For nearly a year and a half amidst the COVID pandemic, artists were forced off the road as venues across the country shuttered in 2020 during the early days of quarantine.
Following an uptick in vaccinations, live music began to return this summer, allowing artists to earn a living in an era where it’s otherwise become difficult to monetize music.
As COVID cases surge again following the arrival of the Delta variant, outdoor performance continues to offer concertgoers a little bit safer way to enjoy live music.
Following a successful run earlier this month showcasing Emmylou Harris, Los Lobos, Patti Smith and Ben Harper, the “Out of Space” concert series returns to the Temperance Beer Co. in Evanston in September, featuring scheduled outdoor performances by Big Boi and Twista on Thursday, September 2, 2021, Drive-By Truckers and JD McPherson Friday, September 3, Neko Case and Son Little on Saturday, September 4 and George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic with Liquid Soul on Sunday, September 5.
Following the release of the album The New OK this past December, the Drive-By Truckers turned a once unthinkable 25 in June.
For singer, songwriter and guitarist Patterson Hood, performing again live on stage has been cathartic.
“It’s not just my job, it’s my hobby too,” he said. “I don’t have a hobby. I don’t play golf. I’m not into sports. I really don’t have a hobby. Playing is my job and my hobby. And it’s so much of a passion for me that not having that outlet, I was really kind of disturbed at what a bastard it made me,” said Hood with a chuckle.
“That part’s great. I’m loving playing again for sure. But I’m very nervous about all that’s going on right now with the numbers and the Delta variant stuff and just hoping for the best,” he continued. “Obviously, we’re hoping everybody gets vaccinated and does the right thing, you know? Because it’s precarious. Every day I see more shows cancelling and I’m thinking, ‘Well… will there be a tour?’ I hope so. I certainly hope so. We’re ready to go.”
In recent days, Hood’s former Drive-By Truckers bandmate Jason Isbell has become a polarizing headline fixture as an advocate for vaccination. In 2020, one of the first Chicago concerts postponed was a March Drive-By Truckers show at Metro. Staring down the possibility of another uncertain winter, Hood was equally direct.
“Please get vaccinated. Please. That’s the only way we’re going to get out of this. I hate wearing a mask too. But wear a f—ing mask. Just do it,” he said. “I thought we were on the other side – and we’re so not. Some parts of the country are in worse shape than they were a year and a half ago or a year and a quarter ago. It’s like, ‘We’ve got to get past this.’ And it’s the only way.”
I spoke with Patterson Hood about returning to the Chicagoland area as part of the “Out of Space” concert series on September 3, entering the studio with Drive-By Truckers after nearly a year and a half apart and fond memories in Chicago since performing at the Empty Bottle in 1997. A transcript of our phone conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity, follows below.
Well, what’s it been like being back on stage in front of actual people after the last 17 months?
PATTERSON HOOD: That part’s great. I’m loving playing again for sure. But I’m very nervous about all that’s going on right now with the numbers and the Delta variant stuff and just hoping for the best.
But, obviously, we’re hoping everybody gets vaccinated and does the right thing, you know? Because it’s precarious. Every day I see more shows cancelling and I’m thinking, “Well… will there be a tour?” I hope so. I certainly hope so. We’re ready to go.
The Truckers have played two shows – both of which were kind of short, festival sets. Then we had a full show we were supposed to play in Salt Lake City that got rained out. They got four inches of rain in two hours starting about one hour before showtime. The crowd was there, it was a sold out show. Everyone had pretty much got there – and then it was just a deluge. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.
So we’re still kind of in a holding pattern waiting to like start rocking again.
Obviously, you’re no stranger to Chicago. You’ll be here for the “Out of Space” outdoor show on September 3 in Evanston and back again at The Vic in October. Was Chicago a pretty good market for you guys pretty quickly?
PH: It was great, yeah. Pretty early on, when we first started really touring and getting out, one of the first places we played outside Georgia was the Empty Bottle. We played there in I think ‘97. So we started hitting Chicago pretty early. And we’ve always done well there. We moved from there to The Abbey. We’ve had a really good history there.
I always say Chicago is underrated as a music city. What has struck you about Chicago over the years, whether it’s the music, the people, the cuisine or anything else?
PH: It’s one of the great cities of the world. Truly. And it is a great music town. It’s funny, because Chicago kind of doesn’t get thought of as quickly as a music town as it probably deserves to be. But there’s such a huge, huge heritage of music that has come out of there through the years and continues to.
And just art in general. The Art Institute, the art history and the architecture. It’s a beautiful city. And a great food city.
Chicago is just kind of magnificent on really about every level.
Have you ever checked out the Chess Records building here?
PH: Man, I still haven’t! And I really want to.
