Ch-ch-changes

More than anything, we Black Lillies are a family. There’s a bond that has been formed between us that can’t be described, other than to say that at the end of the day we love each other.

We know that our bandmates have our backs, no matter what. And so, when a member of the band decides that it is time to embark on a new adventure, the rest of us rise up to support that person. It’s hard to come to terms with the sense of loss we feel when that happens, but ultimately we want to see these people who we love so strongly thrive; we want to see them find their ultimate happiness.

As we enter this next phase of The Black Lillies, in which we are poised to make what we feel will be our greatest album yet, we face some changes. In the coming months, you’ll see some new faces, new people who will join our musical family. And we will also wish a fond farewell to two people: Tom Pryor and Robert “Bobby Dix” Richards.

This will come as a surprise to some of you – but not to those who understand where we’ve come from and what we’ve been through together. We’ve played approximately 1000 shows together; we’ve slept on floors (and in our first tour, even in cardboard boxes … long story!); we’ve shared the highest highs and the lowest lows. Living and working in a touring band like ours is an amazing, exciting, fantastic experience filled with friends in far-flung places, numerous adventures, and plenty of inside jokes. But it can also be grueling, exhausting, lonely, and difficult. And sometimes, someone will decide that life is too short to hold off on the adventure that they‘ve been dreaming of. They might find that instead of a home on the road, they want, simply, a home.

And while it saddens us to see them go, we support them. Because that’s what you do for your family.

We have nothing but love and the greatest respect for Tom (and maybe a little jealousy, because he’s moving to Colorado and hitting the ski slopes) and Robert (who will be pursuing new musical endeavors). This isn’t goodbye; it’s just so long.

Rest assured that The Black Lillies are stronger than ever. We’re still pushing forward, releasing an entirely fan-funded album this summer, and we’ll continue to travel to towns far and wide to play our music for you. We couldn’t be more excited about what the future holds, and we’re ready to dive right in.

We’ll see you on the road!

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Road Poems Vol. 1

Neglect. It’s all I can ever think about in our first few days back from a tour. Neglect of the bills and the dust that collect like unwanted house guests in my otherwise unused bedroom. Neglect of the many hometown relationships that slowly deteriorate as new ones are formed all across the country. Neglect of the time, as it inevitably winds into months and years away from home chasing this dream.
Hopefully, the neglect is quickly remedied. The bills are paid, the dust is (sometimes) swept, and the relationships tended to as best as they can. The time never returns, but to be honest, it is rare that I imagine a better way to have spent it.
I have, among those already mentioned, of late neglected two very important things. First of all, this blog. Second of all, poetry. The former probably comes as little surprise to any of you who have followed this sporadic internet publication, but the later probably raises a few questions.
Since I wrote my first road poem on Wednesday, November 13, 2013 in Portland, OR, I have occasionally kept a log of the ever increasing number of shows I have played with The Black Lillies in poetry form. I had originally intended to keep a classic road diary, but found after one entry that the constant bouncing of the van and my general laziness did not square well with excessive daily writing. Thus, I began writing poetry, mostly for my own enjoyment and memory, but occasionally to share on my personal internet face page to promote gigs. I say all this to explain why, as some of you may have wondered, on our current PledgeMusic campaign there is an option to purchase some hand-written “Boetry” from me. “Boetry” is a nice combination of “Bowman” and “Poetry” Chyna came up with that I like because 1) It sounds pretty righteous. and 2) It hopefully keeps those who have seriously studied and practiced the art of poetry from taking offense at my shoddy, uneducated works.
Anywho, I thought I would share a select few of these road poems in the hopes that if you like them you might purchase a custom one to help fund the new record, or, if you think they are rubbish, spend your money on a PledgeMusic premium more to your liking. Either way, thanks for all the support. Cheers to the year ahead and a brand new Black Lillies’ album! -Bowman

City: Portland, OR
Date: Wednesday, November 13, 2013
Venue: The Grey Eagle Saloon

Portland,
You make me want to start my own indie rock troupe
And sell my own granola.
Both called “Bowmanola”.
I’ll fall in love with a barista
Name our daughter after you
And she’ll grow up, move to San Francisco,
And never speak to any of us
Again.
- a poem by Bowman Townsend

