Day Drinking with Little Big Town

You think it’d be easy for somebody who grew up in the Napa Valley to find an estate vineyard in the Coombsville District; a sub-appellation where I played and hiked often as a kid and where my grandmother is buried. I know “the avenues”, as the locals call it, quite well, but as an Avalon mist descends upon an unseasonably wintry and very rainy May morning, I end up turned around on a private vineyard estate with little signage to point me in the right direction. When I finally arrive for my chat with Little Big Town, I’m winded and running about 5 minutes late. I arrive breathless at the door, only to be greeted by Jimi Westbrook who has played rhythm guitar and provided vocals for Little Big Town since their founding in 1998. Handsome, tall and genial, he extends a firm handshake and issues forth a broad smile as I cross the threshold into a private residence the band is using during their stay in the Napa Valley.

Here for “Live in the Vineyard Goes Country”, Little Big Town will be performing that evening at Napa’s Uptown Theatre. LITVGC is part of the Live in the Vineyard franchise; a music festival bar-none held twice annually across some of the Napa Valley’s most coveted venues---barrel-lined cellars at storied wineries, private rooms at feted restaurants and historic concert halls like the Uptown Theatre---where attendees are predominately record industry executives and radio programmers, there to listen to new releases by established artists, or to sample new music by up-and-comers. Everyday music fans who want to attend must enter sweepstakes held by radio stations across the country like iHeart radio and their affiliates. Tickets aren’t available for sale. What results is a visceral experience that marries music, food and wine like no other event with which I’m familiar. Save for the Uptown, many of the venues are so intimate, that you might find yourself listening to HAIM or The Revivalists in a roomful of 60 or so people; sometimes less. Other past artists include David Gray, Alanis Morrissette, Tegan & Sara, Ocean Park Standoff, Lenny Kravitz, the Jonas Brothers, Guster, Fun., Collective Soul, Rita Wilson, Adam Lambert, Atlas Genius, Jason Mraz, Macy Gray, Hanson, Melissa Ethridge, Neon Trees, Fergie, Parachute, Brad Paisley, Mike Posner, Vintage Trouble, Parachute, Julia Michaels and ZZ Ward, to name just a few.

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Karen Fairchild, Westbrook’s wife of 13 years, who’s known for her exceptional and often poignant songwriting and the rich, warm tone of her voice, meets me in the foyer, bottle of wine in hand and offers to pour me a glass. It’s a 2016 Merlot from their Walla Walla, Washington-based winery, 4 Cellars. Her beauty recalls matinee idols from the 30’s and 40’s, whose symmetrical, delicate features and glamorous baring often belied a steely sense of self just below the surface. She’s dressed in a stunning red jumper that skirts coral hues. I maybe swoon a little on the inside.

The equally beguiling and striking Kimberly Schlapman, whose intuitive harmonies and pure tone add a rich emotional texture to their sound, offers a warm, kind welcome, as does Phillip Sweet, whose baring is so open and unguarded that I can’t help but break out into an unguarded smile myself when he extends a hand. 

It appears I’ve arrived just as Sweet and Westbrook are discussing their late-night jaunt into retro-television the previous night. “We were watching “Alice”, Sweet says. I have to search my mind for a moment; I ask if they’re talking about the comedy starring Linda Lavin who portrayed a waitress working at a diner called Mel’s. ‘Is that the kiss my grits one?’ I ask, recalling the show’s best known line often voiced by a fiery redheaded waitress named Flo. “That’s the one! Yes!” says Westbrook, laughing. The two men chuckle as they recall staying up late, drinking wine, and reveling in the beloved, blast-from-the-past series.

