Happiness is Contagious

Sundae Horn
Kinnie, TJ, and Jonathan find something to be happy about wherever they go; in my yard it was the gnomes and bunnies.
Kinnie, TJ, and Jonathan find something to be happy about wherever they go; in my yard it was the gnomes and bunnies.

Ocrafolk Festival-goers just said Yes! to Yes Team.

The Yes Team outsold every other band at the Ocrafolk Festival this weekend. Their bright yellow CD stood out as the must-buy item at the Festival Info Booth, second only to the Festival tees with the fiddling octopus. Their infectious harmonies and message of “spreading the Yes!” was just what the Ocrafolk wanted.

The Yes Team, comprised of Kinnie Dye, TJ Moss, and Jonathan Walsh, opened the festivities on the Live Oak stage Saturday morning, kicking off the day’s events with great energy, harmonies, and smiles that set the tone for the whole weekend. (The nice weather helped, too.) The Ocrafolk Festival is always a good time, but this one seemed especially charmed, and Yes Team helped bring that vibe. They played a second set on the Live Oak stage, and Kinnie joined the other fest females in the Ocrachicks set Saturday night. (The original song she debuted for the ‘chicks is my happy earworm – I’ve been singing it all week.) Although this is their 4th summer tour on Ocracoke, it was the first time the Yes Team experienced Ocrafolk. 

“It was amazing,” Jonathan said. 

“We had a blast,” said Kinnie. “We had no idea what to expect.”

“We’d been told it was the best weekend of the year,” TJ added. “But it blew away our expectations.”

I first heard the Yes Team late last summer when they were guests at the Ocrafolk Opry. I was immediately smitten with the band, and not because they are all so young and beautiful and radiate “Yes.” (Even though they are, and they do.) It was because the Yes Team is all about the singing. I love singing, and I love good lyrics, and I’ve got no time for instrumentals. If I’m listening to music, I’m only in it for the singing. I rarely even pay attention to what the instruments are doing – the voices are all I need. 

On the Howard Street stage at Ocrafolk.
On the Howard Street stage at Ocrafolk.
Stolen from the Yes Team's Facebook feed.

The Yes Team have guitars and drums and they play them well, but the instrumentation is all in service to the singing. It’s their voices and the way they play them – with melody, harmonies, dynamics, lyrics, tempo – that entrance their audiences. I’m not alone in my admiration. Their voices are the reason the Festival crowds queued up to take home some “Yes.”

TJ told me that when they first started singing together, “immediately the vocal connection was made and we knew. When you’re singing harmonies, there’s got to be a natural occurrence of blending together. I sing the low part, Jonathan is the tenor, and Kinnie sings the high part – we have a natural stack with our voices.”

They also write their own songs, and the CD is packed with fifteen “Yes Team” originals.

“We’re so excited about our new record because we finally feel like we have a product that represents us and our voices,” Kinnie said. “We want to share our music.” 

I mentioned that the Festival crowd has got to be older than most of their bar-gig audiences, and they agreed and greeted my statement with more Yes Team positivity.

“I love the older crowds,” Jonathan said. “I love performing for older, wiser people who can connect their wisdom to us.” 

“Connection is the right word,” TJ said. “Music is a bridge to that connection. We love the style of human being who comes to festivals, people who are open to connection. The Festival crowd wants to have a good time  – you can tell people come here for their vacation, and look forward to it all year.”

Kinnie pointed out that the Ocrafolk Festival has chairs. Most fests you stand, she said. No wonder old people like Ocrafolk! The chairs accommodate the over-40-somethings, but they also create a listening audience – people stake out a seat and stay in it all day and hear all the bands.

The Yes Team played at the end of Sunday's festivities in the All-Star Jam.
The Yes Team played at the end of Sunday's festivities in the All-Star Jam.

The Yes Team happily talked faster than my fingers could take notes about how much they love Ocracoke and the wonderful audiences here. They loved the festival-goers as much as they were loved, but they also think even our bar crowds are the nicest bar crowds to play for.

“We see hundreds of new people each week, they’re on vacation, and the camaraderie is amazing,” TJ said. “They see us, and then come out to see us the next night, and they buy our CD.”

Their summer tour here is a highlight of their year and their biggest financial boost.