City: Mount Vernon, WA
Date: Friday, November 15, 2013
Venue: Mcintyre Hall

Mount Vernon,
So little time, I know not what you’re about,
Except biblically I’d call you “Vernon on the Mount”.
A bleak stretch of highway, back alley load in,
Play gig, load out,
Holiday Inn.
- a poem by Bowman Townsend

City: Livingston, MT
Date: Monday, November, 18, 2013
Venue: The Buckhorn Theatre

Livingston,
By living a ton, I awoke as the walking dead,
Tongue dry as dust, with aches in head,
Would love to sleep, all day in bed,
But we’ve 1300 miles ahead,
Damnit.
- a poem by Bowman Townsend

City: Memphis, TN
Date: Thursday, November 21, 2013
Venue: The Hi-Tone

Memphis,
Pre-show bar-b-que dinner,
I now slouch over drums,
Fat and Glistening,
Like ribs over a
Pit.
- a poem by Bowman Townsend

City: Shepherdstown, WV
Date: Friday, February 28, 2013
Venue: Shepherdstown Opera House

Shepherdstown,
A sold out house of sheep, in need of a shepherd,
But rowdy and fierce, like cantankerous leopards.
A block of cheese, was fuel we need,
to make the cosmic rock flow.
Ears start to bleed, and feet are then freed,
the crowd were wolves in sheeps’ clothes.
- a poem by Bowman Townsend

City: Sellersville, PA
Date: March 6, 2013
Venue: Sellersville Theatre (w/ YARN)

Sellersville,
Bring your knitting needles and flower vase,
YARN and Black Lillies will rock your face.
Groove like butter, sound like lace,
Sticks to eardrums, musical paste,
Theatre’s a turkey, needs a rock’n’roll baste,
YARN cooks it up, Lillies season to taste.

City: Austin, TX
Date: Wednesday, March 12, 2013
Venue: SXSW

Austin,
“I AM in a band! How could you tell?!
Was it my white van?! My merch to sell?!
Did you see my picture in a music mag?!
Notice my vest or messenger bag?!”

None of those things, it was just a guess,
Afterall it is Austin and south by southwest.
- a poem by Bowman Townsend

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

DelFest!

This is a festival we’ve had on our wish list for a long, long time … and we are now thrilled to announce that we will be making our debut performance at DelFest over Memorial Day weekend in Cumberland, Maryland! Tickets are on sale now and we certainly hope you’ll consider joining us there. Check out the DelFest website for complete details.

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

New album coming in 2015 – pre-order now!

We’re thrilled to announce our fourth studio album, coming in early summer 2015! We’re in the midst of pre-production right now, and we’ll officially head into the studio in February. We’re working with an immensely talented and GRAMMY Award-winning producer, Ryan Hewitt (Avett Brothers, Johnny Cash, Brandi Carlile, Red Hot Chili Peppers) and we’ve got some great material lined up. Which is where you come in …

You can make this whole thing possible! Pre-order the new album now to receive it before the general public. Plus, we’ve got a whole host of exclusives available – from custom jewelry made from our strings, to backstage passes to the Grand Ole Opry, to hanging with the band at an amusement park, to private shows! Check them all out here and find the one that suits you best.

New music + badass producer + no rules = the best Black Lillies album to date. So here’s to a new record, a new year, music, adventures, challenges met, and this crazy mind blowing journey! Thank you for your pledges and support.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Steamboat MusicFest and Cayamo Cruise

We’ve been added to the lineups of two very cool festivals in January – well, one’s really cool (cold, actually) while the other is better described as sizzling.

We’ll kick off 2015 with performances at The MusicFest at Steamboat in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. This festival is legendary and it has been a dream of ours to perform here. The largest group ski trip of its kind in the nation, the MusicFest brings the finest Texas and Americana music to the world-class ski resort of Steamboat, Colorado for a week full of sport and song. Six days, 40 bands, a world-class ski resort – snow bunny heaven! Click on the banner below for complete details and to purchase your festival passes.

banner600x150_2015

 

We’ll head from Colorado over to Miami, where we’ll board the Norwegian Pearl for Cayamo, A Journey through Song. We’re sailing January 17-24, with stops in the exotic ports of St. Barts & St. Croix.  The eighth edition of Cayamo features an all-star lineup that will only leave you wanting more: Lyle Lovett, John Prine, Brandi Carlile, Lucinda Williams, Richard Thompson, Buddy Miller, Kacey Musgraves, Shawn Colvin, Rodney Crowell, Shawn Mullins, Jim Lauderdale, Joe Purdy, Holly Williams, John Fullbright, St. Paul and the Broken Bones, The Lone Bellow, Elizabeth Cook, Humming House, The Band of Heathens, Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors, Birds of Chicago and so many more (including us!!).  This is another one we’ve wanted to play for a long time. We’ve met Cayamo attendees from all over the country and they’ve told us how truly special this event is. We can’t wait to find out for ourselves! The cruise is sold out, but waiting list slots are available. Visit cayamo.com for details.

