurst’s songs exists somewhere at the edge between the tragedy of what almost was and hope of what can yet still be. While resolute in the emotion of that place, her songs are not sentimental. 

The quality of her voice is sweetly feminine; she’s been compared to Emmy Lou Harris and Gillian Welch.  It is in the softness of her soprano that juxtaposition comes against the message she delivers. Her big sound moves folks beyond the surface of inherent ease and charm into deeper themes of love, loss and heartbreak.  In soft angelic voice that often falls away just behind the beat and her own guitar, the toughness is that Wurst tells it like it is. Her worldview, if determined, is not bleak. There’s resolution in her honest tone that promises better is coming—for us all.  “{Wurst’s} voice has the simple mountain purity of Maybelle Carter and Dolly Parton, yet her songs have a simple and timeless edge that shines” (from Blueground Undergrass, Jeff Mosier). 

The title song from her latest album, Sugar and Kerosene, earned her recognition as a Telluride Troubadour finalist at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival where she performed alongside artists such as Sam Bush, Margo Price and Norah Jones.  Inspired by cures for children’s coughing during the American “Dust Bowl,” Wurst wrote the title track shortly after finding out she was pregnant with her second child. 

Sugar and Kerosene was recorded in Kansas City and produced by Mike West of Truckstop Honeymoon, who brought direction for a full electric band.  West, who spent most of his musical life in New Orleans, integrated a Cajun sound—adding squeezebox and fiddle—to fill out the instrumentation.  “West has this immediacy with each step of the process. It was fun to watch him work. In “Kissing in the Kitchen,” West had pots and pans clanging, even an egg timer going off in the background.  He has this childlike way of playing in the studio that really brought these songs alive,” Wurst says. 

Shannon Wurst first appeared on stage at age 5.  It was as an assistant in a magic act where she inadvertently made the audience laugh.  The magician, when he called up his new assistant hadn’t noticed she didn’t have pockets, which the trick required to work.  She announced, “But, I ain’t got no pockets.” And that was all it took for her to understand the power of the stage to make people feel better and to pay attention, even if, or maybe because of, her innocence. She grew up surrounded by her musical influences: her father, Ronnie Wurst, who plays country and classic rock in bars across rural Arkansas, and her flat-picking stepfather, Ed Carr, who often performs with Wurst.  Wurst has been speaking the plain truth from that platform as a singer and songwriter ever since.