Little Big Town’s current hit, “The Daughters”, which I’ve been listening to on loop in my car during my long trek to Napa, is one of the reasons I’m compelled to sit down with the talented quartet, the other being their wines, which include a new, modern line of canned wines, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Penned by Fairchild, Ashley Ray and Sean Mcconnell, “The Daughters” seems destined for our times; one of those rare songs that rides a specific cultural zeitgeist at just the right moment:

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“We’d never written together, but Ashley kept telling me, it’s going to be magic, it’s going to be magic if we just get together, you, me and Sean,” says Fairchild. “So I said let’s do it. We went up to Sean’s studio and we were talking about books we love and also, the impact of the craziness of the world we’re living in right now. It’s just so unfortunately divisive, and yet there are those of us who are want that to end; who are trying to raise our children with less divisiveness and focusing on things that are more important, like faith and family. Ashley asked us if we’d ever read “Girl, Wash Your Face”. I hadn’t read it, and I don’t know where it came from, but I just sang, “Girl wash your face before you come to the table…” It just came to me.” Fairchild effortlessly sings the line and her voice warms the living room where we’re seated.

“You wait for those moments,” she continues. “Bruce Springsteen calls it ‘being awake to the moment’. I don’t know if I’d ever experienced something like that until that moment, and I’m definitely not on Bruce’s level, but I felt that freedom in that moment. We just kept going, and we were all riffing. At one point I just said, “I’m just looking for a God for the daughters”. For me, growing up in the church and growing up as a woman of faith and with that foundation, I also know that some of those traditions can place unfortunate expectations on girls, on women. That’s why it so easily fell off of our tongues. And, Sean, as a father of a daughter with special needs…for him it’s easy to access those types of thoughts. When I came to play it for the band, they felt the same way about it. Whatever lifestyle you’re living, or walk of life you’ve chosen, I think you can understand the sentiment of that song. I don’t know if the song is a gift for anyone else, but it’s a gift for me.”

Westbrook adds that when they first played it for their musicians, “they’re daddies and their immediate response was, I can’t wait to play this for my wife and my daughters. That’s what you want from a song.”

This year, the band celebrates their 21st anniversary together. When I ask them what surprises them most about the narrative arc of their story together as Little Big Town, Schlapman says, “It doesn’t surprise me that we’re still together, but when I look back as that young girl 21 years ago, I don’t think any of us were thinking…what are we going to be doing in 21 years? We were maybe thinking 5 years down the road, but 21 years later, it’s been remarkable. And the fact that it’s still the original four of us who sat together in the living room and played when nobody had heard a note of our music together or even cared… And you said “arc” and that’s a great word for the journey we’ve been on because our arc has been a little wavy. Lots of ups and lots of downs. It was the hardship that made us strong and gave us longevity. We’re still grounded. We can easily remember the days when we could hardly afford the drive-thru at McDonalds. We can still feel that.” Sweet adds, “Year two, we were just hoping we could make it to the next year. Hoping we could afford to pay for gas to play another show. I don’t think we’ve ever lost that appreciation for being able to keep going. Even today, we’re able to laugh and enjoy our moments together because we can appreciate what we have. We’ve been able to enjoy the pleasures of life.” “We like to celebrate moments,” Fairchild adds. “The smallest, the biggest and we like to do that around food and beautiful wine. We love celebrating together and we do it all the time. Just today, we had about 10 minutes to spare, so we thought, what vineyard can we stop and taste at? What can we enjoy together for these 10 minutes? And, we laughed our asses off the whole way home. We had the best wine at this little vineyard,” says Fairchild.


In addition to celebrating all their little and big victories together, they equally enjoy watching others succeed, Fairchild says. “We like to celebrate other people. We’re very close to other artists. We just saw Brothers Osborne today at sound check and we’re all going to party tonight together. They opened for us and we get to watch them blossom, watch them go through the struggle of not having any money, and then also, watch them buy their mother a house. There’s so much joy in watching their journey.”