2015_CAY_LineupGraphics_876x438 copy

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

New Year’s Eve at the Tennessee Theatre in Knoxville

We’re really looking forward to ringing in the New Year at the incredible Tennessee Theatre in our hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee! We’ll be joined by two amazing bands, David Wax Museum and Humming House. This is our first non-festival headline performance in Knoxville since March of 2013, so we’re long overdue for a big hometown party and we can’t wait to throw down! Tickets are selling fast, so make your plans now and grab your seats for the biggest New Year’s Eve party in town! Call 865-684-1200 or visit the Tennessee Theatre website to purchase yours today.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

“The Bowman Show” (A Play On “The Truman Show”) (Which I’ve Never Seen) (But Was Filmed in Seaside, FL) (Terrible Title)

From somewhere in the dark recesses of my physical perception, the foggy intersection between dream and reality, I felt a small, sticky-hot hand on my face.
“Wake up Bowman!” A sing-song child’s cadence lilted into my ear.
Two figures slowly came into focus; one, my girlfriend Sophie, fair, beautiful, lithe, and the other, a small boy, tiny hand out stretched, sitting calmly in her lap. The early evening sun filtered softly through the shutters, bathing them both in a golden glow. “Wake up Bowman!” The child called once more, and they both smiled expectantly down at me. I felt warm and content, but as the rest of my surroundings filtered in a new emotion came stabbing through my half-sleep haze…. panic. Like the neurotic staccato of David Byrne in that old Talking Heads’ song, my fresh fears came stumbling from my brain…. How did I get here? This is not my beautiful house! This is not my beautiful child! Sophie, serene and motherly, continued to smile down on me, oblivious to my inner confusion. I opened my mouth to speak, but before the words could escape the warm hooks of exhaustion had pulled me back under, and I was instantly asleep.
Same as it ever was…..
Same as it ever was…..
“BOWMAN! THIS! IS! YOUR! GIIIIIIIIIIIIIIRRRRRRRRRRLLLLLLFFFFFFRRRRRRRIIIIIIIIIEEEEEEENNNNNDDDD! SOPHIEEEEEEEEE!” A comically high voice caterwauled in my ear.
I awoke with a start. Sophie was still next to me and there was still a boy with her, but a different one. He was older, bigger…….. and wearing a dress. They were both giggling wildly at each other, and I realized that in my sleepy stupor the boy had been trying to convince me that he was in fact my girlfriend Sophie. I know this kid, I thought, still half asleep. He is the son of my friend. But before I could remember his name or where I was, I fell once more back to sleep.
“Good morning GRUMPUS!”
Damn, not again. This time it was Sophie and a young girl sitting beside me. I faded once more back to sleep. What is going on? My subconscious screamed. Is this all just a strange dream? Like some bizarre bastardized version of Bill Murray’s “Groundhog Day”, every time I woke up I was in the same strange room with Sophie, a different child next to her.
“Alright Bowman. You really need to wake up. We are leaving for dinner.” The voice was Sophie’s. I awoke fully this time, the three previous wakings having beat the last resistance out of me. Sophie was once again with a different child, this one a girl, barely a year old. She was small, pudgy, adorable, and stared at me with a fiery malevolence at extreme odds with her innocent features. I instantly knew who she was. She was Cruz’s youngest niece, and she HATED me. I was in Seaside, Florida, where the previous day I had played a well-intentioned game of peek-a-boo that had so traumatized this poor child that when forced into my company she gave me looks that most people reserve for convicted serial killers.

