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Even before signing his record deal in early 2016, rising star Kane Brown had already established a passionate online following in the millions. Almost immediately, the RCA Nashville/Zone 4 singer/songwriter was making chart history with the release of Chapter 1, which became the highest-debuting country EP of the Nielsen SoundScan era and featured the RIAA Gold-certified “Used to Love You Sober.” His Kane Brownfull-length released in December 2016, debuting at #1 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums and Top 10 on the Billboard 200 all-genre chart. Country’s #1 best-selling new-artist album debut since 2014, Kane Brown also claimed the #4 spot as the best-selling new-artist album debut of 2016, in any genre, and launched the Platinum-certified smash “What Ifs,” featuring Lauren Alaina. The October 6, 2017, release of the 15-song Kane BrownDeluxe Edition builds on that success with four new tracks including “Setting the Night on Fire—a duet with Brown’s hero and RCA labelmate Chris Young—and “Found You,” a track that entered Billboard’s Country Digital Song Sales chart at #1. Earlier this year, Brown impressively earned his first ACM award nomination as New Male Vocalist of the Year, as well as a CMT Music Awards Breakthrough Video of the Year nod for “Used to Love You Sober.” In addition to headlining his own series of sold-out tour dates, Brown was tapped for Florida Georgia Line’s 2016 summer tour and is currently a special guest on Jason Aldean’s They Don’t Know Tour. Beyond his flourishing music career—and inspired by his personal experiences and a desire to lend his voice as a platform—Brown recently partnered with Make Room, the nation’s leading organization addressing the rental housing crisis in the United States. 

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ZZ TOP a/k/a “That Little Ol’ Band From Texas,” lay undisputed claim to being the longest running major rock band with original personnel intact and, in 2004, the Texas trio was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Of course, there are only three of them – Billy F Gibbons, Dusty Hill, Frank Beard — but it’s still a remarkable achievement that they’re still very much together after almost 45 years of rock, blues, and boogie on the road and in the studio.  “Yeah,” says Billy, guitarist extraordinaire, “we’re the same three guys, bashing out the same three chords.”  With the release of each of their albums the band has explored new ground in terms of both their sonic approach and the material they’ve recorded. ZZ TOP is the same but always changing.

It was in Houston in the waning days of 1969 that ZZ TOP coalesced from the core of two rival bands, Billy’s Moving Sidewalks and Frank and Dusty’s American Blues.  The new group went on to record the appropriately titled ZZ Top’s First Album and Rio Grande Mud that reflected their strong blues roots.   Their third, 1973’s Tres Hombres, catapulted them to national attention with the hit “La Grange,” still one of the band’s signature pieces today.  The song is unabashed elemental boogie, celebrating the institution that came to be known as “the best little whorehouse in Texas.”  Their next hit was “Tush,” a song about, well, let’s just say the pursuit of “the good life” that was featured on their Fandango! album, released in 1975. The band’s momentum and success built during its first decade, culminating in the legendary “World Wide Texas Tour,” a production that included a longhorn steer, a buffalo, buzzards, rattlesnakes and a Texas-shaped stage.  As a touring unit, they’ve been without peer over the years, having performed before millions of fans through North America on numerous epochal tours as well as overseas where they’ve enthralled audiences from Slovenia to Argentina, from Australia to Sweden, from Russia to Japan and most points in between.  Their iconography – beards, cars, girls and that magic keychain – seems to transcend all bounds of geography and language.

Following a lengthy hiatus during which the individual members of the band traveled the world, they switched labels (from British Decca’s London label to Warner Bros.) and returned with two amazingly provocative albums, Deguello and El Loco.  Their next release, Eliminator, was something of a paradigm shift for ZZ TOP. Their roots blues skew was intact but added to the mix were tech-age trappings that soon found a visual outlet with the nascent MTV.  Suddenly, Billy, Dusty and Frank were video icons, playing a kind of Greek chorus in videos that highlighted the album’s three smash singles: “Gimme All Your Lovin’, “Sharp Dressed Man” and “Legs.”  The melding of grungy guitar-based blues with synth-pop was seamless and continued with the follow-up album Afterburner as they continued their chart juggernaut.  ZZ TOP had accomplished the impossible; they had moved with the times while simultaneously bucking ephemeral trends that crossed their path. They had become more popular and more iconic without ever having to be “flavor of the week.” They had become a certified rock institution, contemporary in every way, yet still completely connected to the founding fathers of the genre.

They stayed with Warner for one more album, Recycler, released in 1990 and switched to RCA where they debuted with Antenna and followed with Rhythmeen, XXX and Mescalero. Beyond that, both a lavish four CD box set compilation, Chrome, Smoke & B.B.Q. and a two-CD distillation of that package, Rancho Texicano, were released by Warner prior to The Complete Studio Albums set.