Early on, Westbrook believed the band would achieve success. “I’m not really surprised because I think we felt like something special was going to happen,” he says. “That’s what kept us going. We’re very grateful but we also felt like we had something to share and I feel like we were always going to see that through…to wherever that took us. That’s where we are now. We’re still open. And I love that about where we are at this point in our journey. I still wake up and I love the thought of ‘maybe today I’ll write a song’. Fairchild chimes in, “Maybe we’ll do something we’ve never done before. The discoveries together is what keeps us going. If you’re an artist and you’re ever not feeling that, then that’s maybe that’s the time you stop. For us, we just keep going.”

Outside, a light rain falls against the windows on each side of a large fire place that holds a gentle fire. Someone comes in and places a generous platter of bread, cheese and charcuterie before us. Bottles of wine are opened as are cheerfully decorated cans of wine called Day Drinking, the band’s newest wine project and aptly named after their hit, Day Drinking, a Gold-certified Top 5 hit on country radio.

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“We go some incredible news today” Schlapman says. “Our project is a baby and it’s beginning to grow. And, today, six hundred and forty five public stores just placed their first order of Day Drinking. That’s a big deal! ” There are woo-hoos around the table as she tells me this. Fairchild chimes in, “It’s like putting a song out there. And you think of the ways you can share a song so more people can hear it. And that’s how it is with our cans. We just want to see people enjoying these cans, enjoying life, celebrating moments.”

The band’s winemaker, Hal Landvoigt, an affable, enthusiastic fellow, has an easy camaraderie with Little Big Town. He’s refreshingly emotional about his job making wines for 4 Cellars and now Day Drinking. “When you meet these people, you want every conversation with them to continue. I could stay up all night and talk with them. That doesn’t happen often in work situations. It’s rare to connect on a personal, music, and wine level with people. And I’ve been as warmly embraced by them as I wanted to embrace them back…that made me want to work twice as hard.” Landvoigt, whose children are in the same age range as some of the band’s children, joined Little Big Town in the vineyard shortly after they started to work together to hang placards, assigning each child’s name to a vineyard row. “Music is not something that touches you only in your ears. It touches you in your heart, in your eyes. When you listen to it, it can make you cry. It can make you feel things. Remember things. Wine does that same thing for me. I can smell a wine and be reminded of a day twenty years ago I spent with my grandfather, or meals that I had when I was very young that were powerful moments.”

The 4 Cellars Harmony red blend is a savory, beautiful stand-out. Combining Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Grenache and Mourvedre, this blend is delineated and compelling, with an underlying tension in the structurally appealing mouthfeel. Hailing from the Columbia Valley, the vineyard sources for this wine include the Alder Ridge Vineyard, Willow Crest, Mirage Canyon Vineyard Ranch, and the Browne Family Estate Vineyard. The entire line-up of wines is elegantly understated and over-performs at fair price points. Line-priced at $ 25.00 a bottle, the 4 Cellars brand further illustrates that some of the best deals in wines are coming out of Washington State these days. The entire portfolio includes a Blanc de Noirs and a Demi-Sec, Chardonnay, Grenache Rose, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Syrah and a Red Mountain-based Cabernet Sauvignon that has fared very well with wine critics.

Landvoigt next brings out the brightly colored Day Drinking cans; visually pleasing 375 ml cans (two cans equals a 750 ml bottle) that are equally bright, refreshing and delightful to imbibe. My favorite Day Drinking wine is Southern Peach; a nod to real summer peaches that is slightly tart like the red pith around the pit, but with the fruit sweetness of a ripe Peach. There’s nothing cloying about this wine. It’s light, delicate and fun to drink. I had to keep reminding myself that one can is a half-bottle of wine. It’s easy to over-imbibe on a wine that is so thirst quenching, so some self-awareness is required to truly enjoy the world of canned wines.

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In addition to Southern Peach, there’s also a Rosé Bubbles and Watermelon Rosé. The Rosé Bubbles is another keeper; linear, beautifully austere in texture, but still offering ample fruit and a surprisingly pleasant and long finish. Attractive enough to set down on a table for indoor dining, the cans are perhaps best enjoyed at the beach, on a picnic, aboard a pontoon on a lake or on one’s back porch after a long work week. My wife and I enjoyed our cans on our deck, as we watched our dogs play in the yard. Cold and crisp, they’re a nice way to kick off a weekend, or to chill out a little on a hectic hump day.

