How can it be wrong if it grows wild: An afternoon with Songs From The Road Band
As featured in Smoky Mountain News...
On March 14, 2020, Songs From The Road Band jumped onstage in the backroom of the Wicked Weed Funkatorium in the South Slope district of Asheville. What was to be a showcase of the immensely talented hometown string band turned out to be the last show within the city limits for the foreseeable future.
And with the final notes played that evening, so was the culmination of the entire music industry as we knew it in Western North Carolina (and beyond). Everybody packed up their instruments, said farewell to each other, and disappeared out into the unknown night.
Skip ahead exactly a year later and SFTRB is sitting in the depths of the legendary Echo Mountain Recording Studios on French Broad Avenue in Asheville. Though the music industry is still in flux, especially in regard to live performances, the group is hunkered down and doing what it does best — work hard.
Whether onstage in the midst of a rollicking jam or in a studio booth breathing life into its latest creation, SFTRB has emerged as one of the most exciting string acts to come along in recent memory. A blend of bluegrass, indie-folk and roots music, the ensemble is a slew of Southern Appalachian pickin’ heroes and nationally-acclaimed musicians. At the helm of this acoustic pirate ship is bassist Charles Humphrey III. A Grammy-winning singer-songwriter and producer, he’s constantly collaborating with other artists and wordsmiths — always seeking out the next earworm that can (and has) elevated SFTRB into its inevitable place as one of the most progressive and fiery string bands out there today.
Smoky Mountain News: The last time we sat down to interview was at The Funkatorium show. What do you remember feeling when you went home from that last gig? Charles Humphrey: The day before [that show], we had just come straight back from the studio in Nashville, where we were working on that [same] record we’re in the studio today [in Asheville] for. I’m a pretty optimistic person, so I wasn’t too worried [when I left The Funkatorium]. And then shows were being cancelled for a month, six months and a year out, where we even have stuff for this summer going to 2022. So, it has just kept snowballing. I didn’t know where it was going to stop or when it was going to start — it was a just a lot of unknowns.
SMN: And now a year later, do you still have those same thoughts or are you seeing things through a different lens? CH: [Artistically], I think we came out of it better than we were. Honestly, we were able to stay connected with our fans [through live streaming]. We picked up a booking agency during a time when nobody’s booking gigs, which was Prater Day. We’re still on the radio [with hit songs] and making music.
I do know that we don’t want to go back to playing over 200 shows a year. So, I think a lot of people feel reinforced in, “Hey, let’s just do the big stuff.” Focus on the core, play higher quality stuff, play less and work [more] on the records, stay connected with the fans.
This last year? It’s in favor of growing the team, if it’s the right situation. Joining Prater Day, aligning ourselves to them was fantastic. That’s a move in the right direction. And another major event [for us] was solidifying our five-piece lineup with [our new] banjo player.
You want to build a family. You want a community of people that love the music, who also love to see each other, congregate and visit. If they can do that based around your musical environment, then I think you’re going to be successful and you’ll be doing something that hard to do.
SMN: How have the expectations changed for the band since the shutdown? CH: We expect to work hard and we’re hopeful that good things will come. And we’re thankful for everything, the good things that have come. But, you just have to keep working hard and see what happens, you know? You never know what your big break is going to be. I mean, there’s been great musicians that never got a break, that were always one step away. As much as you’ve got to be good, you’ve got to be lucky — right place, right time.
SMN: But, I feel with you guys, it’s more about career longevity. CH: Oh, yeah. We want to do this for the rest of our lives. Make good records. Create new music. And bring joy to the world. [It’s about] working on the songs and doing what we love.