Bash on Broadway feat. Hank Williams Jr., Blackberry Smoke, Robert Randolph, Brett Eldredge, Kopecky Family Band & Striking MatchesCountry
Making bad decisions on New Year’s Eve is a tradition more storied than even the Hank Williams family legacy. If you’re looking for something to instantly regret as the ball (or in this case, a guitar) drops to ring in 2014, consider heading downtown and braving a sure-to-be-well-behaved crowd of responsibly drunk Tennessee Mensa members at the fifth annual New Year’s Eve Bash on Broadway. Headlining the debauched, apple-pie-American shindig is none other than iconic country music blueblood Hank Williams Jr. It’s a special night for the football-ready Dick Clark of red-state dumbassery, as it marks the 60th anniversary of his more famous father’s death — one he intends to honor with lowest-common-denominator country party jams like “All My Rowdy Friends are Coming Over Tonight,” “Born To Boogie” and “We Don’t Apologize for America.” So, expect a scene something along the lines of a live-action South Park episode. Luckily, the Bash undercard boasts artists with redeeming musical qualities, like Southern country-rockers Blackberry Smoke, bluesman Robert Randolph, country newcomer Brett Eldredge and local Americana favorites Kopecky Family Band and Striking Matches. There will also be fireworks.
Hank Williams Jr.
Missoula MT | Country
Randall Hank Williams (born May 26, 1949), better known as Hank Williams, Jr. and Bocephus, is an American country singer-songwriter and musician. His musical style is often considered a blend of Southern rock, blues, and traditional country. He is the son of country music pioneer Hank Williams and the father of Hank Williams III, Holly Williams, Hilary Williams, Samuel Williams, and Katie Williams. Williams began his career by following in his famed father's footsteps; singing his father's songs and imitating his father's style. Williams's own style slowly evolved as he struggled to find his own voice and place within the country music industry. This trend was interrupted by a near fatal fall off the side of Ajax Mountain in Montana on August 8, 1975. After an extended recovery he challenged the country music establishment with a blend of country, rock, and blues. Williams enjoyed much success in the 1980s from which he earned considerable recognition and popularity both inside and outside the country music industry. As a multi-instrumentalist, Williams's repertoire of skills include guitar, bass guitar, upright bass, steel guitar, banjo, Dobro, piano, keyboards, harmonica, fiddle, and drums
Atlanta GA | Country
The members of Southern Rock quintet Blackberry Smoke are no strangers to hard work. Playing up to 250 dates each year, the guys are on the road more often than not, and they’ve seen tangible results of their labor. The band has toured with and befriended idols such as The Marshall Tucker Band, ZZ Top (with Billy Gibbons jamming with the band on a Florida stop), Lynyrd Skynyrd and George Jones. The band was even asked to play for Jones on his 80th birthday, not long after the country legend turned in a guest appearance on the band’s sophomore album.
They’ve toured Europe thrice over, and had their songs featured in video games (EA Sports’ NASCAR 08) and films (Swing Vote), as well. Mixing elements of gospel, bluegrass, arena rock, soul and more than a touch of outlaw country, Blackberry Smoke has earned a passionate fanbase that continues to grow as the band itself evolves. The band is as blue collar as the bandanas its members wear.
“Our fanbase is as organic as you can get,” says drummer Brit Turner. “Each fan has been won by live performance or good old word of mouth.” In a little more than a decade together, Blackberry Smoke has released three full-length albums—including 2012’s The Whippoorwill, the band’s first for country megastar Zac Brown’s Southern Ground label—two EPs and a live DVD, Live at the Georgia Theatre, which serves as the perfect showcase for the band’s raucous, rockin’ good-times-for-all take on rock ’n’ roll. A chunk of the DVD’s concert footage has aired numerous times on Palladia, and the band also shot a DirecTV concert that has aired countless times.