It’s great to see the outside of the building and ponder the history. But most of what was inside is gone. I wish they’d kind of do with it what Memphis did with Sun…
PH: They just did that in Muscle Shoals with my dad’s old studio. They’ve rebuilt it period exact to like 1971 or 1972 to its heyday. It’s not the original board – but it’s a period correct board that actually kind of has its own history. Because it was Chet Atkins’ board from his studio at RCA. But it’s really cool. They do tours during the day and then you can use it as a working studio. I actually got to record there last year which was really a treat.
I say “last year…” I’ve lost a year of my life. So if I say “last year,” that actually means two years ago. Because last year, just nothing happened. (Laughs)
Any fond memories stick out for you in Chicago either on stage or off?
PH: We did a Halloween show at the Vic in 2013. We went as the Stones. I was the absolute world’s worst Mick Jagger. It was just embarrassingly bad. But we had a great show. And Cooley made a killer Keith Richards. We had a really fun show and Sugar Blue joined us [on harmonica]. I had met him at a Stones tribute ironically, or maybe not ironically enough, a couple of months earlier that I had done for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. I met him and we hit it off so I invited him to the show.
He came out and we played “Miss You.” One of my favorite memories of all time is playing “Miss You” with that guy. I mean good god. It was amazing. And we’ve actually never covered the song again – because it would just be such a let down to do it without him. Hopefully, at some point, we can get him to come out to another show and do it again. Because he was a cool guy anyway. And he just played the living sh-t out of it.
When I saw you in June at City Winery, you had mentioned that the band was going to enter the studio prior to the first tour date. Did that wind up happening?
PH: It did! We basically got a record in the can. We’ve got some work to do on it – a little overdubbing and fixes to do here or there and we’ve got to mix it. But we’ve basically got a record in the can. And I’m excited about it.
It was super fast. In the past, we’ve generally at least had the songs worked up before going into the studio. But we hadn’t seen each other in a year and a half. So we literally all went in and would work up a song and then cut it in one or two, three at the most, takes. And then do another one. And just kind of knocked out a record.
I’m really happy with what we got.
After doing the last album kind of piecemeal, not together in the same room because of the pandemic, what impact did being together with your bandmates have on the recording process this time around?
PH: I think it just made us all appreciate it even more, you know? We’ve generally tended to record live more often than not. Our records were pretty much us live in the room anyway with us just interacting and playing off each other and all of that – other than what we did for The New OK because we weren’t able to.
But, yeah, I think all of the pent up energy from us having not gotten to do it for so long probably benefited the record. Because we were all really glad to hear each other – as well as to see and hang out with each other. And I think that comes across. I think that really affects the spirit of it. It’s kind of a dark record song and lyric wise but the performances almost have kind of a joyessness about them that I’m really happy about that kind of elevates the whole thing I think.
I remember you performing “We Will Never Wake You Up In the Morning,” a song about loss, during that June solo set. That’s such a personal song. What kind of tone did the rest of the new material start taking?
PH: It morphed a lot with what the band did with it – probably more than normal.
I learned long ago that when I turn a song loose on the band, or turn the band loose on a song, whichever that would be – probably a little of both – I learned early on to step back and let it happen and not try to control it. I’m surrounded by guys who know what to do. They’re going to come up with better ideas than I have anyway. If I’ve got some specific idea, I’ll throw it in there to see where it lands but beyond that, I kind of thrive on the lack of control that happens. Because, up to that point, when I’m writing a song, it’s all mine. And so the act of turning it loose and seeing what happens with it is always rewarding to me.
But, this time, it seemed to morph. Each song seemed to kind of take on additional life even more than I’ve seen before. And I guess it’s just maybe because of the last year or whatever? I don’t know. But they definitely took them in some really cool directions.
And that song is one of the ones that we cut. And I’m really, really happy with what we ended up with from it.
Well, you guys have finally been able to get back on the road here after a long lay off and play live again – but we’re also starting to stare down what seems like it could be another pretty uncertain winter. How important has touring become for artists today at a time where it’s otherwise gotten so difficult to monetize music?
PH: It’s such a part of my life. It’s my job. And so obviously I need to be out touring so I can make a living and support my family. But my family would be quick to tell you that there’s more to it than that. Because I wasn’t really that fun to be around a whole lot of last year.
It’s not just my job, it’s my hobby too. I don’t have a hobby. I don’t play golf. I’m not into sports. I really don’t have a hobby. Playing is my job and my hobby. And it’s so much of a passion for me that not having that outlet, I was really kind of disturbed at what a bastard it made me.
And I’m working on that. Because I don’t want it to be that way. I mean, I love my family. I don’t want it to be “Dad’s an a–hole!” I really don’t want that!
Friday, September 3, 2021
Temperance Beer Co.
2000 Dempster Street
Evanston, IL 60202
Gates open at 5PM
Show starts at 7PM
Also performing: JD McPherson
To purchase tickets, click HERE