Philip Bowen is a massively talented singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist with a sound that uplifts the soul and is inspired by his Appalachian roots. He’s performed at iconic venues like The Bluebird Cafe and 3rd & Lindsley, and even graced the stage of NPR’s Mountain Stage. In May he was the featured guest on Us & Them by West Virginia Public Broadcasting where they discussed how the 38-year-old learned classical violin as well as how to improvise on the fiddle, combining musical styles and genres.
When he first picked up a fiddle at four years old, no one could have guessed that he would eventually become a breakout star on social media – without ever releasing an album. Just ask his 320,000 Instagram followers about falling in love with Bowen’s duets and sing-a-longs. Not to mention he is a literal TikTok sensation. That’s right, Philip Bowen’s masterful fiddle skills have earned him over 8 million likes and 1 million followers on the platform alone. But wait, it gets better! He even won TikTok’s Gamers Greatest Talent competition, leaving thousands of competitors in the dust and pocketing a cool $25k.
Old Kanawha is a musical journey that takes you from the peaks of happiness to the depths of despair, all while celebrating the beauty and resilience of Appalachia and West Virginia. It’s not just about catchy melodies and clever lyrics, it’s about the universal human experience of navigating the ups and downs of life. Bowen draws inspiration from his own life, from the carefree days of college to the unexpected responsibilities of fatherhood and a draining corporate job. He tackles some tough topics head-on, from addiction to recovery to loss. But even in the darkest moments, there’s a glimmer of hope and optimism. He wants his music to be a beacon of light for anyone going through a difficult time, reminding them that things can and will get better. And don’t expect a one-dimensional portrayal of his home state. Bowen understands that Appalachia and West Virginia are often misunderstood and misrepresented. That’s why he weaves in themes and imagery that celebrate the beauty and strength of the region, while also shining a light on the struggles and hardships faced by its people.
Bowen was dead set on capturing the essence of West Virginia, so he made it a mission to recruit the most talented musicians from the area. And boy, did he hit the jackpot! With a WV-based producer and a team of incredible players, they hunkered down at the McCord House Studios in Bridgeport, WV.
The songs on the record were written between 2019 and 2023, with some dating back to the Fall of 2019 when Bowen finally decided to give music one more serious attempt before giving up on the dream. Two of the songs, “Vampire in Appalachia” and “A Murder,” took the longest to write and were finished just before the last day of recording. The songs were written in various locations including West Virginia, Detroit, Nashville, and the Oregon Coast.
Old Kanawha is an album you do not want to sleep on. And who knows, you might even find yourself swiping through his catchy fiddle covers and original songs on TikTok, tapping your toes and grinning from ear to ear.
What is your favorite thing about Charleston? – I love how Charleston has a welcoming and warm feel. It’s a great place to relax, have some fun, and enjoy what’s so special about West Virginia. The views along the Kanawha are unmatched.
Favorite CWV restaurant? – This is such an impossibly hard question!
Favorite CWV shop? – KinShip Goods!
Favorite CWV memory? – Special times playing and competing at the Vandalia Gathering are some of my favorite CWV memories. Of course, recently being invited to perform on Mountain Stage at the Culture Center was a highlight of my music career.
What do you wish others would know about Charleston? – I wish others knew more about the rich and vibrant arts and music scene in CWV! There’s a ton of talent, and Appalachian artists are some of the most real and genuine souls out there!