In 2012, ZZ TOP unveiled LA FUTURA, their first studio album in nine years.  Produced by Rick Rubin and Billy F Gibbons, and released on American Recordings, it reflected the solid blues inspiration that has powered the band since the very beginning with a contemporary approach that underscored the group’s inclination to experiment and explore new sonic vistas.  The album included the widely lauded “I Gotsta Get Paid” that has become both a video and in-concert sensation.  ZZ Top’s rich history became the subject of a box set release the following year.  ZZ Top: The Complete Studio Albums 1970-1990 offered no fewer than 10 of the band’s most lauded albums all with the original mixes restored.

ZZ TOP’s brand new career retrospective The Very Baddest spans the entire course of their London, Warner Bros. and RCA years. Listeners can follow the evolution of the band’s sound from the early 70s into the 00s on either a 40 track double CD or a 20 track single CD. Live at Montreux 2013, just released on Eagle Rock Entertainment on both Blu-ray and DVD formats, showcases their live act, leaving no doubt as to why they have been such a huge concert draw for the last several decades. When it comes to the live experience, they’ve still got it.

The elements that keep ZZ TOP fresh, enduring and above the transitory fray can be summed up in the three words of the band’s internal mantra: “Tone, Taste and Tenacity.”  Of course, the three members of the band have done their utmost to do their part in assuring that ZZ TOP prevails.  As genuine roots musicians, the members of the band have few peers.  Billy is widely regarded as one of American finest blues guitarists working in the rock idiom.  His influences are both the originators of the form – Muddy Waters, B.B. King, et al – as well as the British blues rockers who emerged the generation before ZZ’s ascendance.  In his early days of playing, no less an idol that Jimi Hendrix singled him out for praise. Part mad scientist, part prankster, he’s a musical innovator of the highest order and a certified “guitar god.”  He’s a recurring small screen presence in the hit TV series Bones in which he plays a bearded, gruff, rock guitarist.  No type casting problems for Billy.

Dusty has long had an affinity for rock’s origins; his earliest performances as a child included Elvis songs convincingly performed.  Not only is he a bass virtuoso in his own right, his vocal prowess is awe-inspiring.  He’s the lead voice you hear on “Tush” and his ferocious vocals are heard, to great effect, on his idol Elvis Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock,” these days, often a concert  encore number and recorded by the band on Fandango! Good natured and diligent, Dusty is the rock solid bottom of ZZ TOP.

Frank has also been keeping the beat in that great tradition.  As both a roots and progressive drummer, he has been acknowledged as key to the band’s powerful on-stage and in-studio presence. He and Dusty, in their early years together, served as Lightnin’ Hopkins’ rhythm section which, as Frank tells it, was a life changing experience.  Frank, despite his last name, is the guy in the band without a beard.  But when you’re with him, you’re with a Beard.  He’s a rockin’ paradox who provides the pulse of ZZ TOP.

ZZ TOP’s music is always instantly recognizable, eminently powerful, profoundly soulful and 100% Texas American in derivation.  The band’s support for the blues is unwavering both as interpreters of the music and preservers of its legacy.  It was ZZ TOP that celebrated “founding father” Muddy Waters by turning a piece of scrap timber than had fallen from his sharecropper’s shack into a beautiful guitar, dubbed the “Muddywood.”  This totem was sent on tour as a fundraising focus for The Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, Mississippi, site of Robert Johnson’s famed “Crossroads” encounter with the devil.  ZZ TOP’s support and link to the blues remains as rock solid as the music they continue to play.  They have sold millions of records over the course of their career, have been officially designated as Heroes of The State of Texas, have been referenced in countless cartoons and sitcoms and are true rock icons but, against all odds, they’re really just doing what they’ve always done.  They’re real and they’re surreal and they’re ZZ TOP.

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Chris Young is in complete control.

As the RCA Records Nashville recording artist prepares to release his fifth album, due this Fall, Young has taken over responsibility for conceiving, writing, producing and recording the highly anticipated, I’m Comin’ Over.

Looking for a new approach on an album he knew was extremely important, Young hedged his bet by personally writing a check and quietly cutting six songs. When he played the music for surprised Sony Music Nashville executives, there was one simple response: “Keep going.”

Young, a native of nearby Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and a fixture on the scene since his teens, could easily have approached his latest album on auto-pilot. After all, few have had the kind of run he has. This is his fifth major-label album by the age of 30 – a feat rarely accomplished in modern country music. He’s ratcheted up six No. 1 singles, seven Gold and Platinum certifications, and been nominated for the industry’s most prestigious awards – Academy of Country Music, Country Music Association and The Grammys – taking home a handful of notable trophies, including the American Country Countdown Awards’ Breakthrough Artist of the Year and Single of the Year, and the Country Music Association’s Triple Play Award, given to songwriters who have co-authored three or more chart-topping hits in a year.