While Fairchild describes 4 Cellars brand as “our sophisticated winery”, the Day Drinking line of canned wines is all about enjoying a fun moment with a casual wine. “We didn’t want to be a band that threw our name in to some kind of endorsement deal,” Fairchild says. “If we do it, we do it right. Let’s make good product and just like the music, if you write a good song, you reap the benefits. If you make a good wine, you reap the benefits.” She adds, “music and wine speak the same language.”

I’m particularly intrigued by the Day Drinking line, not only because of its fresh and playful aura, but also because it comes in cans; cheaper to recycle than glass, lighter to ship than heavy glass bottles, easier to store than bottles and practical to hold and consume. Just a few years ago, it seemed as though cans, like boxed wines, would be forever inferior modes of selling and storing wines. But, unlike boxed wines, cans have continued to improve drastically. Brands like Sans Wine Co, Ramona and now Day Drinking, deliver good-quality, delicious wines in easy-to-open and use containers that ultimately leave a smaller impact on the environment than glass bottles. That alone makes me want to Day Drink more often.

BottleRock Napa Valley: Chatting with Flora Cash

At 54 years old, I’ve become a home body. My house is my happy place, and it’s where I most often seek solace from this world. Add to that the fact that I don’t like crowds, and view most large events –  wine tastings included – with the same excitement as I do your standard root canal, and it’s a wonder I do anything socially that isn’t an obligation. However BottleRock, one of the nation’s most high-profile music festivals, was reason enough for me to wander off beyond the front door recently for three days of musical exploration, culinary adventures, and…well…just a rollicking good time.

BottleRock has hit its stride with 40,000 music lovers in attendance for this year’s sold-out, three-day musical extravaganza. Unfolding over Memorial Day weekend, BottleRock transforms the Napa County Fairgrounds – a normally mundane collection of unadorned buildings, bleachers and dried-out fields – into a lush village offering a multitude of singular experiences.

Food lover? Then head over to the Culinary Garden, equipped with ample picnic tables and umbrellas, for fried chicken by Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc, or other specialties by Marimoto, Bouchon Bakery, La Toque, the girl and the fig, Goose & Gander, Brix Restaurant, Cole’s Chop House and Cook Tavern, to name just a few. Many of the Napa Valley’s best restaurants were in attendance.

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Care for a cold one? Hop Valley, Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company, Loma Brewing Company, Modelo, Napa Smith, Newcastle Brown Ale, Ninkasi Brewing Company, Lagunitas and others were pulling tabs all weekend. Cocktail? Hendricks Gin and Ketel One Vodka offered aesthetically pleasing pop-up bars. Wineries, including Blackbird Vineyards, JaM Cellars, Luna Vineyards, Napa Cellars, Raymond Vineyards, The Prisoner Wine Co., Rombauer Vineyards and Schramsberg among others were there. The Williams Sonoma Culinary Stage featured chefs, musicians and actors enjoying each other’s culinary creativity in front of large, enthusiastic crowds. Chef Adam Richman joined Jeff Goldblum and Too $hort on stage, while Gail Simmons, Ludo Lefebrve and Hubert Keller joined Eric McCormack for a Burger Battle Royale.

