One of the most rewarding experiences of going to a music festival is discovering a new band.
During the inaugural Peach Festival, there was a fair amount of buzz for a band nobody had heard before, but they had what many would call a super group lineup - Trigger Hippy. When people saw the lineup - bassist Nick Govrick, guitarist Tom Bukovac, multi-instrumentalist/singer Jackie Greene, singer Joan Osborne, and drummer Steve Gorman - many wondered what would be in store. The answer they were looking for came in a fiery sixty minute set full of soul and American rock and roll which left the crowd raving about the performance.
Trigger Hippy will be returning to the Peach Festival this Friday (on the Mushroom Stage) for what is sure to be another memorable experience. Recently, we had the opportunity to chat with the bands’ founder, Steve Gorman (also of the Black Crowes), to talk about how the band has evolved over the last two years, their soon-to-be-released album, returning to Peach Fest and their set from the 2012 edition, which ironically was the first ever performance with the new lineup, and served as the catalyst for everything currently happening with the outfit.
W: How did this band come to be?
SG: “The first time we used the name Trigger Hippy was in 2009, and it was basically a glorified jam session with Nick (Govrik) and myself with two guitarists - Audley Freed and Jimmy Herring. It was a noodle fest of covers. It was never meant to be a full-time gig; it was just something we did in Macon, Georgia. A year later, when Nick and I were really talking about getting a band going, we talked to Joan Osborne and she said she was in. We still liked the name Trigger Hippy - we just threw it on this thing a year ago, and we all agreed it was a great name…it became a very different band. We were playing original music and Joan and Jackie Greene were singing together. That’s when Trigger Hippy for real was started. Audley was playing with us, but it was never something he wanted to pursue full time, so when Jackie joined we knew it was something we all wanted to pursue.”
W: The current lineup has been steady for about two years now. How was the transition from the old lineup to the new one, and was there anything in particular you were looking for when you put it together?
SG: “We were trying to find the perfect fifth member - the lead guitarist - and we found Tom Bukovac. That (Peach Festival 2012) was his first gig with us, and that’s how we knew we had the band finished. When we walked off that stage at Peach Fest two years ago, we all thought ‘oh, man. We really hope he’s into it because we all loved it.’ By the end of that weekend, we were making plans to go make a record. Tom was in, and we were all happy.”
W: With the current lineup, does it open up more songs for the band to dip into? Like material from Jackie, Joan or even the Black Crowes?
SG: “No. We don’t do any of the members material. We play Trigger Hippy songs, mixed in with a few covers. That’s it. More originals than covers for certain. For the festival, we probably have a 60 minute set, so we’ll probably only do one or two covers at most.”
W: When you guys do dip into cover material, what determines what songs you play? You guys do everything from The Beatles to Al Green, certainly a broad variety.
SG: “It’s impossible to say. There’s so much music out there that we all love individually - there’s a pretty large diagram of this band and what we all like collectively. Beyond that, you have to think ‘what can fit in with what this band sounds like, and what can we do justice to?’…there’s certain things we veer away from because we can’t hear Trigger Hippy doing them. Anytime someone has a suggestion for a cover, we try it. Pretty much immediately we can tell if the vibe is good and we go with it, or we just move on.”
W: Any truth to the rumor of a new album coming out soon?
SG: “Yeah, it comes out September 30. Rounder Records is putting out our album. It’s called ‘Trigger Hippy’ and it has eleven songs, including the four that were on our EP. We put out the EP ourselves - we put out 1,000 copies for Record Store Day - we just put a flag in the road and said ‘we exist; we’re here.’ The album is the follow up to say ‘not only do we exist, but here’s a full length album. We’re going to play a few shows, have some fun and see if we can make some people happy out there.’”
W: Considering the members in the band, how difficult is it to try and plot out a tour? Do you want to see it turn into a full-time band?