We had arrived in Seaside two days prior to try out what was to be a new concept for The Black Lillies…. a “vacation”. “Vacation” is actually a pretty relative term for us, however, as our “work” usually feels like “play” and our “play”, as was the case with this trip, usually involves some kind of “work”. This weekend was unique, however, as much of the extended Lillie family (2 girlfriends, 1 boyfriend, 1 husband, 2 sons, 1 sister + spouse, 1 brother + spouse, 2 nieces, and 1 nephew) were to stay with us for duration of our time in Florida. Our first night was short and uneventful. We arrived around eight o’clock, with just enough time to hit the grocery store and see a little bit of the beach before the sun set. The house was beautiful and easily one of the taller in the neighborhood, and while not directly on the beach, it’s considerable height afforded it a spectacular view of the ocean. Despite its size and grandeur, our large party (19 strong) made space fairly cramped. Sophie and I were the last to RSVP for the house (I did not even know her when the trip was originally planned), and as such were relegated to the pull out couch in the downstairs living room. This did not bother us much; for the first month and a half we dated I did not even own a bed, but, because the living room contained the only door leading out of the house, it did provide some logistical problems. Most nights we fell asleep to the inevitable clatter of late night revelers returning to their rooms and awoke (although briefly, as we are both heavy sleepers) to the early morning, insistent shush of parents escorting their children out to the beach. None of this, however, even remotely affected me on that first night. First of all, I, in a moment of solidarity with my chronically car-sick girlfriend, had taken a Dramamine for the van ride down from Knoxville which had left me as drowsy, albeit in a fake, plasticky way, as I had ever felt. Secondly, our time in the our new “vacation” home was to be short lived. The morning after our late evening arrival, at precisely 9 AM (a notably early time for most musicians), the band, two girlfriends, Chyna, and KK piled into our assorted vehicles for the six and a half hour trek to St.Petersburg, FL.
The gig was a last minute addition; a bit of a wrench thrown in to the original plan of two days vacation, one day work, but it ended up being a highlight of the trip. We were opening up for Old Crow Medicine Show! Now, I must admit, going into the show I was not particularly familiar with OCMS’s catalog. I was, however, familiar with their ubiquitous hit song “Wagon Wheel”. VERY familiar. So familiar in fact, that it almost wouldn’t be a stretch to say that for a period of time I owed a substantial part of my livelihood to their insanely catchy, powerfully simple tune. I first learned the song in one of my first ever bands since moving back to Knoxville as a freshman in college. The group was called “Undercover”, an assortment of four jazz-nerd students looking for an avenue to play the rock/pop songs we loved and make a little cash on the side. Our bass player, Daniel, first introduced us to the song that would become a repertoire regular. “I swear dudes,” I remember him saying. “This isn’t so much an expectation for us to know as much as a requirement in the UT bar/frat party scene.” I was asked to learn the words and sing (everyone in the band was expected to contribute vocals), but as I soon learned, this was usually hardly necessary because, barring the Volunteer staple “Rocky Top”, never has a song I have performed live so unanimously caused people to stop what they were doing and sing along at the top of their lungs. In fact, at one particularly raucous fraternity party, I distinctly remember switching my vocal mic “off” after the first line of the tune as the singing from the crowd not only overpowered my PA-assisted voice, but also the sound of the heavily amplified band. Similarly etched in my mind was the time another cover group I moonlighted in decided, in one PBR-fueled gig at a UT-area dive bar, to see exactly how many times we could get away with covering the set list staple before people got bored. We never found the answer as, after six faithful renderings (each crowd response more enthusiastic than the last) spread over the course of a night, the guitar player exclaimed that he would sooner quit the gig than have to play it a seventh time. Truly this song has a life all its own.
We arrived at the venue to a balmy North Florida afternoon; split-pea soup air palpable and suffocating, and were lucky enough to catch the latter half of OCMS’s soundcheck. Watching a professional, road hardened band sound check is a lot like watching a tribe of warriors in those blockbuster action movies prepare for battle; the overarching mood is light and jocular but the understood undercurrent is that we came to conquer. No prisoners taken. Just as we have hundreds of times before. The energy and inspiration of watching these seasoned pros followed me into our soundcheck and, as nervous and self-doubting as I usually get before big shows, I couldn’t help but feel like some of Old Crow’s subtle musical mastery and quiet, easy confidence had cast a protective glow over me and the rest of the Lillies.
It certainly seemed so…. from the opening note of “Gold and Roses” the throngs of music lovers, though only about half of the horde that was to amass when OCMS took the stage, bobbed and danced in the venue’s open cobblestone court yard, sweat and beer mixing into an intoxicating perfume that perforated the humid Florida haze. To recount the rest of our forty-five minute set would be impossible as it seemed to pass in the blink of an eye, but as my sweat drenched hands finally relinquished my drumsticks I do remember an appreciative cheer reverberating back at us with what seemed like a physical force.
After a short, frantic set change, OCMS took the stage. From the very first song they had the crowd eating out of the palm of their bow-wielding, banjo picked hands. Definitely one of the sweeter concerts I have seen in a long time. One of the best of many great moments occurred when they brought out our very own Trisha Gene and Cruz for rousing renditions of a bluegrass standard (I think it was “Orange Blossom Special”) and the geographically appropriate “Seminole Wind”. While I would never say I take anyone in the band’s talents for granted; it is one thing to hear those two’s vocals coming through a (not always ideal sounding) monitor mix night after night, visually only staring at their backs, and quite another to hear and see them front and center on a monster PA system, belting out barely rehearsed cover songs over a power house band. “Hey! Those are MY band mates!” I remember thinking, like a kid watching from the bench as a teammate smacks a game winning home-run. The night was a huge success, and as we pulled back into the pebbled driveway of our Seaside digs somewhere around 7 in the morning, we all felt the satisfied exhaustion that only a Black Lillie “vacation” can induce.
The following night’s show in Seaside was a similarly rock’n’tropin affair, with two notable exceptions. 1) No Old Crow Medicine Show. 2) Take every drunk reveler from the previous night and replace him/her with a child under 7 years of age….. and give every single one a flashing light saber, glowing hula hoop, or needlessly sparkling whatever. I am not sure where these children amassed such a plethora of plastic-things-that-make-light, but the field in front of us looked kind of like how I would imagine “Barney the Purple Dinosaur presents Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon” would. In fact, when the sun went down early in the show all you could really see of the sizable crowd was an incredible assortment of these luminous toys whizzing about, the tiny faces of those who wielded them occasionally caught in their afterglow. It was truly the most wholesomely psychedelic event I have ever witnessed; a drug free, juvenile rave with “Smokestack Lady” as the soundtrack.
The following day was our true “vacation day” at the beach, and it passed in all the beer-drinking, castle-building, football-throwing, sun-soaking, ocean-frollicking glory that we had all been hoping for. I, in a tradition I have unwilling participated in since childhood, got viciously sunburned despite multiple coats of SPF 50. I, also rather unwillingly, engaged in another time honored beach tradition of old….. a sand war. The concept is quite simple…. it is a war involving sand. My opponent was Chyna’s ten year old son Hayden, who, as the sand war rules of engagement mandate, threw sand at me. I retaliated quickly and the game was on. The short skirmish that ensued reminded me of a lesson that I had learned several months previously from Cruz’s also-ten-year-old son, Cash. The battle between a fit, energetic adolescent and a once-played-sports-in-high-school-now-sits/lies-in-a-van-2-to-12-hours-a-day 23 year old plays out much like a wolf hunting a caribou on the frozen tundra. The caribou, though larger, faster, and stronger than the wolf, eventually ends up losing simply because the wolf will not stop chasing and following till he has himself a damn caribou. In this case, the caribou was tired, sunburned, and in need of a beer, so after about 20 minutes I admitted defeat. THE END.