Prior to that clandestine recording session that would set the tone for the project, fate stepped in as Young wrestled with the direction of this new album. His longtime friend Josh Hoge suggested he jump in on a co-write with mutual friend Corey Crowder. It was a casual suggestion, not a put-together session dreamed up in a publisher’s building on Music Row. And that invitation changed everything for Young.

“It was just very honest and natural and we really, really hit it off,” Young said. “I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do sonically for this record and what I wanted to say. And it’s an important record. Turning 30. I’ve been doing this for 10 years and you always try to make a statement with each and every record. But this is my fifth record, and after 10 years I better have something important to say.”

Young wrote 9 of the 11 songs, including the title track first single, co-produced the album with Crowder and shepherded each track from demo through final mastering. He knows the LP “inside out, backwards and forwards.”

“It just feels different,” Young said. “There was a lot that changed. The studio band we used was different. This is the first time I’ve co-produced. Half the songs on the record were written by me, Corey and Josh. That was kind of the nucleus of this record, and that was really different for me. Nothing changed for the sake of change. It changed because it was the right way to go.”

Four of the album’s tracks emerged from the trio’s first seven sessions. Young kept the group coming back to the writer’s room and exciting things continued to happen. Two early tracks proved to be special. “I’m Comin’ Over” became a guidepost for Young and Crowder. Technically, the song is a ballad, but there’s nothing slow and steady about it.

“‘I’m Comin’ Over’ honestly is such a sonic bridge for me,” Young said. “It’s a bridge between what I sounded like on the last record and what we’ve done on this one. It’s not like I went out and just completely blew up everything I was doing, but there’s obviously a lot more loops. There’s a lot more stuff that we created in pre-production and brought into the studio along with the musicians. I think that this song is a really good introduction to what you’ll hear on the rest of this record. There’s R&B elements that we brought into some of the songs, and you definitely hear that on top of the second verse. It’s really simple. It’s really short, just a tiny, little moment, but it’s definitely stuff that we wouldn’t have done in the past.”

“As Chris, Josh and I began writing together, the sonic direction seemed to organically take shape,” shared co-producer and co-writer, Corey Crowder. “We all come from different spaces in the music world and our personalities, working styles and strengths really compliment each other.”

You begin to see the producer in Young emerge with a confident strut on the album’s next track, “Heartbeat.” The song is all elevated heart rate, supplied by a thumping heartbeat pulsing just under the instrumentals.

“Chris and I make a really good team,” Crowder said. “We trust each other’s ears and it really
makes the combination work well.”

Young the producer wraps Young the singer’s perfectly mellow traditional country baritone in a more modern context. Many of the songs are bright and bold and aimed for the arena rafters as he moves into the touring headliner’s role, kicking off October 22 with his “I’m Comin’ Over Tour,” featuring openers Eric Paslay and Clare Dunn. “Heartbeat,” for instance will drop right into his live set. And songs like “Sunshine Overtime” and the anthemic “Underdog” are strong arena candidates with their bright colors and racing tempos.

While good times are a heavy presence on the album, Young doesn’t completely leave behind the nuanced emotion of his previous work. “I Know A Guy” and “Sober Saturday Night,” which features Vince Gill on guitar and harmony vocals, help Young round out I’m Comin’ Over with a song for every mood.

“There’s a great history of sad songs in country music and I think that a lot of people have lived that,” Young said. “They’ve had that night where it’s like, ‘Man, I’m so depressed, I don’t even want to leave my house. I’m just going to sit here. I don’t even want to try to drink myself out of being depressed,’ and it’s powerful. But I think there are touch points – I think that’s really what this record is. Hopefully everybody relates to each one of these songs and they have their own experiences.”

Young formed his appreciation for the history of country music listening and watching closely genre ambassadors like Gill, who is best known as a Grammy Award-winning singer and guitarist. But he’s also emerged a powerful producer, and Young would like to see his career follow a similar path. He knew this from the second he saw Gill in concert as a child, sitting in

the grass at Nashville’s old Starwood Amphitheater, watching the legend perform solo acoustic
for a crowd of thousands held at rapt attention.

“I got to sit in his studio and hang out with Vince Gill all day, and it’s just such a weird, cool full- circle thing for me,” Young said. “He’s absolutely someone that I put on a pedestal as a vocalist and a person. It’s like, ‘Oh, my God, I want to be known as an artist who is that good.’”

Young exudes a combination of pride and nervous energy as he talks about rolling out I’m Comin’ Over, first, for family and friends, and now for critics and the public. It’s the most personal album Young has recorded, full of accessible moments that grow out of small things like a look, a touch or a broken bond. And for the first time he’s responsible for almost every hook, solo and lyric, right from the start.

Like Gill, Young takes a personal moment or emotion and elevates it with a universal resonance. When he sings of a day at the beach or the lake, it’s because he’s relaying an experience from his own life, not some anonymous songwriter’s. And when you feel his heartbreak, that’s really his heart breaking.

