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WNC Business

Taking a part-time job working in nature supports the grind of the music industry

Oct 06, 2023 12:25PM ● By Randee Brown

While many people's release from a busy schedule is playing music for fun, Kate Thomas of The Dirty French Broads enjoys working in nature in addition to her busy music career.

Building a band is the same as building a business, according to Kate Thomas, lead singer of The Dirty French Broads. Trying to flex administrative, leadership, and business muscles, Thomas realized she had been sacrificing the creative edge to achieve success in the business of the band.

Thomas moved to Asheville in 2017 for a job in wilderness therapy as a backpacking guide. While working in a residential program for boys in recovery, COVID hit and changed everything. She worked a couple of part-time jobs in addition to performing solo music gigs to pay her bills.

In the summer of 2021, Thomas found a mandolin player on Facebook and they decided to play together at an Asheville venue’s open mike night. After playing more regularly as a duo, they decided to form a full band and put ads on Craigslist to find other instrumentalists. By the fall of 2022, The Dirty French Broads had released a five-song album and booked gigs at popular venues like The Grey Eagle.

“We now have five really hard-working, kind-hearted, passionate people who are in it for the long run,” Thomas said. “I also had the idea in my head that we weren’t doing it seriously unless it was a full-time job. We were taking gigs we didn’t want to play, and playing solo wasn’t fun anymore but I was doing that anyway. I learned very quickly that my original thought was pretty silly.”

The group also realized they struggled with the premise that people feel like they don’t need to pay musicians well, and decided they either needed to hire a manager or pay Thomas to handle managerial tasks. She now earns a percentage of compensation from gigs in exchange for management and leadership. 

“The band stuff is time consuming in different ways,” Thomas said. “Social media, marketing, management, and emails all require a lot of different skills. It is a business and I’m having to learn business skills because we have to be organized and professional. We also have to put on a good show that is engaging and visually exciting, and I also write the songs. It’s cool and I’m learning a lot, and the music industry is wild."

Also challenged with the affordability of housing while working in the constant grind of the music industry, Thomas decided to take on a part-time position in the outdoor recreation industry at Navitat Canopy Adventures.

“It was an immediate relief,” Thomas said. “Having coworkers and other people to talk to, being outside in nature, and having a steady income allowed me to get my creative juices flowing again.”

Thomas said it feels good to have a break from being in charge. With the band, she has four people looking to her for guidance, and at Navitat, she feels physically and mentally engaged by working her muscles, meeting new people, and hearing interesting stories.

“Here I’m just a guide,” Thomas said. “No one calls when there’s an emergency; I just get to have fun and go home. It takes my mind off stress, and I feel refreshed after a year of working on the computer at home. I realized I needed to be around people, plus the regular paycheck is nice because I don’t have to say yes to gigs I don’t want to take. It’s a very good season for me.”

With the ability to prioritize band culture over earnings, Thomas said she is better able to manage the mix of personalities and goals of each band member. While each of them has a ‘regular job’ to support their families, each also wants the best for the band and is happy to show up, rehearse, and play together.

“In the last couple of months, we’ve really gotten comfortable with each other and hit our stride,” Thomas said. “There are so many goals we could have, it’s easy to set our expectations really high. We’ve now learned we don’t have to rush anything. We can pick one or two things as goals for the year and reevaluate as needed, but we’re learning to direct our time, energy, and resources in a way that is more productive.”

After playing 120 shows last year, Thomas said she is learning she doesn’t have to pack her schedule, meaning it’s possible to maintain the focus on quality. The Dirty French Broads brought more than 300 people to an Asheville venue on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving in 2022. This year, they got a better sound system, played AVLFest, are playing their first tour at the end of September, and are performing at well-paying venues around the region.

“Things are clicking and meshing and going a lot smoother,” Thomas said. “We are playing to a more engaging audience, and we’re finding that a lot of people that hear us really like us. It took a while to feel like we might actually have something special because we have such a critical eye for ourselves and the area is so musically-rich, but now we are starting to believe it and we want to keep it going.” 

The Dirty French Broads is an actively-performing band born in Western North Carolina. Learn more about The Dirty French Broads and see the list of upcoming shows at