SG: “Not really because everybody loves doing it. We have to do things well in advance; we just want to string together dates in a way that makes sense. We’re still in the building block phase, and it’s still a baby band in a certain sense. For as many gigs as we’ve played as Trigger Hippy, it’s still a brand new process. We’re not in the mindset where we’re going to go out and do a six-week tour of clubs and try to get the world to pay attention to us - we’ve all done that before. It’s more of a thought behind it that we don’t want it to burn out on us and we don’t want to get on each others’ nerves…I don’t think that we’ll ever be a 130 show a year band; I think we’ll be more of a 60 show a year band, in a perfect world. Four of us have families and we have kids. It’s a little different than the first time when we were starting off and we would all be happy being on the road for eleven months a year. We want it to go as far as it can go - we want to make another record, and we love working together, but we’re not going to break our necks to prove to the world that we can play a million gigs. We’ve all already done that.”
W: How would you describe what’s in store for the fans who come out to see you guys at Peach Fest?
SG: “They’re going to see a real rock and roll band full of great players, and I think the musicianship speaks for itself. We’re really focused on the songs, and we don’t want the fact that we can jam endlessly on songs take away from the fact that we feel we are writing really good songs. There’s great vocals - Jackie and Joan singing together is really something special. You can always put two great singers in a room, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to sound good together. Sometimes you have a good singer standing next to another good singer, but it just doesn’t click. Joan and Jackie really clicked from the get go. Having that male and female duality, in this day and age, is actually pretty unique, and we’re having a blast. Hippie is spelled Hippy, which is like ‘come on out and shake your hips.’ We’re trying to get people to move and have fun.”
Nicki Bluhm and The Gramblers
If the power and influence of the Internet has ever been doubted, it’s a safe bet Nicki Bluhm and The Gramblers would be quick to scoff at such a claim. Since she started recording music, Bluhm was mostly a flying-under-the-radar type of artist whose pure vocal talents seemed to somehow miss a majority of fans.
Then she and her band mates took a ride in a van.
During the drive, Bluhm and her friends documented the experience with iPhones and uploaded a video to YouTube, which caused an Internet sensation that found a lot of people suddenly engulfed in what eventually became the “Van Sessions” - a series of videos taped while driving and the band playing acoustic covers of whatever song they felt compelled to do. While the scenario may seem a bit funny and unorthodox, it was exactly what the band needed as they found new fans and recognition across the country; and started to be booked at festivals, like their stop at Peach Fest this Saturday, Aug. 16.
In between a very brief touring break, Weekender caught up with Bluhm’s husband, Tim (also of The Mother Hips), to talk about the band being propelled into bigger venues, connecting with fans at festivals, and how they write and record their own material - yes, they do have more than just Van Sessions cover songs, but don’t worry, we got that too.
W: You guys just came off a tour and are gearing back up to hit the road. How do you spend the down time? Is writing or recording part of the extra time?
TB: “When we’re home between tours it’s pretty much about doing laundry, having our friends and parents over for a meal and opening mail. We had to start setting aside scheduled time for writing, in places where there are no distractions from the outside world. We will be recording our new record during the whole month of August.”
W: You’ve been touring pretty heavily in support of the debut album. However, there are cuts from your duo group and ones from Nicki’s solo offerings. Is there any difficulty in trying to figure out what material to incorporate from each aspect?
TB: “We try to keep the set fresh and to not forget about older material. Sometimes someone will have a good idea about how to make an older song work within our current set list.”
W: The festival scene seems to be a huge push for the band. How has the exposure been at festivals, and are there any memorable festival experiences you can share?
TB: “We’ve been really lucky to play at many great festivals. If we get a meaningful slot and make some magic happen during what is typically a shorter set, then the impact for the audience and for us can be significant. Early on, this happened at High Sierra Music Festival in Northern California. Last summer it happened at Newport Folk and just recently we had an amazing experience at Telluride Bluegrass.”
W: Aside from the festival scene, another big catalyst for the band has been YouTube. I’m sure you’ve been asked this countless times, but what brought about the idea for the Van Sessions? Was there ever an idea to do some original material in the Van Sessions or is it just mostly a fun way to pass time by jamming on cover songs?
