Friday night’s concert by Drive-By Truckers at Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek in Raleigh will offer the Southern rock band’s area fans an opportunity to catch the group perform in a way that they haven’t seen in close to two decades: as a supporting act, this time for blues rock outfit Tedeschi Trucks Band.
Since first gaining widespread acclaim through their 2001 release “Southern Rock Opera,” DBT have steadfastly been packing venues throughout the country with a fiery brand of alt-country that has helped coin the phrase “too country for rock, too rock for country” when fans attempt to explain the band’s lack of radio support when extolling the virtues of the group. If the accent of the person arguing the band’s case is Southern it makes the case that much more difficult, as the act has always been unfairly aligned as either just a little too proud of their heritage by some, or (in recent years) having political views that push against what some red-state-hailing fans would rather hear.
Despite being clear in where they stand on social issues since the beginning of their music careers — with songs like “The Three Alabama Icons” stating that “George Wallace died back in ‘98 and he’s in hell now ... fortunately for him, the Devil is also a Southerner” — DBT co-founders Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley still found themselves in the midst of an online backlash with some fans in the weeks leading up to the 2016 Presidential election.
Appearing at that year’s Democratic National Convention, the band denounced future-President Donald Trump, while rallying for Democratic unity. This appearance, along with the release of single “What It Means” and its pro-Black Lives Matter lyrics, led a portion of their fanbase to denounce the band.
The News & Observer had a chance to speak to Hood, guitarist and vocalist for DBT since its inception, while the musician was taking a post-Fourth of July break from the road. We were able to discuss what the band was feeling while embroiled in an online controversy, what made them decide to take a step down from the headliner slot for the summer and having an Alabama accent while living in Portland, Oregon.
Q: On the current tour, you guys are supporting Tedeschi Trucks Band, making it the first tour fans have seen DBT listed as a support act in a good long while. What kind of factors went into the band signing on for this summer run?
A: Timing was essential, as well as respect. Derek (Trucks), and Susan (Tedeschi) are class acts, absolutely amazing musicians and wonderful people. We almost never do the opening act thing these days, but we love them, and they offered us the middle slot and an hour long set. Our album is nearly two years old (2016’s “American Band”), and has actually still been pulling people to the shows — way longer than most records do — but we’re going into the studio to record in September and had originally planned on not touring this summer but this looked like a lot of fun and kind of a best of both worlds situation.
Q: Working as a support act, you’re dealing with set times much shorter than you are usually known for. What kind of decisions go into what makes the setlist each night? Are you more likely to stick to the hits, or even more likely to go with what you really feel that particular night?
A: As usual, we don’t use a set list. So far the shows have pulled a few of the hits, mixed in with some American Band songs and a couple of brand new songs we’re still trying out on folks. It’s been lots of fun, although hotter than hell a couple of nights.
Q: Along that same avenue of thinking, truthfully, is it a nice change of pace to know that you’re going to be able to get off a stage before 11 p.m. for once?
A: That’s probably a plus for Cooley, as he seems to be our early riser, but I’m more geared towards late night anyway; the early times have actually been the hardest part for me.
Q: There was a bit of an online backlash from a portion of your fanbase about the political nature found within some of the lyrics found on “American Band.” Was there a moment of disappointment within the band, where you guys wondered if the fans complaining had ever listened to your lyrics before?
A: Based on the advance backlash we were getting on social media before the album came out, we all kind of assumed that we were losing about half of our fan base, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. “American Band” has been our most successful album ever; it was our first-ever Billboard Album-charting Top 10 album, it’s still selling, and pulling in crowds nearly two years later. After we put out the live version of “What It Means” as a single with “The Perilous Night” last fall, [the backlash] all kind of got a second wind.
The funny thing is it is nothing new to us. When we put out “The Dirty South” (the band’s 2004 release, and its other most successful record thus far), we had people yelling (stuff) at us every time we played (Reaganomics critique) “Puttin’ People on the Moon” that entire fall, which of course was another heated election year.
Q: For better or for worse, after coining the phrase “the Southern Thing” to describe being a Southerner in the 21st century, you have become somewhat of a spokesman for the South in the media. What does it feel like to live in Portland, which is known as one of the more liberal-leaning cities in the country, and most likely be viewed by residents there as “one of the good ones” when it comes to Southerners?
A: I never had set out to be any kind of spokesman for anything, except maybe for Rock and Roll. That said, I’ve tried to grow into whatever role I’ve ended up with. After writing the New York Times Op-Ed in 2015 (”The South’s Heritage Is Much More Than a Flag”), a whole new thing kind of opened up for me, in terms of speaking at colleges, and taking on a little more grownup voice politically.
I’ve always tried to back up whatever I’m saying. Ironically, the NYT thing happened the first week I was living in Portland. Portland has been extremely welcoming and kind to me since I’ve been there, as my family has made lots of great friends already, and the move definitely helped add to the band’s west coast following (which has long been pretty good anyway).
Who: Drive-By Truckers (with the Marcus King Band, opening for Tedeschi Trucks Band)
When: 7 p.m., Friday July 13
Where: Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek, 3801 Rock Quarry Rd., Raleigh 27610
Tickets: $25.00; 39.50; 53.00; 65.00
Info: LiveNation.com or 919-831-6400