For our fourth Artist in Residence interview with Drew Holcomb, we talked all about touring and concerts with the veteran road dog. Read on to find out about Holcomb’s upcoming fall tour with Willie Nelson, his thoughts (and horror stories) of life out on the road, his favorite concert memories (both as attendee and guest vocalist), and more!
NoiseTrade: First off, you’ve recently announced an upcoming fall tour with Willie Nelson that kicks off in November. What does touring with an artist like that mean to you and feel like for you, especially when it comes to a living legend like Willie?
Drew Holcomb: I think Willie is probably the most legendary American musical icon alive, with maybe Dylan and Aretha competing for that slot. I honestly cannot explain how excited about honored I am. He has continued to record, tour, write and earn his legend status. My heart is exploding with joy at the opportunity. I can’t wait to tell him how inspiring he has been to me.
NT: This year you’re also doing another Neighborly Christmas show with your wife Ellie, something you’ve done multiple times over the years. How do you approach special one-off shows like that differently than a normal concert and what do you have lined up for this year’s show?
Holcomb: It’s fun to scratch a different musical itch. The Christmas show lets our band show more of the “standards” and jazz influences in their playing and in our singing. The Christmas classics are such a transportation to another world. We work in our originals too, so folks who only catch the Christmas shows get to hear some of our usual songs as well. We usually have some special surprise guests, but if I told you, then it wouldn’t be a surprise (laughs).
NT: As an artist who has had a road-heavy career for more than a decade, what are some of the positives and negatives of being out on tour and what parts have gotten better (or worse) as your career has progressed?
Holcomb: The positives are getting to do what you love for a living, seeing parts of the world over and over, and making friends all over the place. The negative is being away from your family and your home for long stretches. It can also be hard to eat well on the road, so as we get older, the road takes its toll physically too.
NT: From vehicle trouble to crazy clubs to logistical nightmares and everything in between, what are some of your most ridiculous tour horror stories?
Holcomb: Here are a few: three broken trailer axles in three consecutive weeks, New York City green room thefts of gear and computers, mid-July 100-degree show in Las Vegas and the AC in our bus went out for 2 days. It was brutally hot. Also, one time a green room in Little Rock had about an inch of raw sewage on the floor. Awful. Those are just a few off the top of my head.
NT: Moving from your shows to those of other artists, what have been some of your favorite concerts that you’ve attended over the years (and why, specific memories of each)?
Holcomb: Tom Waits at the Ryman was like striking gold. He had not toured in 10 years – and hasn’t since, I don’t think – and it was 2007. I had just moved to Nashville. I couldn’t get a ticket, so I made a t-shirt that said “Real Fan, Please Help” and went down to the show. A woman from Florida walked up to me and asked me to name five Tom Waits songs. I did and she let me buy her extra ticket. We were on the fifth row and he was every bit as incredible, strange, and carnival-esque as I had hoped.
NT: Have there been any historic tours or concert films that you would’ve loved to have been an audience member for?
Holcomb: I think any band would say The Last Waltz. Neil Young, The Band, Van Morrison, Dylan, Ringo. I mean, come on, there is not even a close second.
NT: Do you have any special memories of times that you’ve been brought out to sing during another performer’s concert or festival set?
Holcomb: Well I hope this answer will change after the Willie Nelson tour. Last year we toured with Amos Lee and he brought me up a few times to sing John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery.” Playing a hero’s song with a peer you really respect was very satisfying.
NT: Finally, when I interviewed you last year for the Moon River Music Festival, you answered Wilco and “California Stars” for your dream booking and a song to guest on. How about Round Two for the same question: Who would you love to tour with and what would be the song you’d like to join them on stage for?
Holcomb: I’d love to sing “Shine” with David Gray.