Wow. Even by my own loftily low blogging standards, that one took a while to get out. I am not sure why. Maybe laziness. Maybe busyness. Maybe the fact that I read this book called “The Goldfinch” that blew my literary mind wide open, rendering every attempt at putting (typing) words on the page (screen) worthless in its artistic shadow. I don’t know, but there it is, and I hope it makes sense. I’ve got to admit, I am getting a little nervous at all the metaphorical blogging elephants accumulating in the metaphorical blogging room. There’s Bonarroo, meeting the reason I play music, that one bizarre night in Seattle…. hopefully all of which and more to be addressed in the coming months. We are currently on a massive tour, which typically leaves me little time to sit down at my must-always-be-plugged-in-or-it-will-die-immediately lap top and try to put words to all the amazing things we are privileged to experience on a daily basis, but please know that I will try my best. I appreciate all the blog encouragement both online and in person more than I can express, and it is that encouragement that motivates me to try to provide y’all with a piece of writing deserving of all your positive comments. I am going to work in the coming months to provide a more constant stream of content for the blog, and I hope that as I become a better writer and our traveling allows, this will become a place that you can check more than half a dozen times a year for all Lillie-related yarns. Until then, thanks as always for reading and for all the things, large and small, that y’all do to enable us to follow this crazy rock’n’roll dream.