Brit, along with singer and guitarist Charlie Starr, bassist and vocalist Richard Turner, guitarist and vocalist Paul Jackson and keyboardist Brandon Still, have slugged it out on the road for more than a decade, but now regularly sell out headline appearances across the country and overseas. The band’s audience, Brit says, feels like more than fans, which is appropriate given that their families are their biggest supporters. (A word to the wise: hitting on the pretty ladies in the front row might get you decked.)
Though these road dogs rarely have downtime, they recently managed to carve out enough time to record their newest batch of songs for The Whippoorwill, an album that serves as a platform for smart, battle-tested songwriting and for the band’s ability to leave audiences breathless. Despite the additional resources at its fingertips, the band decided that The Whippoorwill would be largely an in-house affair—its own songs, done its own way. Consequently, the band is more excited for this album’s release than any effort thus far.
“I remember not being able to sleep well at night when we were making this new album,” Charlie recalls. “I was so excited about which songs we were going to cut the next day. After it’s done and we can hold it in our hands and be proud of it we know that there’s another one that will have to be made in the not too distant future, but it feels really good to have this one finished; we’re all really proud of it.”
With Zac Brown and the entire Southern Ground team behind them, Charlie and the boys are experiencing all the benefits of life on a larger label. For an already busy band, business is booming.
“The only time we stop or take any time off is when someone’s wife has a baby,” Charlie adds, chuckling. “So, we’ve had to come up with a fictitious band member whose fictitious wife is having a fictitious baby.” Yet even though they have a wealth of experience under their belts, with the release of The Whippoorwill, the guys find themselves in uncharted territory.
“We’ve never done an album and actually planned a tour around it,” Charlie confesses. “It’s always been ’tour constantly and whenever the album is done, it comes out.’ It’s a new thing for us to actually plan this far ahead.”
And while the recording process for The Whippoorwill might have afforded the band a few additional luxuries—“It was strange being able to go into a nice recording studio without having to not pay ourselves for awhile to get the money to do it,” Brit says—the band still found itself backs against the wall. Fortunately, that’s exactly where Blackberry Smoke seems to thrive.
“For all the planning ahead, we still had to get it done in four-and-a-half days, so it’s not like we had time to stretch out and find the most comfortable chair in the studio,” Charlie says. “In a perfect world, I’d like to take a little bit more time to record, but it’s not possible until they add more hours in the day and more days in the week. We’re used to doing it that way anyway.”
Regardless of whatever pressures the band might have been under while the red light was on in the studio, that stress isn’t evident on any of The Whippoorwill’s 13 tracks. For example, album opener, “Six Ways to Sunday,” is a footstomping tune that mirrors the song’s carefree attitude, and could be mistaken for an old Motown track at times. At the same time, the title track has the effortless blues approach of ’70s-era Pink Floyd, but with more grease. Nothing feels forced.
Indeed, the band’s history together gives them a natural chemistry when writing the songs that could easily find a home with a diverse set of audiences.
Straddling the line between paying homage to one’s heroes and blatant theft is a tricky business, but it’s a divide that the members of Blackberry Smoke traverse with ease. The band invites a few comparisons to the hallowed forefathers of Skynyrd, but don’t expect to hear the same worn out clichés in their songs that every other band with country, pop or rock leanings have already espoused.
“We’re not in the business of writing the same song over and over and over,” Charlie says bluntly.
Speaking of “over and over,” at many points it would have been easy for these blue-collar musicians to get tired of bashing out song after song in distant dives and hang it up, get straight jobs and rock out as weekend warriors—if at all. But despite some lean years, they kept building an audience and keeping up with wives, children and girlfriends from long distances. So what’s kept them so passionate?
As Brit Turner emphasizes, it’s not necessarily dreams of stardom. It’s simply the love of the game. “We love it or we wouldn’t do it.”