“It’s no secret I’ve fallen in love before,” Young said. “And I’ve fallen out of love. And I’ve definitely had love fall out on me – that makes for several records worth of music right there. Then, when you combine some of the other stuff that we wrote on this record, it gives it a lot of variety, too. I think that’s important. I could just as easily sit down and write an entire an album of love songs, but I think you have to have the love songs and you have to have the stuff you’re going to play when it’s summer and 100 degrees and everybody’s in T-shirts at a festival. It’s a balancing act. You have to have all the colors on the palette and make them work together.”

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KANE BROWN :: LEE BRICE :: BILLY CURRINGTON :: JAKE OWEN

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XL 102 BIG FIELD DAY welcomes Awolnation, DASHBOARD CONFESSIONAL, MANCHESTER ORCHESTRA, J RODDY WALSTON & THE BUSINESS, & MOON TAXI

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Dark Star Orchestra

Performing to critical acclaim worldwide for nearly 19 years and over 2600 shows, Dark Star Orchestra continues the Grateful Dead concert experience. Their shows are built off the Dead’s extensive catalog and the talent of these seven fine musicians. On any given night the band will perform a show based on a set list from the Grateful Dead’s 30 years of extensive touring or use their catalog to program a unique set list for the show. This allows fans both young and old to share in the experience. By recreating set lists from the past, and by developing their own sets of Dead songs, Dark Star Orchestra offers a continually evolving artistic outlet within this musical canon. Honoring both the band and the fans, Dark Star Orchestra’s members seek out the unique style and sound of each era while simultaneously offering their own informed improvisations creating a sound that truly encapsulate the energy and the experience.

Band Members: Rob Barraco Rob Eaton Dino English Rob Koritz Lisa Mackey Jeff Mattson Skip Vangelas

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Jake Owen became a star so quickly that he didn’t have time to memorize any Country Music Rule Book – which made it that much easier to toss it out the window.

Guided by sheer musical instinct, a drive for self-improvement and a willingness to experiment, the singer-songwriter has crafted Barefoot Blue Jean Night as one of the most innovative and refreshing country collections of the year. The CD’s title tune is already exploding as the biggest hit of Owen’s career to date.

“I never wanted to be the guy that did everything the way you’re supposed to do it,” says the candid and outgoing music maker. “And that led me to make this record, which I think really represents who I am more than anything I’ve ever recorded. If nothing else happens after this, I can honestly say that I did the absolute best that I can do. I’ve never felt this good about music, or anything in my career, as I do right now.”

His buoyant optimism is justified. Barefoot Blue Jean Night brims with vocal self-confidence and a superbly chosen stack of songs. The pumping energy in such country rockers as “Anywhere with You,” “Apple Pie Moonshine,” “The One That Got Away” and “Nobody Feelin’ No Pain” contrasts dramatically with the feverish thumper “Wide Awake” or the crunchy, edgy and atmospheric “Alone with You.”

“Keepin’ it Country” is a Jake Owen statement of purpose. “Heaven” is a smiling, seductive come-on. On the other hand, there’s the touching, lovely and philosophical acoustic ballad “The Journey of Your Life.” The frothing power, cascading rhythm and head-to-the-sky vocal shout of “Settin’ the World on Fire” mark it as a blue-chip, blue-collar rocker. And what more can be said of “Barefoot Blue Jean Night,” surely the most joyous Southern celebration on disc today?

All of these sounds mean a new beginning for the hit maker. Jake Owen has previously enjoyed major-league success with such performances as 2006’s “Startin’ with Me,” 2008’s “Don’t Think I Can’t Love You,” and 2009’s “Eight Second Ride.” His revival of “Life in a Northern Town” with Sugarland and Little Big Town in 2008 earned him Grammy and CMA Award nominations. Owen was named 2009’s Top New Male Vocalist by the Academy of Country Music. But nothing, he says, compares to the impact his new music is making.

“Everything is amazing right now. I have other artists, song publishers, promotion reps, people at other record labels coming up to me and saying, ‘Jake, I really like your new song. We’re pulling for you, dude.’ That validates everything I’ve ever done up to this point. Now, I have people cheering for me and that is an awesome feeling.”

In 2005, Jake went from performing in Florida bars to moving to Nashville and within months he had a Music Row song-publishing contract. Less than a year later, he was signed by RCA Records and was on the charts with his first two singles, “Yee Haw” and “Startin’ with Me.” He went from being a speck in a stadium crowd at a Kenny Chesney concert to opening shows for the superstar. Then Brad Paisley took him on the road as Owen scored his third hit, 2007’s “Something About a Woman.” In 2008, Owen opened shows for Sugarland and this year, Keith Urban asked Jake to be his touring partner on the Get Closer 2011 World tour.

“I would say I have had a pretty great life,” he admits. “As far as me struggling in Nashville, I can’t say that I did that. A lot of singer/songwriter’s come to town and play all the honky-tonks and bars, hoping to meet someone and worrying and struggling. Mine’s not that story.