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There were numerous water stations throughout the sprawling venue, providing free clean water to attendees. Banks of clean bathrooms were easy to find, while friendly volunteers and security staff made themselves available to assist festival goers without seeming too obtrusive. Though it sounds like a cliché, BottleRock really does appeal to people of all ages. Children are welcomed, and there’s even a Family Zone available just inside the main gate offering activities for little ones throughout the day. A SoFi Spa on Main Street offered tired festival goers revitalizing foot and body massages, facials, and hydration therapy. Entire families, teenagers in large groups, senior citizens and just about every age in between were there to let loose, have fun, and most of all, listen to some great music. Neil Young + Promise of the Real, Bishop Briggs, Cypress Hill, Logic, Pharrell Williams, The Dandy Warhols, Elle King, Flora Cash, Gary Clark Jr., HalfNoise, Imagine Dragons, Lord Huron, Lovely the Band, Mumford & Sons, Napa Valley Youth Symphony, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Paul Oakenfold, OneRepublic, Santana, Shannon and the Clams, and Vintage Trouble were only a few of the many bands performing across eight stages from noon onward each day. If you’re a music, wine, beer and food lover and enjoy a few creature comforts, this is the ideal music festival for you. Though my ears, heart and soul enjoyed a deep cornucopia of musical offerings, I did have my favorites…

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Chatting with Flora Cash: Go Forward Slowly

Though many music lovers will know Flora Cash for their break-out 2018 hit “You’re Somebody Else”, I first fell in love with their 2016 album “Can Summer Love Last Forever”, a romantic, gauzy, delicate offering that recalls The Cocteau Twins, Fleet Foxes and Tame Impala. A husband and wife team, Cole and Shpresa Randall first met virtually on Soundcloud a number of years ago. After months of sharing music on-line, Shpresa flew from her native Stockholm to meet Cole Randall in Minneapolis, and from then on they became inseparable. Today the artistic duo resides full time in Sweden. I met up with them after their moving, quietly energetic performance at BottleRock, during which the crowd swayed and sang along: “I saw the part of you/That only when you're older you will see too/You will see too…”



RH Drexel: Can you talk a little about ‘Can Summer Love Last Forever’ and the inspiration behind what is essentially a very intimate album exploring the highs and lows of romantic love?

Cole Randall: Oh my goodness. At that time in our lives, we felt very cozy. We hadn’t met that long ago. We were just coming off the honeymoon phase of our relationship. When we made that album – and the title alludes to this – we were just realizing that this relationship is going to take some work. Summer love is puppy love. The question is ‘can puppy love last forever.’ And I would say, ‘Not necessarily,’ but that’s not a bad thing. The album came from a period when we were just realizing this and dealing with this.

RHD: And with your current album, ‘Nothing Lasts Forever (And It’s Fine)’, you kind of answer that question.

CR: And it’s fine. That’s the important caveat.

RHD: Yes, I think it reflects a maturity in both individuals in a romantic relationship when they can move forward after the initial glow of new love has waned.

CR: If it lasted forever, then there would be no growth. No evolution. You can look at it as impermanence or as evolution. I think we came through that period of disenchantment and arrived at a place that’s even better, and more stable. We got through that hard time of when you realize, man, my partner has problems and I seriously have problems!

Shpresa Randall: Both of us have problems. It’s important to understand that nothing is perfect all the time. We live in a social media world where everything is roses and butterflies all the time. But things are not always like that. And we grew through those problems. And, daily, we still have problems here and there, and it’s important to know that there will be problems and you can work through things.

CR: We’re sort of tracking the evolution of a relationship, in a sense.

RHD: I want to talk about that a little because you really are exploring the contours of your relationship for your listeners. There’s a lot of intimate and vulnerable soul-mining occurring in your songs. Do you ever look at each other and say, okay, this is too personal. We’re not going to put this particular experience in a song?

CR: It happens, but we’ve agreed with each other that, as much as we can be honest, we should just do it. Let the thing be whatever it is.

SR: All of us are human. Everybody has similar – not exactly the same, but similar – problems they’re going through, and it’s important to talk about it and be honest about it. If we can solve our problems, others can too. It’s okay. We all go through anxiety, fear…all these things, and it’s important to talk about it.

RHD: I find that a very humane approach. Your music makes me feel less alone, so thank you for sharing yourselves with your listeners.