Robert Randolph & The Family Band
Orange NJ | Rock
When Robert Randolph talks about his new album, Lickety Split, a few words come up over and over—"joy," "freedom," "energy." Which is no surprise, really, because those are the same things that immediately spring into a listener's mind when these twelve tracks from the virtuoso pedal steel guitarist and his longtime accompanists, the Family Band, explode out of the speakers.
"My thing is really upbeat, uptempo, with great guitar riffs," says Randolph, summarizing his musical ambitions, "but also catchy choruses and lyrics that someday will make this music into classic tunes."
“Robert Randolph is an American Original," says Don Was, President of Randolph's new label, Blue Note Records. "He has mastered what is, arguably, the most complex instrument in the world and developed a unique voice that is equal parts street-corner church and Bonnaroo. This album finally captures the energy and excitement of his legendary live performances.”
But for Randolph, the road to Lickety Split—his first studio recording in three years—wasn't an easy path. Though his distinctive mix of rock, funk, and rhythm & blues continued to earn a rapturous response from a fervent, international audience, he felt that he had lost some of the enthusiasm and intensity that had driven him to make music in the first place.
"We just weren't being creative musically," he says. "Being on the road 280 days a year, you wind up playing too much and it isn't fun anymore. Soon, you stop being that concerned about how good you can be, how important it is to create and write. You kind of lose sight of that, of being focused on your craft and spending time with your instrument. I've become more in love with my guitar now, and staying relaxed and practicing and trying to create different sounds."
The new album showcases the unique chemistry of the Family Band—comprised of the guitarist's actual family members Marcus Randolph, Danyel Morgan, and Lenesha Randolph, together with guitarist Brett Haas. The eleven original compositions, plus a stomping cover of "Love Rollercoaster" by the Ohio Players, were produced by Robert Randolph & The Family Band, Danyel Morgan, Marcus Randolph, Tommy Sims, Drew Ramsey, and Shannon Sanders; engineered by the legendary Eddie Kramer (Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin); and feature special guest appearances from Trombone Shorty and Carlos Santana.
Randolph notes that the title track of Lickety Split (on which his sister sings the hook) is one of his favorites. "What's great about that one is that it's something we actually played in church, just like that," he says. "There's a section in the service called the 'Jubilee Jam Session Time,' and I can show you video where we played that very same riff."
But if there's one track on the album that captures the band's new spirit, it's one that started as a jam session in a Nashville studio during a break in recording, and later came to be titled "Born Again." "It's about finding the joy again," says Randolph. "At first it was more of a love song, the sense you get when you find the right person, but then as we were recording this new music with a whole new sense of direction, and feeling free again, that all came into it. It's not a religious thing, it's just new energy—which is really the old energy that I had at the beginning of my career."
Robert Randolph & The Family Band first gained national attention with the release of the album Live at the Wetlands in 2002. The band followed with three studio recordings over the next eight years—Unclassified, Colorblind, and We Walk This Road—which, together with tireless touring and unforgettable performances at such festivals as Bonnaroo, Austin City Limits, and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, won them an expanding and passionate fan base. Randolph's unprecedented prowess on his instrument garnered him a spot on Rolling Stone's "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time" list, and also attracted the attention of such giants as Eric Clapton and Carlos Santana, who have collaborated with him on stage and in the studio.
"What I've learned from being around those guys—and you never really notice it until the moment is away from you—is that it's really important to them that someone keeps original music going, that you're not just trying to be like everybody else," he says. "Eric really wants to know what's going on now, he's always going 'Show me that lick again!'—they're like little kids, and that's really the great part about it. It makes me think that I need to keep getting better, to stay excited and keep trying to be innovative and keep growing."
Most recently, Randolph has attempted to amplify the tradition from which he came by executive producing the Robert Randolph Presents the Slide Brothers album, a recording which features some of the older "sacred steel" players from the House of God church who inspired him to pick up an instrument. "This is part of my whole story, which a lot of people don't understand," he says. "In our church organization, playing lap steel in church has been going on since the 1920s. These guys were my mentors, my Muddy Waters and B.B. Kings. Thinking that I started this style is like saying Stevie Ray Vaughan was the first guy to play the blues. I wanted to do this record so that everybody could understand the story and start connecting the dots."