“For a long time, I tried not to really tell my story, because I felt like everybody thought, ‘Look at this lucky kid.’ So I’ve always been a little hesitant to talk about that, even to be a little ashamed of it.

“Then I started thinking. This is my story. This is what I did so I should be proud, not ashamed. Yes, I feel like I was very, very fortunate but I am also extremely grateful that everything happened the way it did. I truly believe that everything always works out the way it is supposed to.”

There was a downside to his good fortune. Because of being so suddenly thrust into the spotlight on the road, Jake Owen never really got to know the Nashville country community. Because he wrote his own songs, he knew only a handful of the hundreds of gifted song craftspeople in Music City. So in making his third album, he addressed the missing parts of his “Nashville education.” Jake Owen had co-written nearly all the songs on his first two records. For his third, he reached out into a songwriting community he had never tapped.

“I searched out songs. I searched out songwriters. I got to pick songs from this amazing community of writers, and I’d never done that. Before, I’d written everything because I felt like that was expected of me. On this record, I wanted to include the incredibly talented writers in this town.”

He also set out to find a more personal sound. In search of a new musical direction, he initially teamed up with legendary producer Tony Brown, who is famed for his work with George Strait, Reba, Steve Earle, Vince Gill and dozens of other hit makers. Brown produced the first five songs that Owen chose for his album.

But Jake Owen still felt restless. Since he had kept Rodney Clawson’s co-written “Keepin’ it Country” for more than a year without recording it, the singer felt obligated to the songwriter. So he approached Clawson about producing the song. Clawson’s songwriting credits include George Strait’s “I Saw God Today,” Big & Rich’s “Lost in This Moment” and Jason Aldean’s hits “Hicktown,” “Amarillo Sky,” “Johnny Cash,” “Crazy Town” and “Why.” So Tony Brown gave Owen his blessing to continue experimenting with the sound of his record.

To the singer’s surprise, Clawson suggested bringing in Canada’s Joey Moi as a co-producer. Moi is noted for his work with the rock band Nickelback. This is his first experience with country music.

“Joey came to town with all these extra ideas,” Owen comments. “I’d always listened to people say what you’re supposed to do and not supposed to do on a country record. He blew my mind.

“Instantly, when I started to work with these guys, I felt, ‘Wow. They get it.’ They had the sound I’d been hearing in my head.” So after two CDs, a big ACM award and a string of radio successes, Jake Owen has come into his own.

He observes, “When you get a record deal, no one hands you a manual or an instruction booklet and tells you how you’re supposed to conduct your professional life. I was a kid straight out of college, thrown out on these massive stages. I really didn’t know anything. I had to find out who I am.”

His roots are fairly easy to describe. Jake Owen was raised in the coastal town of Vero Beach, FL. He and his fraternal twin Jarrod grew up in the sand and surf. Both boys attended Florida State. That’s where music became Jake Owen’s true focus. He suffered a severe shoulder injury while wake boarding. This ended his days on the university’s golf team. During his recuperation, his left arm was in a sling. Jake realized that even with his arm in a sling, he could hold a guitar so he started playing guitar and writing songs.

“This scar that I have on my shoulder reminds me about the one dark time in my life,” he recalls. “It took that accident to make me realize that I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to be doing. What I was supposed to be doing, was something that fulfilled me. Music.”

After his recovery, Jake became a regular club entertainer. He quit college just shy of graduation to make his pilgrimage to Music City. Then he was catapulted into the country-music spotlight. Now comes the real work.

“If you want to get better at your craft, you have to push yourself, take risks and try something different,” he reflects. “In order to grow and not be complacent, you have to open your mind, expand your horizons and be grateful. That’s what this record represents for me.”

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CHRIS YOUNG :: LEE BRICE :: BILLY CURRINGTON :: KANE BROWN

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Heralded as one of the biggest independent rock bands in history, Dispatch hit a major career milestone when they played an outdoor concert in Boston that drew over 110,000 people and were dubbed by Rolling Stone as the hosts of the the largest independent music event ever. Three years later, the band continued to impress fans and critics alike with three consecutive shows at New York City’s Madison Square Garden in ties to their philanthropic work in Zimbabwe, becoming the first independent band to sell out the historic venue. In 2011, the band officially reunited to release new material, including a six-song EP and their first full-length studio album since 2000, Circles Around the Sun. They have since embarked on multiple sold out arena tours across the globe and have released their most ambitious musical effort to date America, Location 12 (2017).

