FALL and winter are packed with great shows at The Lucas, and Friday is no exception.
Velvet Caravan have invited old buds Packway Handle Band from Athens to fill the theatre with bluegrass, swing, and gypsy tunes for an evening.
It’s a fitting double bill: while both bands’ genres employ a great deal of technical finesse and tradition, Packway Handle Band and Velvet Caravan both take a whimsical, laidback approach to their craft, unafraid of cutting up and just having a good ol’ time.
For years, Packway Handle Band has been a Georgia favorite; earlier this year, they teamed up with the incomparable surreal singer-songwriter Jim White to make Take It Like A Man, an LP of songs by White and Packway and one co-written tune, “Corn Pone Refugee.”
The five-piece just got back from a tour with, of all people, Kid Rock and Foreigner with plenty of stories to share.
Okay, so this tour with Kid Rock and Foreigner—how in the world did that happen?
Josh Erwin: It's probably the weirdest thing we've ever been offered.
I wrote an email to a guy doing an interview with us: ‘I can’t talk this day because we’re doing the last of the Kid Rock shows for 2015.’ He replied, ‘Did you ever think you’d ever write those words in an email?’ No, never!
We were recruited to play his cruise in 2014—he wanted a bluegrass band. Sixthman Productions recommended us and Kid Rock liked the idea of what we did, then asked if we’d be interested in doing a summer tour.
It’s just so funny—we’d just put out Jim White Vs. Packway Handle Band, and you can’t get more polar opposite of the spectrum—Southern Gothic songwriting and straight-up redneck party town. But I really like that whole idea of just doing polar opposites of each other. It’s kind of a mix of absurdity and awe that’s involved.
Then they say, ‘Okay, it’ll be y’all, then Foreigner.’
Even if you have those poetry magnets on the fridge where you make different sentences and had band names instead, you couldn’t even make that: Kid Rock, Packway Handle Band, Foreigner!
Despite the spectacle, it was really one of the best jobs we’d had. I had low expectations, but everyone couldn’t be more welcoming. Beyond whatever stigma people have about Kid Rock, it’s a nice group of people to be around for a whole summer.
What was the reception like? Is that crowd into bluegrass?
So half of what we did, we’d show up about 30 minutes before the show, wandering around playing acoustic in these ampitheatres. In every state, every city, the capacity is 20,000 average. The doors open, and we’d go hang out in the concourse area and play acoustic for about 45 minutes, go backstage, get a drink, go refresh, and go up and do 22 minutes onstage.
First of all with the crowd, when we started playing, they were like, ‘Oh my god, what are you doing here, what is this?’ When we got onstage, it was pretty good reception—better than I expected.
Every show sold out. We jumped up and played a song with [Kid Rock] in his set, and Foreigner! For ‘I Want To Know What Love Is,’ they would bring in a high school choir or nonprofit up each night; at the tail end of that, we crashed the Foreigner choir. We were sitting right next to Mick Jones!
You released the collaboration with Jim White earlier this year. Did y’all know each other from living in Athens?
We’d gone to some weird camp at Burning Man in 2005—they had this crazy DJ, weird party, all kinds of stuff going on nights of the week. And one night, this guy was playing Jim White’s Wrong-Eyed Jesus.
We figured out who it was, bought the album, and eventually we all watched the movie [Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus]. We were really taken by it, then Jim moved to Athens.
We used to host this festival on July 4th, and he came up after and said, ‘I got a really good idea. I’m producing this record and I think it’d be great to have y’all sing and play a little bit.’ Then we asked to produce his album, since we had a little bit of a relationship; he said, ‘Yeah, cool.’
We thought about it, asked if we could make a band together with his stuff rearranged.
What was that like, working together?
I think Jim is, in general, a hoarder of sounds. For example, one of the tracks, “Breathing Room,” that’s Michael’s song—we’d done everything in-house, recorded in our home studio. Then Jim, the way he works, he does a lot of post-production, twinkles and funny little swoopy sounds, ethereal noises and that kind of thing.
There were six, maybe eight instruments, then vocals—12 basic tracks—but Jim takes it to mix and I looked and was like, ‘Why the hell are there 56 tracks?!’
We need more instruments and weird contraptions on it; we wanted to get some personality playing on tracks we’d done in the past, and we certainly got it with that. Instead of really writing together, it was more like he put his personality in our songs post-production. He had his songs, and he’d always played the more or less folk singer-songwriter, and we took them and pumped up the tempo.
Are y’all working on anything in the near future?
We’ve actually got studio time booked December 14, and we’re actually going to get Scott McCaughey to produce it—he’s in The Minus 5, The Baseball Project with Peter from R.E.M., he was R.E.M.’s touring guitar player for 10-15 years. We met him in Portland while we were out there on this Kid Rock tour.
When I tallied up everything, we’ve got more songs for this album than we have in the past for putting an album together. We get to really whittle down from the collection we’ve got.
What are you looking forward to about playing Savannah again?
Looking forward to a good double bill. I really like playing theatres, I like playing in that kind of atmosphere; it’s a good size for audiences, and I think there’s a lot of rapport that can be built between the audience and band. I think that in general can be a lot of fun. We’ve always taken Eric [Dunn’s] lead in the past, and I’m looking forward to the collaboration of it.