TB: “The Van Sessions came about when the band was touring without me in the northwest, and they had filmed a cover song on an iPhone. They wanted me to see it so they posted it on YouTube. A lot of our friends and family watched it and enjoyed it and asked for more. It just evolved slowly from there. The song choices became more ambitious and the arrangements became more complicated. The challenge is to do them as accurately as possible to the originals with the obvious limitations of that environment. We have discussed doing our own songs, and in fact did one of Dave Mulligan’s songs, but ultimately the successful formula is very specific and we like to honor that. There’s been suggestions of using better equipment and of trying to clean up the audio, but it just wouldn’t be the Van Sessions.”
W: Of course the focus of this is the upcoming Peach Festival here in Scranton, Pa. How would you describe what the band will be bringing to the festival. I know a lot of people will be seeing you guys for the first time (outside of YouTube).
TB: “I think the videos have been useful in getting people to pay attention to our band, and that is a difficult thing to achieve these days, amidst so many great bands. We have a large-band kind of thing going on - lots of harmony singing, and varied styles of guitar soloing. The focus, of course, is Nicki, who delivers the actual song in her special voice, which is powerful but vulnerable as well.”
For many of the acts at Peach Fest, the upcoming festival marks their first visit to the area. For perennial rock/jam/electronic favorites Lotus, the festival could be considered more of a homecoming, as the Philadelphia-based group garnered a large fan base in NEPA when they first started playing here in the early 2000’s.
Gone are the days of being able to see them in a 200 person club in downtown Wilkes-Barre, but after more than a dozen years as a hard-touring band - and nine studio albums combined with a handful of live releases - the group has been deservingly catching the attention of national bands and festivals, which have landed them everywhere from the Outer Lands Festival and Fuji Rock Festival to Bonnaroo and All Good.
In the midst of a touring break, we had the chance to catch up with bassist Jesse Miller to discuss the bands current happenings, including a just-released new album, the fans in our area, and their return invite to do a late night set on the Mushroom Stage at Peach Fest.
W: You guys just released “Gilded Age.” How was the approach for writing the new album? Did the band find itself experimenting with new technology during the recording?
JM: “The general approach for Gilded Age was to do a rock album focused on traditional rock instrumentation - guitar, bass, drums. We ended up using a few extra things: horns on Let Me In, strings on Sunset of the Giant Dipper, a little bit of vibraphone on Gilded Age. The recording approach was very traditional; we tracked the band live in a single room to “tape.”
W: It seems when bands put out a new album they tend to do an extensive tour in support. For the most part, your upcoming itinerary is mostly festivals. Considering the bands background with festivals, is that the idea for promoting this album?
JM: “Festivals aren’t the greatest place to showcase a lot of new material. I think that works better at our own shows when we can play longer sets to a crowd that is very familiar with the band already. We’ll definitely be playing a few of the tracks from Gilded Age this summer at festivals, but I think we’ll probably play more of them when we go back out on a longer tour. We wanted to get Gilded Age out this summer even though we aren’t doing a big tour because we are already in the process of working on another album for 2015.”
W: Speaking of touring, the band has been consistently rising in touring ranks over the last 14 years, and some of that is due to our area where eventually the turnout became so big that you guys literally outgrew the room. What do you think it is about this area that made Lotus catch on so quickly?
JM: “The fans in that area really responded when Lotus first played at Murray’s; I think that was 2003. We were all living in Philadelphia at the time so it wasn’t too far to Scranton and Wilkes-Barre. We would come up and play often, sometimes up to four times a year. Between all those shows and regional festivals we were able to build up a solid crowd over time.”
W: How was the experience at Peach Fest last year? They put you on at the perfect time (midnight on the water park stage) and the place was just packed all the way up the ski slope. The next day, all anyone was talking about was your set.
JM: “It was a really fun set. We play a lot of festivals that are very DJ oriented and we are one of a handful of actual bands. With Peach festival it was interesting to be one of the few groups using synthesizers and samplers in additional to rock instruments. It felt like we played to a lot of people who weren’t super familiar with Lotus, but were very ready to dance late into the night. I think we made a lot of new fans that night.”
W: For everyone coming out to Peach Fest this year, how would you describe what Lotus has in store for them?
