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Tickets to The Bluestone
September 28, 2022 7 PM
at The Bluestone
“Country music was the voice of the people. It wasn’t always the prettiest voice, but it was an honest voice,” says American Aquarium founder and frontman BJ Barham. “I think that’s where country music has lost its way.” He pauses, then adds, North Carolina accent thick and voice steady: “I operate in the dark shadows of what we don’t want to talk about in the South.”
These days, those shadows are tall and wide, making it hard to recognize a neighbor, family––even yourself. On American Aquarium’s new album Lamentations, Barham shines light on dark American corners with heartbreaking conversations, long looks in the mirror, and empathetic questions, all through songwriting that is clear without sacrificing its poetry, and direct without losing its humanity. “As a songwriter, my number one job is to observe and then translate what I observe into a song, a story, a lesson,” Barham says. “I’d be doing myself and the listener a huge disservice if I didn’t talk about the things I see, which is a country, divided.”
As much as Barham appreciates an indignant protest song or one-sided anthem, he isn’t writing them. Instead, on Lamentations he’s making the political personal, reaching out to humanize folks with opposing viewpoints, and offering dignity instead of demonizing. The result is the strongest writing of Barham’s already stout career. “I’m still very much standing up for what I believe in––I don’t think anyone can question what side of the aisle I stand on,” he says. “But hopefully people listen and at least try to understand why their Sunday School teacher wears a Trump hat.”
Barham has built a fiercely devoted fanbase hundreds of thousands strong, fortified with 15 years of sold-out American Aquarium shows across the country and Europe. The band’s 2018 release Things Change strode confidently into that distinct territory where rock-and-roll and politics meet, prompting Rolling Stone to announce Barham “earns every bit of his Southern Springsteen cred.” In 2019, the American Aquarium lineup also shifted again: Shane Boeker remains on guitar, and bassist Alden Hedges, keys player Rhett Huffman, pedal steel ace Neil Jones, and drummer Ryan Van Fleet joined the group.
A beloved live band known for consistently playing at least 200-250 dates a year, American Aquarium chose to be more selective in 2019, winnowing the schedule to 92 shows. For Barham, sober for six years now, is a dad to a toddler and still happily married, the adjustment was a must. “We’re learning how to balance being in our mid-30s and being rock-and-rollers,” he says. “Being home was the most rewarding experience. It allowed me to be creative and write about things that really matter.”
Lamentations reflects that elevated focus. Barham, who is no longer religious but was raised Southern Baptist, wrote down the word “lamentations” in 2018, and knew it’d be his next album title before he’d written a single song for the record. He felt an anchoring connection to the word itself––defined as “the passionate expression of grief or sorrow”––but also to the Old Testament book in the Bible. “Lamentations is one of the few books in the Bible where there’s this doubt of God––this guy, crying out to the heavens, like, Why? If you love us so much, why did you let Jerusalem fall to Babylon?” Barham says. “I saw a direct correlation between that and a Southern man today who voted for Trump. I wanted to write about a broken America and all the things that lead a human being to doubting something. Every song on this record touches on something a little different.”
Album opener “Me and Mine (Lamentations)” is brooding and stormy, plaintive acoustic guitar undergirding Barham’s weathered vocals. Searching, frustrated, and sad, the song was written from the perspective of a conservative Southern voter who feels unseen, unheard, and short on hope. The broader message is immersive and immediate: Settle in and listen closely. Times are hard, and this record is going to talk about it. Barham, who doesn’t agree with the song’s protagonist politically, imbues him with respect and sympathetic fatigue. “There are so many people who come out nowadays and say, If you voted this way, you’re a racist. You’re a misogynist. You’re a nationalist,” he says. “But that was my teacher, my librarian, my uncle. I know they aren’t bigots. So instead of saying, You’re a bad person because you did this, I want to know why you did this. I want to talk to you about this.”
Upbeat guitar rocker “Dogwood” follows, with a tragic story wrapped up in singalong lines. Barham points to the song and “Luckier You Get,” with its Springsteen vibes and an ear-worm chorus, as two of the album’s more lighthearted moments. “Bright Leaf” is another musical moment ready for a crowd, offering a clear-eyed look at the tobacco farms and industry of Barham’s home through sharp lyrics that thousands will shout-sing right back at him.