Your friend,
Bowman

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Rolling Stone’s 10 Artists You Need to Know

We’re pumped to have been chosen as one of the “10 Artists You Need to Know” in Rolling Stone Magazine’s new country issue. Other artists featured include Nikki Lane, The Cadillac Three and Sundy Best. Check it out online here!

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

The Way It Went Down…….

“Bowman?”
It was as innocuous of a way to start a phone conversation as was possible, but that simple word, my name, set my heart racing so fast that I took almost ten seconds to answer the most basic of greetings.
“Yeah man, what’s going on?” I finally sputtered, trying to act calm. I could not imagine a more unexpected phone call. On the other end of the line was Cruz Contreras, lead singer for the popular Knoxville band The Black Lillies.
A little over a week ago I had had what I was almost certain was the last phone conversation I would ever have with Cruz. He had randomly contacted me for a last minute, emergency sub gig with the Black Lillies at Merlefest, with potentially more dates to follow. I recognized the call as my big opportunity to fulfill my dream of working with a nationally touring band, but unfortunately, the festival fell on one of the busiest weekends of my short free lance musician career. There was simply no way for me to make the gig. With a heavy heart I declined, knowing full well that he would find another drummer willing and able to take the opportunity. I was so certain that I had missed my chance that I had almost deleted Cruz’s number from my phone and was shocked to suddenly find him calling me once again.
“Do you have a girlfriend?”
Huh?! As unexpected as the phone call was, this was downright strange.
“No,um, my last girlfriend and I broke up a little while ago.”
“Good,” he said, sounding relieved. “How would you like to go out on tour with the Lillies?”
What?! I was dumbfounded, but in the distance heard a familiar voice respond. “When and for how long?”
“Van leaves in two days. We’ll be gone for three months and may need you for anywhere between two weeks and the full tour. Chyna will call you later with more details. Thanks man!”
I must have said something in response, but after Cruz hung up I sat in disbelieving silence with the phone still up to my ear. Did that really just happen?! It had, which was confirmed a few minutes later when I received a call from Chyna. Jamie’s family was going through a difficult period, and he needed time off from the road to be with them. Would I be able to commit to the entire tour if needed? Would I be able to meet an hour and a half before departure at the rehearsal space to talk over some tunes? Trisha Gene would love to meet me before leaving for the tour, am I available sometime tomorrow?
I was still so shocked with the sudden dream come true that I automatically answered “yes” to everything she asked me, never venturing any questions of my own. I hung up the phone,however, and the emotions suddenly flooded in. Air punches. High kicks. Insane, exuberant caterwauls that thankfully my roommates were not around to hear. I settled down for a moment and called my parents. They were overjoyed. More air punches. More (slightly closer to ground) high kicks. A few deep gulps of air. More strange, triumphant noises………..Then fear. Incredible, paralyzing fear.
I only just got their second and third records a few weeks ago! I barely know any of the songs! I don’t even have their first record! I’ve never even met two of the band members! What about my own bands? What about my students? My employers that are counting on me for gigs? What will I tell them? Will they understand? Will they ever want to hire me/see me again when I get back? Two days?!?!?! That’s not enough time!!!!!!!!
In a panic, I called Cruz back, but despite the sudden wave of terror and questions I was experiencing, once he answered the only thing that came to mind was probably the least of my current concerns.
“Hey Cruz, I’ve never really done much touring before……. what should I pack?”
“Well, you know man, that’s a tough one. I’ve never really thought too much about it before, but you know, I guess if I had to give you one specific thing to pack I guess it would be, um…….. a bathing suit.”
“A bathing suit?!”
“Yeah………..sometimes we like to go swimming…….”