CR: Honestly, as much as people thank us for sharing ourselves with them, we’re grateful that people respond and appreciate it. It’s nice that it means something to people, because you never know…

RHD: When you’re writing together, you’re sometimes writing about things that are hard to talk about as a married couple, much less create about. Do you dance around certain topics? Or do you just say, ‘Hey that thing you did that pissed me off turned into this lyric.’

SR: (laughing) That happens.

CR: We have a lot of honest conversations with each other. Pretty much nothing is left unsaid. Everybody has their own private reality where there’ll always be a little bolt around that, but we try to talk everything out. If there’s a lyric that alludes to a previous relationship or a weird subject, we talk it out, and in the end we both have the right to express that. Everybody else will have their opinions and try to limit what other people do, but we can’t do that to each other.

SR: That’s the only way this thing works. Because we’re together 24/7. Yesterday was the first time I was away from him in the last two months – for an hour.

CR: I thought she got kidnapped!

SR: I was shopping.

CR: Her phone wasn’t working. She was late for sound check. She promised me that she wouldn’t be. So I thought, someone’s thrown her in the back of a car, and I’m going to have search Sacramento [where they were performing the previous night] and look for her. It was a scary moment.

SR: Because we are always together. We talk about everything, and everything is open.

CR: And they’re not always pleasant conversations. Things don’t always have to be, as Shpresa said, roses and butterflies, but you have to have a framework where you can discuss everything and anything, and then let the chips fall where they may.

RHD: Switching gears, I love your song ‘California.’ As a Californian, it reminds me of being a teenager and rushing home so I could close myself up in my room and listen to the Cocteau Twins. The emotional texture of their music was so new to me that it offered what I felt was my own little world – a reprieve from this harsh world. And your music does that for me…provides me with that reprieve wherein I feel young again, and it’s nice to feel young again. I know you don’t talk about what Flora Cash means…the name of your band. You’re very private about that, so may I tell you what it means to me?

SR: We would love that.

RHD: For me, I love nature. It’s my safe place. And your music has a very delicate nature to it. Like sunlight through leaves. Your music also allows me to feel vulnerable, which is also something nature does for me. So that’s what Flora means to me. The Flora and fauna of this world. And what motivates me least in this world, probably to my detriment, is money…commerce. So Flora Cash, for me, puts nature before commerce.

As we wrap up our talk, Cole and Shpresa relax in their in their well-appointed cabana in the Artist’s Village at BottleRock. Despite having delivered two performances that day – a main stage concert and a smaller acoustic set – they appear fresh, rested and ready for the next adventure together.

Anderson East: Music in Flux

Heraclitus suggested that the only constant in life is change. “The way up and the way down are one and the same. Living and dead, waking and sleeping, young and old, are the same.” Just as the living will one day be dead, so it is that the only thing we can rely upon as a species is a life in flux. Ironically, most of us don’t like change, unless it proves to be worthwhile, and, well, you just can’t predict an outcome.

As Woodstock 50 peeks its tentative head around the corner of our cultural musical heritage, it’s surely witnessing a backlash-at-the-ready; there’ll never be another Woodstock, what happened on that muddy dairy farm in the Catskills in the summer of 1969 can never be re-created, the line-up is too commercial, and so on. And so the constant nature of change plays out before us. Those who view the original Woodstock music festival as the only one will need convincing that this re-boot is even worthwhile. And yet those of us who have grown up with all kinds of music, including popular music, of which rock ’n’ roll is the very bedrock, understand that in order for it to survive, it must remain in flux. New traditions become old ones over time, and thus the form survives.

In order for the form to survive, however, newer iterations must grab onto at least some thread of the former iteration. Looking at our finest popular culture musical icons, most notably those who were at Woodstock in 1969, we view a handful of true originals who became Keepers of the Flame and Bearers of Musical History: Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Richie Havens, Joan Baez, The Grateful Dead, Arlo Guthrie, Santana, Creedence Clear Water Revival, The Who…and the list goes on and on. Each of these artists grabbed hold of a musical form that inspired them, that was considered popular in its day, and re-invigorated the form. The inventive, breathtaking line up of Woodstock ’69 breathed new life into the continuum of popular music.