Featuring wry pedal steel and a shuffling back beat, “Better South” is an alternative anthem, written and sung by a native Southerner who believes in change. Line after line, “Starts with You” shows off Barham’s self-deprecating wit: “They say you’re only as sick as your secrets / If that’s the truth then, friend, I’m dying / Spent a lifetime salvaging shipwrecks, / Falling so long I thought I was flying.”
Throughout the record, the only victim of Barham’s harsh tongue is himself. Heartbreaking “How Wicked I Was” pleads for narrative omissions when it comes to explaining the past to his little girl. Album highlight “Learned to Lie” cuts just as deep: Barham delivers a gut-wrenching confession over lonely piano. Raw and intimate, its look at how we hurt the ones we love evokes the unblinking candor of 60s and 70s Loretta Lynn––that extreme honesty Barham first valued in country music, and now misses. “That was one of the first songs I played for the boys in the band, and they were like, ‘Are you sure you want to record that?’” Barham says. “It’s a hard song to talk about. It’s a heavy song. For better or worse, I’m going to be real with you live. I’m probably going to make you uncomfortable. And that I think that’s a beautiful part of rock-and-roll.”
“Six Years Come September” is another heartbreaker, masquerading at first as a familiar story before a sobering plot twist. “As a songwriter, that’s the best feeling in the world––ruining someone with lyrics and a well-executed story,” Barham says. He points to album closer “Long Haul” as a frontrunner for his own favorite track. Perhaps the closest the record comes to jubilation, “Long Haul” rolls through three steadfast commitments Barham holds true and dear.
Ultimately, Lamentations is a thrilling portrait of an artist and his band reaching new levels of skill, consciousness, and potential after 20 years in the trenches. Unruly and sincere, Barham emerges as an important American voice––and an unlikely peacemaker. “I’ve had to work really hard to carry water as a songwriter,” he says. “It feels really good to be in my mid-30s, writing songs that I think matter. I think when you listen to this record, something is going to change in you. You’re going to feel something. That’s the most important part of songwriting: making someone feel.
The Cadillac Three
Hillbilly Hypnotize Tour
w/ Ben Chapman
September 30, 2022 7 PM
at The Bluestone
Spending their formative years playing music together in basements and garages laid the foundation for THE CADILLAC THREE to put their own spin on each new record. They open a time capsule of their musical history together and expand on some of the grooves from COUNTRY FUZZ release with a new offering titled TABASCO & SWEET TEA via Big Machine Records. Dropping the sonic swirl with little warning, the new album is a welcome interruption to the mundane and stress felt around the globe.
“As we finished the last record, we knew we were only tapping the surface with songs like ‘The Jam’ for where we could go next musically and found ourselves inspired to dive into these sounds that we had never explored before as a band,” explains drummer Neil Mason. “We’ve always had a lot of influences, but ultimately found ourselves thinking about what we were listening to in high school — The Meters, Stevie Wonder, Medeski Martin & Wood and John Scofield.”
Lead singer and guitarist Jaren Johnston continues, “this album is a science project … constantly moving in different directions but keeping one cohesive feel throughout. We kind of have this innate thing going after all these years so it’s cool to kind of stretch into some new musical spaces with elements of a DJ set that flows from track to track, but mixed with 80’s Funk vibes and jam-band flow over hardcore Country lyrics.”
TABASCO & SWEET TEA explores hybrid sounds throughout the 11 modern-meets-nostalgia tracks. Connecting with their fans and creating no matter the obstacles, TC3 launched this new project at $3.99 for the first week so it is more accessible during a time when many are not spending as much on music, but need it now more than ever.
“We wouldn’t be where we are without our fans,” shares bassist Kelby Ray. “We lost the ability to tour and know many of our fans have also lost their ability to work consistently this year so we wanted to find a way to provide this album as cost effectively as we could. Our hope is that everyone who wants TABASCO & SWEET TEA can get it without breaking the bank.”
Jaren’s gritty vocals explode over unexpected guitar riffs as Kelby pounds out taut yet voluptuous bass lines mixed Neil’s gnarly, syncopated rhythms. Their boisterous, yet good-natured freewheeling vibe erupts with the title track and caps off the sequence with a calling-card biography, “Sabbath On Cornbread to reinforce the electricity of their live show:
These 3 longhairs born and raised here
Gonna keep on changin’ the game
Sticks and skins, slide and steel
Guitar man 3 hippie hillbillies from Tennessee
Keepin’ it heavy, keepin’ it real
Best damn band in Country, you best believe
You ainʼt never seen nothinʼ like The Cadillac Three
Known across the globe for their unpredictable concerts – equally impressive and amped in a sweaty club or festival main stage – TC3 delivers.