It may seem like my whole life path changed with one short phone call, but like many major life changes, there were several smaller events along the way slowly building up to the main catalyst. I was a sophomore in college when I first met Chyna Brackeen. About half a year previously I had joined a male/female folk duo based out of nearby Maryville, TN called Valley Young. I was very committed to my school studies, but was already spending many long hours in a garage forty five minutes from campus rehearsing, and frequently skipping class to travel to exotic locales like Johnson City, TN and Durham, NC to play small bars and coffee shops for handfuls of people, sleeping on floors or in the van along the way.
One day after a rehearsal the main songwriter and de facto bandleader, Andrew, sat us down for a meeting. “I have very exciting news! I have secured a showcase for us with Chyna Brackeen!” He exclaimed. I had never heard of Chyna Brackeen, but I liked how official a “showcase” sounded and was immediately excited about the prospect. Andrew assured us that impressing Chyna would be our ticket to better gigs and better publicity. He said the showcase would happen in several weeks at the legendary Brackin’s Blues Club in downtown Maryville.
We rehearsed as hard as we ever had in the ensuing weeks, and on the day of the showcase I arrived at the club confident and prepared. The venue was a modest affair, not unlike many venues we had already played, and maybe even dumpier. The spare, understated furnishings and the patrons that occupied them looked like neither had ever been without the other, and the ever present cigarette fog gave the whole room the appearance of some ancient alcoholic mausoleum, untouched or changed by time. We solemnly set up our equiptment, not saying a word, looks voicing all concerns. Will she show up? Will she like our band? All of a sudden, a bright red beacon appeared in the doorway. It was Chyna, her signature fire-colored hair parting the cigarrette smoke like a lighthouse in a coastal haze.
Andrew and Annabelle (the other band member) excitedly rushed over to greet her, but I was frozen to my drum throne. In my nervous, overdramatic mind I thought, this is the woman who will determine whether or not I make it as a musician. As Andrew and Annabelle took their places for the first song, I was so terrified I could barely pick up my drumsticks. Chyna took a seat at an old table directly in my line of site, and stared cooly up at the stage. This is it, I thought to myself. She can see right through me and knows I am a nervous hack, not cut out for music. I might as well leave and save myself the embarrassment. However, just as Andrew was about to count off the first tune, a curious event occurred. A hound dog, as old and withered as many of the customers, slunk from an unseen corner of the bar and plopped himself on the floor by a table directly in front of Chyna. With cloudy brown eyes he gazed up at the stage expectantly and even gave a short bark as if to indicate that he was ready to hear some music. The whole situation struck me as so funny that I immediately forgot my nerves and launched into the first song. Throughout the entire show anytime I would look up to see Chyna I would first spot the hound, unperturbed by smoke nor noise, watching the show as if he had shown up exclusively to see it. The gig finished without a hitch, and Chyna seemed pleased. “Good show. We will be in touch,” she told us before taking her leave.
Fast forward to several years later. Things between Chyna and Valley Young never quite panned out, and I was forced to (amicably) leave the band when the purposed gig/recording schedule threatened to flunk me out of school. I met Cruz several months after the showcase with Chyna, and our interactions were always as brief as they were bizarre. Every few months he would appear suddenly by my side late at night in the Preservation Pub; a rock and roll genie summoned for reasons beyond my understanding. He would ask how I was doing and I would do the same, and then he would move quickly to my future plans. “What do you see yourself doing in the next several years?” He would ask. “I don’t know man. Just trying to get through school right now,” I’d usually reply. “Stay in Knoxville for a while. I think there are things for you to do here,” He would answer cryptically, before disappearing back into the crowd.
This happened intermittently for many months, until early one morning when I spotted him at a local breakfast joint. He was there with a friend, and I was asked to join their table. The friend had to excuse himself shortly after and I was left to catch up with Cruz, who, due to the Lillies’ typically insane touring schedule, I had not seen in some time. He said that he was in town working on the band’s third record, and asked if I would be interested in getting together to hear some of the potential songs.
I showed up at his house the following day and sat down at his haphazardly thrown together drum set. Cruz began to play and sing tunes rapid fire, encouraging me to jump in whenever I felt comfortable. As soon as I would get any kind of idea of the shape of the song he would abruptly switch to the next, occasionally peppering in questions. “What did you think of the bridge? How was the tempo?” I was way out of my element and pretty sure I was looking and playing like a fool, but after about an hour he asked if I had any time to come back and do the same thing later in the week. I did, and several days later we repeated the same process with even more new songs. I was still in way over my head, but there was one song in particular that I felt at least okay with. It was a piano song, an instrument that I had no idea Cruz even played, and from the very beginning we instantly locked into a loose, poppin’ groove. Same went for the other keyboard number, a frantic funk workout; James Brown meets southern soul. I felt way more stylistically at home than in the more acoustic driven country songs, and Cruz seemed to feel it too. He asked if I wanted to come lay down some drum tracks in the studio the following day, and both excited and surprised, I instantly agreed.
I showed up at the studio and the two of us recorded the tunes, just drums and keys, with Cruz making structural and musical changes after each take. “Yeah man, this next time let’s try making the bridge 8 bars, and swing the outtro.” It was a whirlwind, but the songs, “Baby Doe” and an as of now unreleased “Funky Ray of Sunshine”, seemed to go well. Cruz was pleased, but with the Black Lillies never ending tour schedule, was soon back out on the road. I did not hear from him again until several months later; the phone call that would so abruptly change everything.