In 50 years, will we look back the same way at this year’s tribute roster? The lineup includes Miley Cyrus, Halsey, Imagine Dragons and Akon. But it also includes Leon Bridges, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, Sturgill Simpson, Gary Clark Jr., Janelle Monae and Anderson East. This second list of artists is encouraging; they’re already testing the limits of popular music by personalizing it, making it their own, re-constructing the narrative in the process, and pushing it into new directions. It’s not implausible to think that in 50 years’ time, names like Monae’s will still be relevant.

So, will the Woodstock Tribute have been worth the effort? Only time will tell, but for me there are bright spots in the lineup that suggest it will.

Recently, I caught up with Anderson East, one of those bright spots, who’ll be performing on Woodstock 50’s stage opening day – Friday, August 16th, 2019 in Watkins Glen, New York. The Alabama-native is perhaps best known for “All in My Mind”, off of his latest album, Encore. But East first captured my attention with “Satisfy Me”, the first single off of his 2015 album Delilah. “Satisfy Me” crosses genres and generations, simultaneously taking the listener back to the era of Wilson Pickett while also reaching out into a future of boundary-melting musical-genre cross-pollination.

When I arrive at the private guest house where he’s staying during a visit to the Napa Valley, East, polite and laid back, extends a firm hand shake. He’s staying at the Charles Krug Estate, gearing up for a private performance later in the day for members of the music industry and radio station executives. Tall, lanky and confident, he’s clearly comfortable in his own skin.

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R.H. Drexel: Some of your music on Delilah really reminds me of Wilson Pickett.

Anderson East: Well, I’ll take that all day long.

RHD: So, who were your influences?

AE: My musical taste growing up wasn’t anything to write home about. I listened to pretty much what was on the radio [Anderson was born in 1988]. So I listened to bad late ’90s pop music. But then I got a job at a record store; it was one of my first actual jobs – the kind that takes taxes out of your paycheck, you know what I mean? And so I would just recycle all my paychecks at that place. Everybody assumes I just grew up listening to old R&B and soul music, but that’s just what comes out of me naturally. I’ve digested a lot of different music, and tried to experiment and go in all these different directions, but the common thread that comes out of me is that Southern heartbeat.

RH:Satisfy Me” really does sound like it was recorded during some other era. How do you organically re-create the old-school sensibility to where it feels so real?

AE: I think it’s the approach we take in songwriting…a timeless song will always hold up. In terms of recording, we want to be human about it – to be human beings in the room. We show our flaws and all. We record everything live. When you go back and think about how those classic records were made, it was live. And we’re using a lot of the same equipment bands used in the ’60s and ’70s. Like I always say, a good pair of blue jeans never goes out of fashion.

RH: Yeah, nothing you do seems forced. Do you have rituals when you write a song? Favorite pen? Or a whiskey you sip on? Room you go to?

AE: Not really. I write a lot, and with a lot of different people. I like being a student of songwriting. There’s no right or wrong way, and everybody works differently. I’ve gotten to the point where I just let the craft take over. When I write for other people, it’s nice to have that utility, like a blunt-force instrument. When I write my own records, it’s nice to have that wheelhouse of inspirations, but what I’m after is truthfulness for myself. Having an intention. Trying to get a truth across.

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RH: “All in My Mind” reminds me a lot of an Eagles song. They had so many great songs with a strong narrative arc; their songs told stories. There’s also a palpable amount of testosterone in that song, in a really good way. How did it come together?

AE: That one started with Ed Sheeran and Johnny McDaid (Snow Patrol). They sent it my way. I kind of tweaked it here and there. It took a long time to get that one right. I definitely know I wrote about seven different choruses for that song until we settled on the right one. We did something similar trying to record it. It took a long time. I really wanted to explore what it could be sonically. I would go down these rabbit holes. Somebody would play a synth line, and I’d think, “that’s cool, but it really doesn’t go with the aesthetic of the song.” Then we’d experiment with string lines, which would then morph into some guitar part. We kept having a cyclical thing happen with that song. Once something seemed in place, something else would come about and spawn a new idea.