Maybe it’s a sign of the times this project is released now, as playlists reflect listeners finding comfort in old favorites when times are tough. TC3 finds the common ground interweaving traditions of American popular music and proving that new can still feel classic without being derivative yet simultaneously casting a vision for good times ahead.
Black Buffalo Presents
with special guest Megan Moroney
Saturday, October 1st, 2022
Larry Fleet | About
Don’t let Larry Fleet’s humble demeanor fool you: the Chattanooga-based Country singer-songwriter is the real deal, with fans in contemporary heavy-hitters like Jake Owen and living Country legends like Willie Nelson. He’s a thoughtful songwriter with a knack for a one-liner, an ear for a good hook and a powerhouse voice that strikes the perfect balance of soul and twang.
You can hear all this and more on Fleet’s new single “Where I Find God.” Written alongside award-winning songwriter Connie Harrington, “Where I Find God” is a beautifully heartfelt ode to family, fishing and Fleet’s unyielding faith. “Sometimes, whether I’m lookin’ for him or not / That’s where I find God,” Fleet sings, with his soul-drenched twang adding an element of gospel to the track’s stripped-down Country arrangement.
“Where I Find God” has already received an immensely positive response from fans, many of whom have shared their own experiences of faith and finding God. Some fans even count hearing the song itself among their life’s religious experiences, a life-changing phenomenon that gets right at the heart of why Fleet writes songs in the first place.
“I’ve had older people tell me, ‘I found God in 1982,'” Fleet says. “They’re telling their stories. Then other people tell me they fought with addiction. They heard this song and turned their truck around and tried to mend some fences with their family and go to Alcoholics Anonymous. To me, as a songwriter, that’s about as good a compliment that you can get: a song you wrote has changed someone’s life, for the good. I’m so proud of this song.”
Here Come the Mummies
October 23, 2022 6 PM
at The Bluestone
Here Come the Mummies is an eight-piece funk-rock band of 5000 year-old Egyptian Mummies with a one-track mind. Their “Terrifying Funk from Beyond the Grave” is sure to get you into them (and possibly vice versa).
Since their discovery HCTM has been direct support for P-Funk, Al Green, Mavis Staples, KC and the Sunshine Band, and Cheap Trick; rocked Super Bowl Village; become a regular on The Bob and Tom Show; played massive festivals like Summer Camp, Common Ground, Voodoo Fest, Musikfest, Suwannee Hulaween, and Riverbend; and sold tickets by the thousands across large swaths of North America.
Maybe that’s why the ladies (and some dudes) can’t stop losing their minds over these mayhem-inducing mavens of mirth.
Some say they were cursed after deflowering a great Pharaoh’s daughter. Others claim they are reincarnated Grammy-Winning studio musicians. Regardless, HCTM’s mysterious personas, cunning song-craft, and unrelenting live show will bend your brain, and melt your face. Get ready, for Here Come The Mummies.
- HCTM “‘KILLED’ it… Not only did they pack their stage – they were the hit of the night when they jumped on stage with moe. in front of 20,000.” – Jay Goldberg, Summer Camp Music Festival
- “Here Come The Mummies are one bad-ass band, a hybrid of Idris Muhammad, George Clinton, Ohio Players, and Earth, Wind & Fire.” -Blurt Magazine
- “A band unlike any other.” -examiner.com
- “That’s the most fun I’ve had in 20 years.” -Bob Kevoian, The Bob & Tom Show
- “Cock wobbling brilliant.” -Joe Elliott of Def Leppard
Disco Donnie Presents and My Best Friends Party present:
October 29, 2022 9 PM
at The Bluestone
w/ George Birge
November 17, 2022 8 PM
Doors Open 7 PM
at The Bluestone
About Matt Stell:
THE COUNTRY MUSIC INDUSTRY HAS LONG BEEN FILLED WITH ITS SHARE OF CHARACTERS. FROM WILLIE TO HANK AND DOLLY TO WAYLON, EVERY LEGEND STARTS OUT AS JUST ANOTHER ARTIST THAT DOESN’T FIT EASILY INTO SOME PREDETERMINED BOX. AND AS HARD AS COUNTRY MUSIC MAY TRY TO FIT MATT STELL INTO ONE OF THOSE TRIED AND TRUE BOXES, IT’S DARN NEAR IMPOSSIBLE.
