It took a bit of prodding, some motherly encouragement, and even a little cheesecake to bring together Victoria Gibson and Ruth Collins, who now appear on CMT’s Can You Duet as the duo Wild Honey.
Victoria, who was raised in a conservative Christian household in Cummings, GA, began teaching herself guitar at the age of twelve. Ruth grew up on a vineyard in Fredonia, NY, and is a classically trained musician with a degree from Berklee College of Music in Boston.
Although it may seem both unusual and improbable that these two young women from seemingly different worlds could converge as a single artistic voice, Gibson and Collins believe that it is the differences they share as individuals that makes them unique as a duo.
“We collaborate on our thinking,” Victoria says. “Ruth writes a certain way, and I write a certain way, and we bring it together. It’s very interesting and very different, and it works for Wild Honey. It defines who we are.”
It was, however, a collaboration that almost never came to fruition.
Victoria and Ruth were working together at The Cheesecake Factory in the posh Nashville suburb Green Hills, when they met just a little over one year ago.
“I didn’t know Victoria that well,” Ruth says. “She asked me to jam. And I was, like, ‘oh no, this girl’s asking me to jam, I don’t know what that’s gonna be like.”
But Victoria, who had only been in Nashville for a few months, persisted. She told Ruth that she was handing out “best friend” applications. And Ruth passed the application process with flying colors. “I had to get her to open up to me,” Victoria says. “But the first night we hung out, we were best friends automatically.”
“I’m just shy,” adds Ruth.
But their friendship didn’t immediately grow into the potent artistic collaboration that exists between them today. At that time,they were both still pursuing solo careers, although they had begun to frequently appear on stage together, not as an act but simply as two friends supporting each other, playing guitar and harmonizing on one another’s songs. It wasn’t until Victoria’s mom spoke up that the duo finally began to take shape. “She just said, ‘you guys just need to do one set’,” Ruth explains. “And we did. And it was something we couldn’t ignore.”
That “something,” is the product of a blending of two distinct personalities, from two very different backgrounds.
Victoria, 20, moved to Nashville in February of 2007. She had made it all the way to the final 56 competitors during the auditions for Nashville Star’s fifth season, and the taste of success left her hungry for more.
Hailing from a tiny Georgia town most known for its annual 4th of July steam-engine tractor parade, Gibson is a small town girl to the core who was raised on the same land as her father. And she had never even attended a “real concert,” until Ruth took her to Fan Fair in 2007.
“I grew up in a very Christian home,” she says, with a soft drawl that leaves no question as to her southern heritage. “My parents were children of the seventies who grew up when crazy stuff was going on [at concerts]. So they kinda kept [me] away from that. I wasn’t really allowed to listen to anything but Christian music until I was sixteen.”
The “honey” to Victoria’s “wild,” Ruth, 24, took a very different path to Music City. The restrained and introspective songstress, who cites Emmylou Harris as one of her greatest country influences, studied piano and violin (she uses this word rather than ‘fiddle’), and “didn’t really listen to that much country growing up. My parents didn’t really play anything but classical.”
“I remember my ex-boyfriend’s mom would play country music in the car on the way to his middle school hockey games, and that’s when I really started loving it.“
And, Ruth adds, she’s always been a country girl. “I’m from NY, and I definitely get a lot of slack for that. People are like, ‘you’re not country’, But I grew up on a grape farm that was in our family for two-hundred years.”
Upon graduation from Berklee, she took a job as a vocal director at a church in San Antonio, but the lure of Nashville and it’s songwriting community was too strong to resist, and before long she found herself smack-dab in the country music capitol of the world. And it’s been full speed ahead ever since.
Can You Duet?
“We were playing every little dive bar,” Ruth says, when, in late 2007, an opportunity presented itself that was so perfectly suited to the duo that it must have seemed like a gift. “We heard about the show from several different people. And we thought, ‘this is what we do every day of our lives, and now they’re making a reality TV show about it?”
After six hours of waiting in line on the day of the show’s audition, the pair was finally ushered to the back of Nashville’s Wildhorse Saloon. “We went in, and we didn’t know who the judges were. They led us down a long dark hall, and all of the sudden we walked out into the room and there’s Naomi Judd. And our hearts start pounding, cause, you know, she’s famous. It’s crazy. We didn’t expect we’d have to go sing in front of Naomi Judd,” Victoria says.
“And Naomi told Vic that she liked her shoes,” Ruth says.
But the duo managed to calm their nerves. First they sang, “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” And when the judges asked for something up-tempo, they performed their original, “This Is What Love Looks Like.”
The judges promptly awarded the duo three “yes” votes. But it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing thereafter.
“They gave us the all-access passes, and we did our interviews where they asked us, ‘How do you feel, congratulations, blah blah blah.’ Then they said, ‘Ok, well, we still have to do an entire other day of other people, so we’ll actually call you on Wednesday to let you know if you made it or not.’” Victoria says.
“The next day was Wednesday,” Ruth says. “And me and Victoria met in the morning so we could be together all day, so we could be with each other for the phone call. And it never came. And so we thought, ‘Oh. I guess we didn’t make it.’ And we were kinda down about it.”
Nevertheless, the duo pulled themselves up by the bootstraps—they tried to take the focus off their disappointment by getting ready for a show that they were schedule to play in a couple of weeks.
“Then, on Friday, at 8 in the morning, I get a call and somebody says, ‘Is this Victoria from Wild Honey? This is Garret from Can You Duet. We have a big meeting today, and we were just wondering–where are you?’”
“And I said [to Garret], you never called us. We thought we didn’t make it. I hung up the phone and called Ruth immediately. And we moved into Opryland hotel the next day.”
Real Artists, Real Music
As excited as Victoria and Ruth were to take advantage of the incredible opportunity to compete on CMT’s flagship summer series, it was not something they entered into lightly, as they were both well aware of the stigma that is often attached to artists who gain prominence through reality TV.
Ruth, especially, was weary at first. “Victoria sort of had to convince me to do this show,” she says, when asked about people who might think less of them because they didn’t take a traditional route to industry success.
“I have to admit, I’ve even been guilty of that type of thinking before. We work so hard to be respected as musicians.[…]I used to see those reality shows and think, ‘A lot of those people aren’t that great.’ And then you go through it, and the nerves that go on–it’s the scariest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I don’t think people quite give it credit it deserves.”
“I think that people who are on these shows, very rarely do they just not sing or play out anywhere,” Victoria says. “That is what they do every day. We did play out together before the show. Heck, we still play three times a week in Nashville.”
“It’s just like a showcase in a different way. We audition; we do basically everything we do in a real showcase. For people to look down on [the show] and say, ‘well, they didn’t work hard enough,’ that’s not true at all.”
One thing that is true, however, is the fact that whether or not Wild Honey ends up being victorious on Can You Duet, these two friends are thankful–and not just for the exposure and fans the experience has won them.
“The show helped us a lot, because it was such a stressful situation. We’re just these little girls, we don’t really know what we’re doing. Being together through that brought us so much closer, because we didn’t have to do it alone. We’ve had to learn to love each other when we hate each other. We just understand that it has to work, so we make it work. And we make it work. We know each other up and down, we know each other’s buttons, what not to say and when not to say it,” Ruth says.
And that may be Wild Honey’s sweetest song of all.