The newest from New Orleans: The Revivalists
If You Go…
Who: The Revivalists
Where: Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Experience, Snowmass Town Park
When: Sunday, Aug. 31, 3 p.m.
Tickets and more info: http://www.jazzaspensnowmass.org
This summer, the Revivalists took their first break. The New Orleans-based rock band, formed in 2007, has been gigging aggressively since its inception, playing upwards of 200 shows annually as it broke out nationally over the past few years.
For a month this summer, pedal steel player Ed Williams said, they took some time off the road to practice and record, before getting back to van life and zig-zagging the country this month.
“We’re really excited to get back out there, and it feels fresh now,” Williams said from New Orleans in early August. “It’ll be different and good.”
The band’s bread and butter is in its notoriously energetic live performances, showcasing their classic rock approach, driven by vocalist/guitarist David Shaw’s soulful growl, with flourishes of New Orleans funk — especially when Williams or sax player Rob Ingraham let it fly in a solo or an improvisational duel against guitarist Zack Feinberg.
The band offers a grab bag of American sounds, with swampy New Orleans grooves and an inspired mix of pedal steel, horns, keyboard and guitar complimenting Shaw’s radio-friendly tenor.
From our mountain perch in Aspen, local music fans have seen the seven-piece outfit’s stature grow from a free show at Belly Up in 2012 to one with Muskateer Gripweed last winter and now on the main stage at the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Experience, where the Revivalists open the festival Sunday afternoon. They’re followed by Nickel Creek and Carrie Underwood.
The band met in New Orleans and formed seven years ago. All of the Revivalists’ members are transplants from elsewhere, and they started playing together as students at Tulane University and neighboring Loyola University.
“We all just fell in love with the city and the sound here, and we were all musicians — it was a great place to learn from,” Williams said.
Band members were seduced by the jazz and funk scenes in New Orleans. Williams recalled his second day at Tulane, walking by the campus-side bar The Boot — better known for its 50-cent drink specials than its music programming — and surprisingly finding Papa Grows Funk playing inside. Feinberg, who would later become the Revivalists’ lead guitarist, had the same experience, stumbling upon the show.
“It was the first time I’d seen Papa Grows Funk, and I’ve been addicted to New Orleans-style funk ever since,” Williams said.
They started out playing smaller clubs around the city like Carrollton Station and Checkpoint Charlie’s and landed a gig at the legendary Tipitina’s after just a few shows.
“Everybody was accepting,” he said. “You could get into this scene. It wasn’t like people were trying to keep other musicians down. It was welcoming. If it was good, that’s all they cared about.”
They earned some local buzz while they were still in school, and when Williams graduated in 2007, the band decided to stay in New Orleans and hone their sound. Two years later, when the rest of the members graduated, they started touring and playing live as much as possible, while opening for leading New Orleans acts like the Rebirth Brass Band. It’s been a steady rise for the band since then: winning the Best Emerging Artist Award from the New Orleans alternative paper, Gambit Weekly, in 2011, then getting a showcase at South By Southwest in Austin in 2012, and signing with Wind-up Records last year.
They released a self-titled EP in 2008, followed by an album in 2010 and another, “City of Sound,” in 2012.
Produced by Galactic saxophonist Ben Ellman, “City of Sound” was reissued earlier this year with bonus live tracks included, after the Revivalists signed with Wind-up.
Their following has grown incrementally over the years, winning favor outside of New Orleans in places like Colorado, where the band has seen crowds expand and sing along with songs like “When I’m Able” and “Catching Fireflies.” This weekend they play a two-night run at the Bluebird Theater in Denver before coming to the festival in Snowmass.
“When you make a big jump like we have in Colorado and on the West Coast, you really feel like they’re understanding what you’re trying to do,” Williams said. “Sometimes you get caught up in the day to day aspects of touring, because you’re rushing around all over the place and playing as much as you can, so you don’t have time to reflect. But there are those times when you look at the crowd and you’re like, ‘Oh, wow, how’d this happen?”
During their time off the road this summer, they’ve been putting the final touches on a new album — which may be out by the end of the year, according to Williams.
A New York native, Williams grew up playing violin, piano and trumpet. He picked up the pedal steel as a teenager. After seeing pedal steel player Chuck Campbell, of the Campbell Brothers, play live, he saved up some cash and bought a pedal steel guitar and took lessons.
“It’s an addiction,” he said. “It’s one of those things where you can’t stop. It’s so complicated, and there are so many things you can do with it. You can make it sound like almost anything, including a voice — you can really make it sing.”
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