Heck, he’s 6’7.
But more so than the massive physique that helped Stell become a collegiate basketball standout, the Platinum certified singer has proven via the songs he sings and the shows he puts on that he is far too powerful of an artist to ever fit into some sort of singular category. In fact, to describe Stell in a few words would be a complete disservice to the man he is and the artist he looks to become as he releases his new EP Better Than That on October 16.
“If you cut a groove too deep, it’s hard to get out of it,” he remarks with a chuckle. “I’ve never wanted to be some one-dimensional artist, and with this new EP, I think I’m determined to show that there is much more to me than just a guy who can sing a love song.”
Indeed, the Arkansas native comes from a long line of self proclaimed badasses. He can spin a romantic verse as easy as he can rock out an anthem. He can overanalyze a word as easily as he can let the melody ride a lyrical wave. And yes, he gets as much enjoyment out of discovering a hook in the writing room as he does hooking a fish.
“When you step out into that river and the salmon are still swimming upstream like they have for thousands of years, it’s a real cathartic, therapeutic thing for me,” he says of a recent fishing trip to Alaska. “It’s a great reset.”
In everything he does, it’s evident that Stell is reflective and adventurous and funny and pretty damn smart. And if he’s being totally honest with himself, he’s never been one to love a love song.
Yep, you heard that right.
Granted, it was in fact a love song that catapulted Stell to country music success in 2019 via his massive hit “Prayed for You,” a life-changer of a song that spent two weeks at the number one spot. As the only debut single to top Billboard’s Country Airplay chart in 2019, and one of NSAI’s “10 Songs We Wish We’d Written,” the hit has gone on to rack up some impressive stats with over 270 million streams, his first RIAA Platinum certification and more than 20 million views of its official music video to date.
But there’s a catch.
“If the only thing you’ve heard is ‘Prayed for You,’ you would have a different idea of who I really am,” Stell explains. “Knowing that you are making music that means something to people is the ultimate compliment, but there is so much more to me.”
A few more of the many facets of Stell are currently on display via his current top 10 and rising single “Everywhere But On,” a song that Stell calls ‘autobiographical’ in the way that it tells the story of a man trying to escape the memories of a long lost love.
“Having two songs on the radio is an incredible thing, but what’s even more incredible is finding your own voice and your own identity,” he says.
Stell showcased a whole bunch of identities in another Better Than That EP standout – “If I Was a Bar.” At a time when some of his fellow artists were perfectly content in simply sitting down with their guitar and playing their songs during the pandemic that Stell lovingly refers to as a ‘damn biological hurricane,’ Stell and his rather relentless work ethic turned out a music video that had him playing thirteen different roles in the span of a 3-plus minute song.
“I threw every stitch of clothing I have ever owned into my truck for that video shoot,” laughs Stell of the somewhat restrictive project. “Sometimes creativity benefits from constraints.”
Yet, there were few constraints on Stell’s songwriting during the creation of the new Better Than That EP, which was co-produced by Stell alongside Ash Bowers. Via songs co-written by Stell such as “I Love You Too,” “Chase It Down” and the title track “Better Than That,” the listener can still hear Stell’s distinctive way of wrapping a lyric around a memory and the twist he can put on a phrase.
“Songwriting is a craft that can get better the more time you put into it,” remarks Stell, as he laments to himself about how much he hates clichés.
But for the first time in his still evolving career, Stell relied on outside writers on three of the eight tracks of the Better Than That EP in an effort to fill in the blanks of the overall project.
One of those cuts is “Sadie,” a melodic brain-buster of a song that offers ‘a sparse lyric but one in which every word means something.’ Another outside cut is “Look At Me Now,” perhaps one of the most earth-shattering love songs in recent memory. Yes, the guy who says love songs aren’t his thing just might make history with yet another love song.
But before Stell looks too far into the future, he finds his soul planted deeply in the present. He is praying for the day he can plug his amp back in and jump on the bus with his band and play these new songs for a live crowd.
This new chapter in his journey leaves Stell with a whole bunch more ammunition in the writing room and a unique vantage point to view the characters in his songs…and the character he might ultimately turn out to be.