Country music star Dwight Yoakam is spending the summer reconnecting with fans on a tour that takes him to a mix of venues, from theaters and festivals to state fairs and casinos. It’s a variety he appreciates, but he’s especially partial to festivals, having played Cheyenne (Wyo.) Frontier Days, Bonnaroo in Tennessee and Stagecoach in California, among others, already this year.
I caught up with him late last month while he was home in Los Angeles for one day, running errands and doing interviews before heading out on the road again. (I wrote an advance for his concert in St. Louis on Aug. 18 based on this conversation for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.)
We talked about a variety of subjects, from geeky guitar stuff to Western music fashion to the future of music distribution. But we started off with “3 Pears,” his latest album that came out last fall and landed him atop the Americana chart for eight straight weeks, a big change from his days as a hitmaker on mainstream Country radio.
Here is a transcript of that 44-minute interview, edited for length and clarity:
BG: Let’s start off with “3 Pears.” It’s been nine months, I guess? It was a smash on Americana …
DY: Yeah, it was an honor to have that kind of response to it, held the No. 1 spot for eight weeks on Americana radio. I was just elated. In some ways it felt like it was a full circle journey to have this album come out and be received on an alternative format, sort of like the first EP was when I began with “Guitars Cadillacs.”
Dwight Yoakam was part of what Steve Earle has called the Great Credibility Scare of the late ’80s, when so-called New Traditionalists filled the country radio charts post-“Urban Cowboy” and pre-Garth Brooks. But Yoakam’s career has been anything but traditional.
A Kentucky native reared in Ohio, Yoakam was embraced by Los Angeles roots rockers and punk rockers despite channeling the Bakersfield vibe of country icons Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. Even while racking up hits on mainstream country radio, his music drew from other genres and was unlike most of what was being played.
Most recently, after spending some time on independent labels, he returned to his original home at Warner Reprise — but to the label’s Nashville office, where expectations turned upside down again and he became a hit on the Americana radio chart.
For some bands, the tour highway doesn’t run through St. Louis. The Open Highway Music Festival is trying to put the city on the maps of more musicians.
John Henry of the St. Louis band John Henry and the Engine, and Steve Pohlman of the Off Broadway nightclub on Lemp Avenue came up with the idea for the festival last year, and they initially planned to focus on a fairly narrow genre of music. But by the time the curtain went up on the first of three nights of music last fall, their scope had widened.
For this year’s second edition, which runs for four nights beginning Wednesday ((Aug 7)) at Off Broadway, it’s wider still, and no better example can be found than the bill for Friday night: J.C. Brooks and the Uptown Sound, a soul and R&B show band that recalls the stage shows of James Brown and Otis Redding; and Those Darlins, a trio of women from Kentucky who mix country, rock and punk into a high-energy stew.
About six years ago, Kelly House Concerts in St. Louis presented Justin Townes Earle, a young man who was all but unknown save for his famous last name. On Saturday night, KHC presented Curtis McMurtry – son of musician James, grandson of novelist Larry – and it will be interesting to see whether this young college grad travels a career arc similar to that of the son of Steve Earle.
It shouldn’t be ruled out. As with the Earle show, a small audience of about 30 gathered in Kelly’s listening space, drawn by the enthusiasm of the hostess and curiosity about McMurtry. Would his voice hint of the droll, deadpan delivery of his dad? Would his songs convey details of time and place like the writing of both dad and granddad?
I will stand on Bob Dylan’s coffee table — or Steve Earle’s — and tell the world that Ha Ha Tonka is a great band. I can’t think of another band that simultaneously rocks as hard, writes as well and sings four-part harmonies as exquisitely as does this Ozarks-based quartet.
Brian Roberts, Brett Anderson, Lucas Long and Lennon Bone pulled into Clayton, Mo., last night (June 19, 2013) for their second house-concert date ever and wowed the 70 or so folks in Wood House Concerts’ kitchen/family room.
Lead-vocalist Roberts admitted it was terrifying playing within arm’s reach of an audience. Then he doubled down on the terror by devoting the first of two sets to new material: 10 songs from the band’s upcoming fourth album, Lessons, due for release on Bloodshot Records on Sept. 24. Most of the tunes had not been played previously in public, and some not since they were recorded.