The Yes Team hails from San Diego, but they make an annual trip to the East Coast, and arrive on Ocracoke ready to sing. They play almost every night at a Ocracoke watering hole – Smac’s, Jolly, OBar, Gaffer’s, Pub, Oyster Co., Dajio – sometimes two gigs in one night. They are fast coming to the end of their one-month sojourn on the island. (Check the Current's Live Music calendar to catch them this week!)

How did they find Ocracoke? Well, it all started in NYC, in Queens, where they met Aaron Lavigne, another musician who plays on Ocracoke. He introduced TJ (and the TJ Moss Band) to Ocracoke one year, then Kinnie came with TJ the next year, and eventually, the band added Jonathan and found their name and purpose.

All three had originally gone to New York to make it on Broadway. TJ and Kinnie grew up in Oklahoma and met at Oklahoma City University, where they both studied musical theater.

Kinnie says she was very “blessed and fortunate” because she found steady work in New York from the time she got there. She traveled the country in the national tour of Seussical the Musical and Beauty and the Beast and others. But she said she didn’t love the theater life. “I just wanted to stand and sing,” she said. (Me, too!)

Jonathan’s from Yorktown, VA, but says he “grew up” when he spent his twenties in New York auditioning non-stop for Broadway shows and working as a singing waiter at Ellen’s Stardust Diner (“where I made the most money of my life”) in Times Square. His biggest break was playing an Apostle in the 128-city national tour of Jesus Christ Superstar. He got callbacks, but never landed his big Broadway show. “There’s still time,” he said with a grin.

“I knew in the first couple of year that it wasn’t for me,” TJ said of the Broadway life, so he started writing songs. He played guitar in high school, but in New York his music “started coming together.”

“The life experience of leaving home, leaving the safety net, helped me find my songwriting voice,” he said. He formed the TJ Moss band and played with them for 5 years, adding Kinnie to the line-up.

TJ and Kinnie were ready to escape New York and head to the West Coast in search of sunshine and harmonies.

Jonathan was the only friend who said “Yes!” to the invitation to join them in their crazy adventure. (So that’s where the name comes from!)

They bought a van, christened Purple Reign (“May she rust in peace”), and drove her west, arriving in the new year of 2011, singing all along the way, becoming a band.

“TJ and I wanted more collaboration in music; after a few attempts we found the right guy,” Kinnie said about Jonathan, who says that songwriting was a “passionate hobby” of his before he joined the band.

Opening act at Live Oak stage on Saturday.
Opening act at Live Oak stage on Saturday.
Photo by Bethany Bush Jarvah, also stolen from Facebook.

“We went to a place that was no less expensive to live than New York and decided we wouldn’t have any other jobs,” TJ said. “Did I mention that we’re dreamers?”

As with any small business, the band wants to see their team grow. They took it to the next level by attending SERFA, the Southeast Regional Folk Alliance, which meets near Asheville, NC in May, and wrote a beautiful song while they were there.

Maryland state senator Cheryl Kagan was there, and encouraged the folkies to write a song based on the tragic events that took place in Baltimore. The Yes Team wrote “Oh Gloria,” which tells the story of Freddie Gray from his mother’s point of view. They performed it at the Opry last week and at the Festival during their Howard Street set. They hope that Sen. Kagan can pass it along to Gray’s mother, Gloria Darden. The song’s too new to be on the Yes Team CD, but you can expect it to be a digital single soon.

When the Yes Team leaves Ocracoke, they head to Richmond for the Vegetarian Festival (Kinnie’s a vegetarian, Jonathan and TJ think vegetables are great!) on Saturday, June 20th. Then it’s up to NYC to see friends, then off to Oklahoma to see family and play some hometown gigs. Their summer season is booked in San Diego starting July 1st.

They plan to come back East in May and June again next year, and hope to play Ocrafolk Festival. Jonathan already told his extended family that they’re coming to the Festival in 2016 for a big vacation.

“David [Tweedie] told us when we come back next year, we need a new CD. He lit a fire under us about a new album,” Kinnie said. 

Jonathan says they’re now committed to doing an EP by next spring. 

“Six songs is a lot easier to commit to than fifteen,” he said. “But there’s nothing more fun than recording music – except playing at the Ocrafolk Festival.” 

Catch them this week and next on Ocracoke! (Check the Current's Live Music calendar to find out where!)

Keep up with the Yes Team at their website, or follow them on Twitter and Instagram: @yesteamgo

Just say Yes! 




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