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X AMBASSADORS & FITZ & THE TANTRUMS :: XL102 BIG FIELD DAY

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X Ambassadors

 

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Fitz and the Tantrums

Since forming in 2008, Fitz and the Tantrums have always been a band hell-bent on evolving. Having made a splash with the soulful R&B-revival sound of their debut album, 2010’s Pickin’ Up The Pieces (released on Dangerbird Records), the band offered up a New Wave-influenced dance-pop sound with its Elektra Records debut, 2013’s Heatseekers No. 1 More Than Just A Dream, which featured the gold-certified and #1 Alternative Radio singles “The Walker” and “Out of My League.” The album’s success sent Fitz and the Tantrums on a two-year touring odyssey, which enabled the Los Angeles-based sextet — known for its explosive, no-holds barred live shows — to cement themselves as one of the country’s hottest live acts.

“We felt incredibly validated by the reception to More Than Just A Dream,” says the band’s co-vocalist Michael “Fitz” Fitzpatrick. “We knew we could pull from many different styles and create a truly hybrid form of music, and do it in a way that felt authentic. At that point, we felt even more empowered to do whatever we wanted creatively.” But when it came time to write the songs for Fitz and the Tantrums’ third album, it became clear to Fitz and his co-vocalist Noelle Scaggs that they were suffering from a classic case of writer’s block.

It was January 2015 and the band, which also includes James King (saxophone, flute), Jeremy Ruzumna (keyboards), Joseph Karnes (bass), and John Wicks (drums, percussion), had barely been home since the release of More Than Just A Dream two years prior. Cooped up with each other in an insular environment on tour had taken its toll. “The last album was made super fast and in something of a bubble,” Fitz says. “This time there was a lot of massive change happening for all of us personally, so once we put our roots back in the ground at home, I needed someone to hold up a mirror and say, ‘Where are you right now, as a human being? What do you care about? What do you want to say to the world?’”

To hold up that mirror, the band turned to outside collaborators for the first time — the songwriters and producers Sam Hollander (Panic! At The Disco), Wallpaper’s Ricky Reed (Twenty-One Pilots), Jesse Shatkin (Sia, Matt & Kim), and Joel Little (Lorde), which gave the band an opportunity to answer some tough questions. “We relinquished control of ourselves,” Scaggs says, “and that enabled us to tell our story in a completely truthful manner.”

The result is Fitz and the Tantrums’ most emotionally connected record yet and one that centers on the theme of desire. “I wanted to explore this idea of desire in all of its forms,” Fitz says, “from primal, sexual desire on a song like ‘HandClap’ to the desire or need to belong on a song like ‘A Place for Us.’ Desire is one of those emotions that really forces you to turn your brain off and just feel. That’s just the nature of it. And that lends itself really well to us making a record that provides a soundtrack for people to access that emotion no matter where they are. If you’re getting ready for work in the morning and you’re thinking, ‘Ugh, I hate my boss,’ you have access to this music anytime that just changes the molecular structure in the room. It changes the energy.”

That transformative experience — further bolstered by the album’s diverse palette of musical influences including hip-hop, trap music, reggae, and world music rhythms played on 808s — is something Fitz and the Tantrums have always strived to deliver. “To me, the songs on this album offer a release from whatever is going on,” Scaggs says. “They help the listener shift their mood in that moment. Our goal was to make a record that makes anyone listening feel something from the heart and feel like they are a part of this community we’ve created.”

One of the first songs written was the first single “HandClap,” which garnered over a million streams on Spotify its first week out. A tale of lust and animal desire, contrasted with the desire to not be alone, “HandClap” set the tone of the album right away: “I was searching for something that felt visceral and edgy,” Fitz says. “As soon as that moment happened, I was relieved. It felt like the compass — that theme of letting go and losing control — had been set. And it found its way into the rest of the album.” “Complicated” is a story about the most basic form of desire: “It’s when you have no willpower against the pure sexual chemistry you have with someone you know is going to hurt you,” Fitz says. “Burn It Down” is about the desire to break down the protective mechanisms that one has in place but that are keeping you from being present in a relationship. “That comes from a very personal place for me,” Fitz says. “I carried the twisted family dynamics I saw as a kid into my adult relationships and found them to be a massive hindrance. So the question became, ‘Am I going to burn down this relationship with this baggage I’ve carried my entire life?’”

And finally, “A Place For Us” is about the desire to belong. “Whether you’re the jock in school, or you’re the Freaks & Geeks guy in the corner, I think everybody has, to some degree, this sense of not being accepted,” Fitz says. “And that is a super powerful message.” Adds Scaggs: “To me, the song is about building community. We’re all connected and once people realize that, it’s going to change the way the world works.”

In this way, “A Place For Us” continues to uphold Fitz and the Tantrums’ long-held worldview. With their lively sonic mix of ’80s New Wave, blue-eyed soul, disco, and dance-pop, the band has always used celebratory music as a way to break down social barriers and bring people together. Fitz, a longtime studio engineer and aspiring musician, formed the group in 2008, driven simply by “a need to be creative and not lose my mind over a breakup.” He found worthy musical partners in his bandmates, with King, Ruzumna, Karnes, and Wicks all being top-notch players, and the fierce, elegant Scaggs supplying the feminine emotional counterpoint to Fitz’s physical, masculine id.