JM: “We like to keep the energy high for festival sets. I don’t think this year will be any exception. Hopefully we can get everyone moving while playing moving music.”
With all the national acts that will be part of the Peach Festival, there are also numerous local bands who deservingly got the invite to “play with the big boys.” Local favorites like George Wesley, MiZ, and Tom Graham will all have the opportunity to pick up new fans, and for some, it will mark the first time they will play our area’s largest venue.
For the Scranton-based bluegrass band, Cabinet, the Peach Festival has become a yearly tradition for the boys - Pappy Biondo, J.P. Biondo, Mickey Coviello, Dylan Skursky and Jami Novak. This year marks its third straight appearance at the festival, and since the first inception of Peach Fest, the boys have returned to The Pavilion at Montage Mountain to host two festivals of their own - The Old Farmer’s Ball in 2013, and this years’ Susquehanna Breakdown.
Weekender had the chance to talk with the band’s banjo player/co-singer/co-writer Pappy Biondo to talk about everything from the exposure gained from Peach Fest, to something that many Cabinet fans have been waiting for - a new album - and of course, about this years’ installment of the festival where the band will be playing a late night set on Thursday, Aug. 14 and an early afternoon set on Friday, Aug. 15.
W: This is the third year for the Peach Festival and your third time playing the festival. How was the experience playing the pavilion for Peach and your own festival?
PB: “The first year was real exciting. We got to play for a lot of people, and the second year, even more people. I think this year will be more. I think we gained a lot of fans between that festival and the Susquehanna Breakdown being in the same spot. We’re kind of looked at as the local boys of that scene, so it’s been pretty good.”
W: With the exposure of the Peach Festival and other festivals you guys have played, have there been any new friendships made with other bands?
PB: “Making friends in the music scene isn’t quite as easy as it seems. Acquaintances for sure. I think our name is starting to mingle with the fans of the festival and parking lot scene and fans of those bigger name bands. As far as “friendships,” I don’t think necessarily friends. I think the closest I’ve come is the guys from Railroad Earth. We’ve worked with those guys a lot and they kind of watched us grow. It seems the more we cross path with those guys, the more we become friends. Let’s say if I met Derek Trucks or Gregg Allman, it wouldn’t be like ‘hey man’ or anything like that…yet (laughing). It doesn’t happen that quick, you know? Those higher up bands meet so many people every day that we’re just like another band to them. If somebody really likes our music and comes up to us to say ‘hi,’ then a friendship might happen, but we’re not trying to go tug on anybody’s shirt or anything.”
W: Any memories stick out of other artists approaching you guys after your set to talk about the band?
PB: “Not that I can recall. We’re more focused on just getting out there and playing than finding out what the buzz is or whatever. Other people have their ear out for what the buzz is, but we tend to really just focus on the music and do what’s best for us as a band.”
W: You and J.P. have been working on new material. Is that a sign of a new album coming out?
PB: “I’m actually just listening to the rough tracks here, and it’s pretty close to being done. I actually have to go back into the studio before our set at Peach on Friday and finish up some of my stuff. We’re pretty excited about it; it’s going to be a big treat for our fans. JP’s got some new songs on there and I got a few; it’s going to be a lot of songs no one has heard before, so it’s pretty cool.”
W: Any kind of time frame that we can expect the new album?
PB: “I would say early next year. I think we’re going to hold off on the Winter because we got some other things planned. The earliest would be Winter time, but the latest would be early next year.”
W: You guys seem to play fewer shows in our area due to promoting the band in other markets. Do things like the Peach Festival give you guys the chance to reconnect with your local fans?
PB: “We’re looking at Peach as just that: getting back to our hometown fans. Most of the people who are used to seeing us in the area will hopefully be at Peach for those two days, if not the whole weekend.”
W: What would you say to those people who are coming to see you guys at the Peach Festival?
PB: “It’s an exciting time for us, coming off of a touring Summer. I think people should just expect a good high-energy set from us. Positive energy and high energy; get up and dance and have some fun because that’s what it’s all about. We’re up there having fun, and hopefully the people out there in the crowd are having fun too.”