He is also taking a bold new step by remodeling an abandoned school building in his hometown of Irvington, New Jersey and opening the Robert Randolph Music and Arts Program. "There hasn't been any arts in the schools, period, since I was in high school," he says. "So my whole motivation changed to a full-on effort to get these kids into music, and also find out what other passions they have and try to offer that. These kids don't have anything to do, they don't have any hope."
With a new label, a new dedication to his craft, and a new sense of responsibility in his life off-stage, it seems like Lickety Split might also represent the urgency Robert Randolph is bringing to all of his efforts these days. "I'm still undiscovered, and that's really the best thing about it," he says. "Now we have the chance to present the music right, and have the story told right, and for me to be focused on being an ambassador for inner-city kids and a role model, and also an ambassador for my instrument and as an artist. As all these things happened, it got fun again."
Nashville TN | Country
The depth of his writing and the sheer power of his smoky and expressive baritone—are both apparent in his first single. "Raymond" is the poignant tale of a nursing home employee mistaken by a patient with Alzheimer's for her deceased son, who was killed at war. It is a song whose inspiring reaffirmation of their mutual humanity is affecting listeners deeply. The single rings true for Eldredge as his Grandmother currently struggles through the disease.
"As a songwriter," he says, "my aim is to portray a little bit of me and my life along with the stories of other people and turn them into something that can really touch somebody's heart and soul. We sit down on Music Row every day and write songs and every once in a while a song like ’Raymond’ comes from such a real place. I hope it's that real to other people and that I can make them feel the way I felt when I wrote it and when I sing it."
Judging from audience reaction, that’s exactly what he's doing.
Kopecky Family Band
Nashville TN | Indie/Alternative
“Family” is a word that encompasses a variety of definitions. With that in mind, let this introduction to Kopecky Family Band be taken with an open mind and with a grain of salt. This family is connected not by blood or by heritage, but by circumstance. No, this is a family bound by the miles on their odometer and by the songs they have crafted over the years. These six young musicians have created a family through their commitment to each other and to their craft. Crack open your dictionary, if you need to.
the Kopecky Family Band – a non-traditional family, at that – is dynamic, and they wield an equally dynamic slew of instruments. Their thoughtful songwriting is supported by a diverse backdrop of sound. And the musical canvas is covered with broad brushstrokes – ranging from clanging tambourines and guitars, booming percussion, intelligent string arrangements, and triumphant horns. These six bandmates – siblings, if you will – swap their musical tools without a second thought, creating an emotive, adventurous, and energetic environment onstage.
In late 2007, founding members Kelsey Kopecky and Gabriel Simon became united with four friends who shared a mutual vision. They planted seeds that have been nurtured for the past five years through persistent touring and recording – and those seeds are rapidly reaching maturity. With thousands of miles traveled, and surely thousands to come, the Kopecky Family Band is only just beginning their adventure – and they want to bring you along for the ride.
Nashville TN | Country
Simply stated, Striking Matches, made up of Sarah Zimmermann and Justin Davis, came to Nashville to play music. Sarah, a Philadelphia native and Justin from Atlanta met when a professor at Belmont University paired them at random to play for a classroom full of guitar majors. Consequently, their first performance was the first time they had ever played together. The pair has been writing and performing ever since. Their influences range from Jerry Reed to the Beatles, John Mayer to Patsy Cline, and back again. It becomes more obvious every day that they were born to play music together.
Sarah and Justin put out their first self-titled EP in October 2012, and their song "When the Right One Comes Along" (co-written with Georgia Middleman) was featured on ABC's new drama "Nashville". Since then, the duo has performed across the country opening for acts like Kip Moore and John Hiatt, as well as Nashville's New Year's Even Bash On Broadway with the Fray, and the Grand Ole Opry.