Elon University sophomore Lucas McKeown’s grandfather owns a farm in Mississippi called Thistle Ridge. Decades later, McKeown would found an ever-changing band of the same name.
“I’m heavily influenced by Zac Brown Band, and he named his record company after his farm,” McKeown said. “I thought that would be really fitting.”
Thistle Ridge Band is a cover band signed to Limelight Records — Elon’s on-campus record company. McKeown said band members have changed overtime, but right now, he is on acoustic guitar and vocals; sophomore Peter Collins and senior Quinn Tuff are on electric guitar; sophomore Julian Brown is on bass and vocals; junior Shawn Kelly is on keyboard and junior Cajetan Evans is on drums.
The band mainly performs covers of classic rock and country songs such as “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” by Creedence Clearwater Revival and “Polk Salad Annie” by Elvis Presley, but McKeown said the band “draws influences from just about anybody,” especially with Brown’s knowledge of music.
“Julian knows every single band that's ever existed,” McKeown said. “And I’m like, ‘Oh, what is that? That sounds good.’ I won't know the song so I'll fill in where I think it sounds good, and then we make our own song and it just keeps going.”
Despite Thistle Ridge’s love of doing covers, McKeown said original music is in the works, spanning many genres such as country, folk and “Maroon 5 style pop.” At its Feb. 3 Oak House performance, Thistle Ridge debuted an original song titled “Te Cantaré,” which translates from Spanish to “I Will Sing To You.”
McKeown said the song is inspired by old country music, and he and Brown wrote it in Spanish because they wanted to “try something new.” Two other sneak peeks of original music have been posted to McKeown’s TikTok page — @mississippiluke — and the comments sections contain all positive feedback.
“You can't really make a career off of just covers, you have to write your own stuff, so that's what we're trying to do,” McKeown said. “It should be pretty fun.”
Thistle Ridge Band was formed last spring after McKeown left his previous band and met Collins at the Limelight open mic night. After Collins’s performance, McKeown came up to him and asked if he wanted to play at the Oak House together. Collins accepted immediately.
“He was playing ‘Sultans of Swing’ by Dire Straits and I was like, ‘That’s what I need in my band,’” McKeown said.
After a semester of playing together, Thistle Ridge Band took a break for the summer. This past fall, Brown was introduced to McKeown by the president of Limelight — senior Keith Montena — after his previous band, Judy Chicago, ended. Brown said he became their bassist quickly.
Brown said he has been playing guitar since he was 10 years old but has always been surrounded by music — especially growing up with his grandparents who owned an electric and acoustic guitar. Brown originally got accepted into the jazz guitar program at Berklee College of Music but ultimately chose Elon instead.
“I was about to sign with them and go to college, but then I visited Elon and saw their studios and all the people here, and I was like, ‘This might be a better gig than Berklee,’” Brown said.
Brown said his favorite part about being in Thistle Ridge is being around the band members and laughing with them.
“I think Caj is so funny,” Brown said. “I’ll look over at Caj and he’s playing a different beat than he was playing before but it still fits.”
McKeown also said performing and singing in front of a crowd “is the most fun.” McKeown’s musical journey started when he was just 3 years old with his love for singing.
“The earliest I remember was when ‘Sweet Escape’ by Gwen Stefani had just come out,” McKeown said. “I was in a retail store with my parents, and my dad said I was singing and I couldn't stop.”
Besides singing, McKeown said he’s been playing piano since he was five and picked up rhythm guitar a little over a year ago. Collins, on the other hand, started playing music his freshman year of high school with electric guitar. Collins said he has always loved listening to music throughout his life.
While he loves performing for people and seeing their enjoyment, Collins said he’s in Thistle Ridge Band for the music and doesn’t have many expectations beyond that.
“If we bring people together and have some kind of following or community, that's awesome. If we don't, that's fine,” Collins said. “I'm just here to play some music and have some fun.”
Brown also said he has a strong passion for music because of how it connects people and he can always turn to it “when times get tough.”
“Without borders or anything, people just come together when music is playing, and I've seen that happen,” Brown said.
McKeown’s goals for Thistle Ridge Band mirror Brown’s musical interests. Not only does McKeown want success for the band, but he said he wants there to be a space where Elon students can come together and watch Thistle Ridge perform once a week.
“I have a dream where Elon becomes this sort of ‘band central,’” McKeown said. “It would be like, ‘Let’s go to Elon and start a band!’”
McKeown hopes Thistle Ridge could inspire other students to form their own bands. He also said he has plans for the band to perform at locations outside of Elon, such as Chapel Hill and Greensboro. McKeown said he believes success will come to them.
“We just got to get there,” McKeown said. “Once we start putting out our own stuff, it's really about what all we write and the energy we bring.”
Thistle Ridge Band can be found on Instagram @thistleridgeband, and some of McKeown’s work, in the band and beyond, can be found on TikTok @mississippiluke. Thistle Ridge Band performs at the Oak House two Fridays a month. Its next performance is Feb. 24. Admission is free for everyone.