Growing up in the Muscle Shoals, Alabama area, it didn't take long for Dillon Hodges to pick up a guitar and make it his lifelong obsession.
He started playing when he was 11 years old, and by the age of 17 as a senior at Florence High School, he was a champion, becoming the second-youngest person to win the National Flat Pick Guitar title.
Seven years later, Hodges is still a kid -- a firekid, that is. That's the professional name he's adopted for himself (see the explanation below) while trying to make a living as another talented roots singer-songwriter based in Nashville, where the competition is fierce.
Hodges returned to Alabama last weekend to play the Hangout in Gulf Shores, Alabama, his first major festival performance, and the left-handed picker with a soulful voice and easy-going disposition was among the impressive performers who graced the BMI stage.
Gulf Shores was a place where Hodges visited many times during summer vacations with his family, but after a five-hour drive and a couple of interviews on May 16, he had one specific mission.
"I'm going on two hours of sleep, so I might find a hammock or sofa and sleep a little bit," he said. "There's also these two-person covered seats. That also looked like an option for some shut-eye. Anything, though, where my feet can be a little bit above my head would be perfect."
A former bluegrass musician who's done his homework and formed friendships with esteemed players such as Jason Isbell and David Hood (father of the Drive-By Truckers' Patterson Hood), Hodges should be expected to be an eye-opener in Americana circles sooner rather than later.
Yet there's also a bit of pop to his musical makeup, with at least one song utilizing effects from an actual Game Boy, and sets by the Mowgli's and Kopecky on his Hangout itinerary.
Ably assisted by drummer Josh Kleppin and multi-instrumentalist Luke Richardson on Sunday (May 17) at the Hangout, firekid performed selections from his recently released EP, LIVE 2/19/15, which included "Magic Mountain." His video premiere of the strong song was presented earlier this month on Paste.
The EP, recorded at the High Watt in Nashville, is just an appetizer for the main course from firekid, who seems like a natural to eventually wind up playing there for AmericanaFest. After signing with Atlantic Records, his full-length album debut is expected to be released in August.
A lengthier profile of Hodges will appear here at a later date, but for a sneak preview of firekid, check out the last in a Hangout Snapshot series of promising artists who performed at the festival this weekend -- including Zella Day and Elle King, all of whom agreed to take selfies of themselves while wondering if they were beach-worthy.
You're on the clock to make an Unabashedly Shameless Plug for 10 seconds: Go!
DH: I don't need 10 seconds -- firekid is metropolitan mountain music. That's it.
Where do you go from here (literally or figuratively)?
DH: Well, I guess after this, we go on tour with the Mowgli's (beginning June 9 in Des Moines, Iowa). We haven't met yet. We actually crossed paths walking over to the (media) tent. And I wanted to go like, "Hey, we're playing with you guys."
Beach essential: Shades, swimsuit or volleyball?
DH: Is sunscreen on that list? Can I put sunscreen on it? To me, sunscreen is, well, a life or death sort of situation. If we walk out in the sunlight, it'll be obvious. I'm wearing pants (instead of shorts), as you can see.
What's the inside story behind your name?
DH: Before I was doing this, I was making Americana music under my own name, which is Dillon Hodges. And I got together with some pop songwriters, two longtime friends of mine who ... we'd always talked about writing but had never written before. We got together and wrote a couple songs. I sent them to my parents and my parents said, "This is the best stuff you've ever sent to us. Pursue this." But it felt so different from what I was doing and I felt like it demanded more of a band style ... kind of felt like a project. So I kind of wanted a name that felt like a rebirth; firekid definitely sounded like that. ... It's all lower case. (Why?) I felt like it was unassuming. I'm kind of soft-spoken, so ... I don't know. I liked the way it looks on a T-shirt, in all lower case, maybe.
What's your biggest fear about the water?
DH: Oh my gosh, it's so funny that you would say that. I can't swim. I'm deathly afraid of the water. I took swimming lessons from when I was 3 until the end of sixth grade and I never got in the deep end of the pool. I don't know why. I just have this horrible fear of drowning.
Flip-flops, sneakers or Crocs?
DH: I haven't thought of Crocs in a long time. And I never owned Crocs. But I feel like (the Hangout) would be the right place for Crocs. They're plastic and hideous and there's so much else going on, people are not looking at your shoes. So if you ever wanted to get away with wearing Crocs, you could do it here.
Surf, paddleboard, para-sail, deep-sea fishing or snorkeling?
DH: Shoreline. Sit on the shore. A beach chair.
Your greatest athletic feat?
DH: I am so unathletic. I can enjoy athletics through my dad (Jeff Hodges). My dad is a sports statistician. He's a sports information director full-time for the University of North Alabama, which is where I went to college. But he's also contracted by the U.S. Olympic Committee. So he'll be like a venue press chief at the Olympics.
If you could go to dinner and a movie with another Hangout performer this weekend, who would it be, what would you see and why?
DH: I think I would take Dave Grohl (of the Foo Fighters) on a date because I feel like he would maybe cook me breakfast the next morning.
Along with Dillon Hodges, Day 3 of Hangout featured performances by Tove Lo, Kopecky, the Lone Bellow and Phantogram. Here's a snapshot look at some of the best from Day 3:
Tove Lo, the sultry Swedish pop siren who later flashed the crowd
Tove Lo fans like Kelly here were close to the action near the Surf stage
Gabe Simon of Kopecky, a six-piece Nashville-based outfit
The Lone Bellow's Brian Elmquist and Kanene Donehey Pipkin put their heads together
Zach Williams of the Lone Bellow let loose with a powerful voice
Phantogram's Sarah Barthel brought more than sex appeal to the Palladia stage
Phantogram's Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel were a dynamic duo
Concert photos by Michael Bialas. See more photos from Day 3 of the Hangout Festival.