“From the first second, we just connected,” Fitz says of Scaggs. “Our voices naturally blended together. And then, because so much of what we write about is the dynamic between a man and a woman, we started to sing toward each other onstage. And that energy just grew. Then we’d sing out to the audience and encourage them to not just be passive listeners, but to be participants, an actual rhythmical part of the music. And that became a huge part of our identity. Our live show became our calling card everywhere we went.” And with their third full-length release, Fitz and the Tantrums have made an album that captures that jubilant, enraptured spirit. “We wanted to give people permission to lose control,” Fitz says. “We want the album to be a call to arms and for people to come to the church of the song.”

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XL 102 BIG FIELD DAY :: DISPATCH

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Billy Currington has come a long way from working construction and living in a tiny attic apartment during his early days in Nashville. In the decade since he made his debut with the top ten hit “Walk a Little Straighter,” the Georgia native has parlayed his rich, emotion-laden tenor and unerring song sense into some of the country format’s most memorable hits, including such No. 1s as “Good Directions,” “Must Be Doin’ Something Right” and “People Are Crazy.”

Currington’s songs have always been snapshots of life. His music is steeped in truth and possesses a relatability that makes his audience feel like they could drink a beer or catch a few fish with the curly-haired country boy. Currington has that heartfelt everyman quality that lends emotional weight to whatever he’s singing whether it’s a tender ballad or a rollicking party anthem. He demonstrates his ability to render both those scenarios and all points between on his fifth studio album We Are Tonight.

Led by the fast-climbing single “Hey Girl,” We Are Tonight is filled with songs that evoke both wistful reflection and boisterous revelry with equal conviction. Throughout the collection, Currington exudes the easy going charm that has become his trademark yet also possesses a maturity and confidence that comes from a decade of churning out hits and earning accolades. He won the “Hottest Video of the Year” honor at the fan-voted CMT Music Awards for “Must Be Doin’ Somethin’ Right” in 2006, the same year he received an ACM nod for Top New Male Vocalist. His hit duet with Shania Twain, “Party For Two,” earned nominations from both the CMA and ACM, and “People Are Crazy” proved to be a career-defining hit that earned Grammy nominations for Male Country Vocal Performance and Best Country Song in addition to being nominated for Single and Song of the Year from the Academy of Country Music, as well as Single, Song and Video of the Year from the Country Music Association.

Billy’s album #WeAreTonight is available on iTunes now!

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CHRIS YOUNG :: LEE BRICE :: KANE BROWN :: JAKE OWEN

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Blame Aunt Henrietta. When you dig into Lee Brice, with its thick grooves, the squalling guitars, the tumbling drums, sheets of steamy B-3 organ and wide open vocals, the two time CMA/ACM/Grammy Song of the Year nominee takes listeners to church, school, home and out on a Saturday night. For a man known for raucous live shows and contemplative songs, there’s a whole lot of gospel driving his fourth album.

“My Aunt Henrietta had the groove,” he says. “She could play one note, and pierce your heart. She played the piano, and when she played she was black — and I didn’t know it, or think about it. I was so sheltered, I didn’t understand; it was just church music – and it felt good! It coulda been Ray Charles, too, but it was all over her playing.”

It’s all over Brice’s self-titled new record, too, which serves as a homecoming and a homing device on the essence of what’s defined the man whose written hits for Garth Brooks, Tim McGraw, Jason Aldean and the Eli Young Band, who had their breakout single with “Crazy Girl.” There’s a newfound simplicity to tracks like the real life “Songs In The Kitchen,” the soul searching “What Keeps Me Up At Night,” the loving reality check “Boy” and self-recognizing “I Don’t Smoke,” which scrapes Brice’s music to the bone and features guitars by Warren Haynes.

“Songs that are pleasing to the heart, songs where your heart hears it, and you feel something in your heart, they don’t need all that stuff,” Brice explains. “So this album I wanted to be a real organic thing: I play 99% of the lead guitar, my band’s on it – and there’s even a theremin, which I had to learn to play. When I started, I wanted this record to be groovy, stripped down to the message and the feel.

“There are no computer tricks, no artificial sounds. Even when it sounds like a computer, I promise, we figured out a way to make that sound. To me, being real was everything. I wanted to put a little piece of everything about me, everything I am on this record. No two songs are about the same things, but somehow it all hangs together.”

From the rising romance and deep desire of “Eyes Closed” to the mandolin-flecked homage to making your mark where you are “They Won’t Forget About Us,” the Conway Twitty-esque soul slink of the sultry “Rumor” to the sanctified smoke of the Southern boogie and Detroit manufacture witness “Dixie Highway,” Brice stabs veins of country tributaries to craft a roots swelter that speaks to America’s biggest genre from, the outside in.
His recipe is as straightforward as the man himself. Start with the basics: influences.