But that was the second surprise. The first was the unusual move of beginning the show by playing an interview with the late children’s book author Maurice Sendak. The interview was conducted by NPR’s Terry Gross on “Fresh Air” in December 2011, less than five months before Sendak’s death at age 83. In the interview, Sendak talks about his then-just-published “Bumble-Ardy,” the story of a 9-year-old boy — well, a pig — who has never had a birthday party.
THIS STORY WAS PUBLISHED IN THE ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH ON JUNE 10, 2013, BUT WAS SEVERELY TRIMMED. THIS IS THE UNTRIMMED VERSION.
By Barry Gilbert
Singer-songwriter Marshall Crenshaw, backed by the muscle of St. Louis’ Bottle Rockets, on Saturday night (June 8, 2013) brought a sweat-drenched end to Twangfest, one of the most successful editions in the festival’s 17-year run.
Among the 13 acts that performed last week, three – Crenshaw, Asleep at the Wheel and Ray Wylie Hubbard – are bonafide music legends, and two more – Joe Pug and Todd Snider – may earn that status someday.
In addition, the four-night celebration of American roots music sold out three of the four shows (one at Plush and two at Blueberry Hill’s Duck Room), and set a record with fans buying 70 four-night passes. The festival ran smoothly, and even the technical gremlins took a year off.
St. Louis’ Bottle Rockets put the power into Marshall Crenshaw’s legendary power-pop Saturday night to close the most successful edition of Twangfest in the 17-year run of the roots-rock festival.
Night 4 of the KDHX-sponsored festival featured a generous portion of accessible alt-country, rock and power pop, first from opening act Dolly Varden, then for an hourlong set by the Bottle Rockets and finally a 90-minute set by Crenshaw, backed by the Bottle Rockets.
The show at Blueberry Hill’s Duck Room was sold out, the third sell-out of the four night festival and the first three-night sell-out in its history.
It’s a rare night when a music fan can see Texas-swing legends Asleep at the Wheel in an intimate venue, but that happened Friday at Blueberry Hill’s Duck Room on the third night of Twangfest 17.
And the Wheel found a well primed crowd, taking the stage after a knockout set by singer Eilen Jewell and her fine band, featuring guitarist Jerry Miller.
The seven-member Asleep at the Wheel, founded in 1970 and still led by singer-guitarist Ray Benson, has always been a force onstage, and the latest incarnation continues the tradition. Blasting through 23 songs in nearly 90 minutes, the band crossed genres from Western swing and boogie woogie to blues, rockabilly and country.
If Joe Pug had started out in the ’70s, some mainstream record company or fired-up rock critic surely would have hung a “new Dylan” tag around his neck. Unfair as such a label might be in any era – check back with us in 50 years, or even 25, Joe – his songs are worthy of such hyperbole. And live on a stage is the place to hear them.
Pug headlined the second night of the KDHX-sponsored Twangfest 17 on Thursday, capping a four-act bill that sadly drew only half a house to Blueberry Hill’s Duck Room after a sold-out opening night Wednesday at Plush (Friday and Saturday night at the Duck Room are sold out, too).
Ray Wylie Hubbard performs at Plush on Twangfest 17 opening night. PHOTOS BY BARRY GILBERT
By Barry Gilbert
“I’m gonna share some of my opinions with you tonight,” singer-songwriter Todd Snider warned the Twangfest 17 opening night crowd, “not because I think you should hear them … but because they rhyme.”
The wisecrack, offered with the same stoner drawl and twinkling eye as Snider uses in his songs, also applied to Ray Wylie Hubbard, the Texas troubadour who preceded Snider on the bill Monday night at Plush in midtown St. Louis. But where Snider is laid back and nuanced under a funky hat adorned by a flower, a folk singer at his core, the scruffy Hubbard is an in-your-face chronicler of life in the margins, all snarling rock ‘n’ roll and country blues.
Twangfest’s move to Plush from its traditional opening night venue, Schlafly’s Tap Room, was a success by any measure. The festival, supported by primary sponsor KDHX (881. FM), sold out the room with fans of each artist – the billing order easily could have been reversed – and sing-alongs were happening even when not requested by the artist.