RH: And yet it sounds so intentional.

AE: Well, it was very thought-out, but getting there was tumultuous. Just because we’re used to doing maybe five takes of something, but that song took a lot more. The more you gave into it, the more it took from you.

RH: Well, I predict that one might turn into a summer classic, but who knows. Good road trip song. Windows down.

AE: I like that.

RH: In “King for a Day” you get pretty vulnerable. You wrote that one with Chris Stapleton. Is it hard to get emotionally vulnerable in a roomful of guys?

AE: That one kind of fell out. We were on tour together. After one show, Chris hollered at me to come to his dressing room. By the time I got there, he already had the first half of the verse together. I told him, you don’t need my help on that, but then we sat down together, and in 20 minutes it was done. As much as people think he’s the outlaw country guy, he’s a tender teddy bear. He just has a sweetness about him. And Morgane, his wife, was in there with us, and she’s been kind of a big sister to me, so it all felt very natural and unpretentious.

RH: That’s a really beautiful song. I dig that one.

AE: And Chris played guitar on that song.

RH: There’s a real old-soul vibe about you. If you hadn’t been born in the late ’80s, is there another era you would have liked to have been born in?

AE: Man, I don’t have the voice for it –1940s and ’50s. And it’d be cool because I’d get to wear a suit all the time. Smoke cigarettes. If I didn’t know they were bad for you.

RH: Yeah, there was something about the crooner aspect of that era. You could still be a man’s man, but the ladies would swoon for you.

AE: Yes, you could kick somebody’s ass if you needed to.

RH: You know, you don’t strike me as a huge self-promoter. Actually, I don’t think of you as self-promoting at all, to be candid. That whole world of social media…is that something you enjoy?

AE: No, if I didn’t have to be on it, I wouldn’t. There’s a lot of harm to the human mind with social media. It can harm your own personal empathy and compassion for other people and for yourself. It’s extremely unhealthy to always be fighting the urge to compare your life to somebody else’s. If I could I would choose to not participate in that. Also, the world’s too fucking big. I don’t need to see everybody in the whole world at a moment’s notice. And, also, thinking about creativity versus boredom. If you’re standing in line at the grocery store, and there’s a 10 minute wait, people just pull their phones out. How about just standing there? And waiting? Maybe daydreaming for 10 minutes? I mean, I understand the benefits of it if you’re trying to run a business, I guess, but ultimately I don’t think that it’s healthy. I’ll put things up once in a while to keep people in engaged in what we’re doing, but I don’t want to feel like a whore.

RH: Is it distracting when people are holding up a phone and filming you while you perform?

AE: Yeah, it is. I can understand people wanting to show their friends where they’re at. I guess I don’t know why people would pay to watch a concert through a phone. I do remember a time when people weren’t doing that because there wasn’t anybody there! I’d much rather have people there filming than no one there at all. At our shows, we try and have a communal spirit so that people feel they’re there to participate for a moment in time, together, and if you’re covering your face with a phone, you’re kind of isolating yourself. Shows are the best when everybody’s present together. I kind of like it when somebody just takes a picture if they have to, and then puts their phone away and participates. I think we’re all trying to be in moments that are bigger than ourselves.

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After some time, East gets ready for his upcoming sound check, so I head out into a brisk spring morning.

Indeed it will be interesting to watch how Woodstock 50 differs from the original in that it will inevitably, largely be filtered through the prism of social media; hundreds of thousands of posts and reposts from every which angle imaginable. Just think of it: how would the original Woodstock have appeared to our civilization if it had been filtered through the lens of social media? With many of the original attendees in various states of altered-consciousness and various states of undress – many of them naked and covered in mud – it does beg the question…where would they have put their smartphones?