“My musical upbringing is so different, it’s hard to explain to people… I’ve listened to things most people never heard of, a lot of gospel quartets: Gold City, the Gaither Vocal Band. I had a few cassettes, but most of my other music was what I taped off the radio.

“I fell in love with Willie Nelson’s The Great Divide, and I wore the tape out of Garth’s first record. And there was Aunt Henrietta. She made a record with my Mom, the three Lewis Sisters when they were teenagers; that stayed with her.”

Music it seems is genetically hard-wired into the father of three, the embodiment of that guy in the neighborhood everybody knows and loves. It’s what gives “The Locals” its sense of enjoying the ones who are happy right where they were born and raised – and captures the positive outlook in the face of adversity that tempers those facing life’s greatest challenges on the loping “Have A Good Day.”

That same positivity infuses the Bruce Hornsby-evoking “Story To Tell” with a sense of how powerful every single person’s narrative is. Written with Edwin McCain, who guests on the track, it taps into music’s ability to transform each of us – if we’ll let it.

“My hero came to my garage, and we wrote two songs,” he marvels. “Before I came to town, I knew Edwin McCain and his music; went to his concert every year at the House of Blues. Those records, I knew by heart growing up… and he has a lot of the same Southern influences. He knows those same things that matter to me, they’re in his music.”

Beyond what Brice was raised on, there are all the things he’s learned along the way. Laughing, the great big mountain of a man admits, “I grew up in Sumter, South Carolina, one of the Twenty Most Violent Places in America. It’s this tiny little town, and it’s rough, which makes you real tough. The last thing you have to worry about is showing somebody how tough you are. For us, it’s working hard and doing right. I have rough edges.”

Rough edges, and a vulnerability that never flinches. Brice, after all, is the man who gave the world the wrenching “I Drive Your Truck” and faltering “I Don’t Dance.” Fully capable of delivering on the “Parking Lot Party” and “Drinking Class” end of the spectrum, be careful how you view his brand of good timing.

“I know, I know,” he allows, “onstage you see this big burly guy stomping around, singing his guts out. You don’t get that from the radio, and it doesn’t add up – except it does. The funny thing is the dudes are as into ‘I Don’t Dance’ as the girls are. I think they see me up there and they feel those things, too, but now there’s a guy trying to be a guy who’s being honest about this stuff.”

Contradictions aside, Brice is probably right. Beyond the hell-raising and church-leaning, there’s a real man who works hard to support his family by driving everything about who he is and what he does into his work. It doesn’t fit into music business clichés, but it’s the bottom line for the rugged songwriter/guitarist.

“I’ve tried to walk a fine line between the commercial and the things that are tangible,” he explains. “I’m on the road 200 days a year, trying to write songs when I’m in town. But I also want to make a life: I have a wife, a baby, two little boys and a home. That’s important to me. So when I’m home, I work harder and dig deeper into living. You know, you have to live so you have something to work from and write about.”

It’s not defensive, nor is it aggressive. Like much of what’s on his 15-song self-titled project, Lee Brice has dropped all machinations that aren’t real for the Southern Baptist kid who penned the first song to debut at #1 on Billboard’s Country Singles chart (Brooks’ “More Than A Memory”), broken Eddy Arnold’s longest charting single record (56 weeks with his #3 “Love You Like Crazy”) and helped the Eli Young Band onto their first nomination streak, while winning Song of the Year at the Academy of Country Music Awards (“Crazy Girl”). Diversity is a piece of who he is, and those fragments yield something singular in the former Clemson football player.

“Believability has so much to do with the production,” he says. “This time, I didn’t want the tricks and the wall of sound; I figured the stripped back, organic nature would be what held the album together. I wanted heart-to-heart communication – whether it was family-inspired, small town or romance – with nothing in between. So I didn’t sing a lot of vocal takes, and we sometimes strip things down to just a guitar. There’s nowhere to hide, and a whole lot of music.”

For a man who wrote 60 songs and kept 15, that’s a lot of music to turn people on with. But it’s also a compelling sampler of who he is and where he comes from. Whether drawing on Brian McKnight, Phil Driskell or Tupac, as well as vintage Hank Jr. and Alabama, it is the South that permeates his take on 21st century country music.

“There’s a lot of blues from the Mississippi River down from Memphis and all the way up to Chicago,” he begins. “South Carolina and the Southeast have their own thing, with Sister Hazel, Hootie & the Blowfish, the Allman Brothers, Tom Petty – beyond all the church music I was raised with. There’s a whole sound from ‘round here, and it runs through everything.
“To me, if I want people to know who I am and understand my music, this is the place to start. It’s all here, if you just close your eyes and listen. My values as a man, trying to be honest about my doubts and my faith, the music that turns me on – and the way I think songs can bring a whole lot of real life to people.”

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CHRIS YOUNG :: KANE BROWN :: BILLY CURRINGTON :: JAKE OWEN

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