With the words “bring a bathing suit” echoing in my ears, my final two days in Knoxville were a whirlwind of gigs, finding subs, clothes shopping (a mammoth, excruciating undertaking for me), and goodbyes. With all the activity involved in preparing for my departure, it was the night before we left when I finally sat down to learn repertoire. I listened and charted through the night, 40+ songs including covers, and arrived at the rehearsal the next morning nervous and sleep deprived. The rehearsal was very brief due to a recording session (Daytrotter) later that day, and I soon found myself stuffed into a van with both almost and complete strangers. I barely said a word, both terrified and exhausted, and the band, suddenly saddled with a substitute bandmate, did not quite seem to know what to think.
It was several hours into the trip when Tom decided to extend an olive branch. Except that it was a banana. I tried my last banana as a junior in high school, and the time before that when I was still in single digits. To this day I consider it to be the vilest thing I have ever tasted.
“Hey man, do you want a banana?”
I sat in silence for an uncomfortable moment, not wanting to decline this evil, yellow fruit of perceived friendship.
“No thanks Tom….. I don’t….. eat bananas.”
At this time the whole band, eager to learn something about this newcomer, was listening in attentively.
“Wait……… you don’t eat bananas?!”
Instantly the entire van erupted into conversation, each joke or mock outrage funnier than the last. Whatever ice was there shattered into a million banana shaped pieces, and as we rolled down the road to the first gig, I couldn’t help but think that things would be alright.

I wish I could say that the first show was amazing, that I knocked it out of the park, but truthfully it was probably a disaster. As were, in my mind, many gigs after. I still find many flaws in my playing in each performance, but it is slowly getting better. I am grateful to my bandmates for supporting and encouraging me then, now, and hopefully always. Gratitude…… I was reminded of the story written above on our most recent van ride home. It was a real slog, Austin to Knoxville, 20 hours straight. About half way through the journey I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was Trisha Gene. “Bowman! I just realized that at the end of this April you will have been in the band for a whole year!” She exclaimed, with an exuberance few but her could ever muster in the middle of such a long, boring ride. My head was instantly filled with thoughts of that first van ride almost a year ago and of the many van rides since. Incredible gigs played. Beautiful places visited. Life long friends made. Gratitude. Gratitude for my family for supporting and encouraging me to do what I love. Gratitude for my bandmates, Tom, Robert, Trisha Gene, Cruz, and Chyna, for taking a chance on me and allowing me to live my dream of playing music in a touring band. For the fans, for enabling us to travel across the country singing and rocking. For coming out to shows. Buying CDs. Spreading and sharing the music. Letting us into your homes. Feeding us. Supporting us. Loving us. It is absolutely incredible and I promise to never take it for granted.
I know all this is incredibly sappy, and not typically my style, but I just wanted to make it publicly known how much everything that has happened to me in the past (almost) year means to me. If it all ended tomorrow, I’d still appreciate it all the same. Thanks for reading, listening, dancing, and loving, family.

Your friend/brother/blogger/drummer,
Bowman

****** It is important for me to say this. It applies to all my blogs, but especially this one, with so many stories that occurred in the distant past. I have a bad memory and a good imagination, and sometimes the later picks up where the former fails (usually without me even knowing); so please don’t be put out if certain details or facts in these accounts are off. I don’t mean any harm and the sentiments expressed are always true. I write stories, not histories. Blogs, not logs…… You get the idea.

Posted in Uncategorized | 10 Comments

“Smokestack Lady” video just released!

We’re thrilled to announce the release of our new video for the song “Smokestack Lady” from our album RUNAWAY FREEWAY BLUES. This is what happens when you mix Smoky & The Bandit with Raising Arizona … hold onto your hats, because it’s a wild ride!

We should note that we in no way endorse any of the things happening in this video EXCEPT dancing and listening to good music.

Enjoy it!

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off