Musicians not prone to wade into politics are showing their hand more often in the current political climate.
When the Austin, Texas-based Band of Heathens (BOH) plays Six Strings Club in downtown Bloomington on Saturday, June 30, it’s not out of the question they’ll cover "Alabama," Neil Young’s blistering indictment of southern racism and segregation. BOH vocalist and guitarist Gordy Quist said the band has been playing the song to a mostly positive response since last year.
“It’s good. It’s Neil Young, it’s a great song and it’s just amazing that some of the issues he was writing about back then are still around,” said Quist of the song released in 1973 on Young’s album “Harvest.”
Band of Heathens took more heat when they performed Alabama on XM/Sirius radio last year and dedicated it to Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
“We have received pushback when we play it in concert too,” said Quist. “We’ve had people walk out and some not appreciate it. But there are some things I would think should be universal … whether it be racism, sexism or sexual assault. There are some bigger issues going on right now that are not being called out. If someone has a problem with me calling that out, I don’t really care.”
Quist said BOH has never shied away from writing about humanity that generally has not included politics, but feels a line has been crossed in the past couple years. He said the issue isn’t between Republicans and Democrats.
“Ultimately, I love that music brings people together,” said Quist. “We are trying to find common ground with people because I feel forward progress is made over something you enjoy.”
Politics is always a balancing act for musicians and bands that need to appeal to a broad audience. It can be especially tricky for an Americana band with tentacles in country music to comment on race and other social issues. Leaning on his Texas roots, Quist said it isn’t uncomfortable for him to raise these issues because he thinks there is more common ground among Americans than gets talked about.
“I think the biggest problem right now is that we can’t have a dialogue about these things. We can’t be next to somebody who thinks the opposite of us on some issue without it turning into this ridiculous situation where we can’t even have a civil conversation,” said Quist.
Quist and bandmate Ed Jurdi are founding members now celebrating a dozen years and five studio albums (eight overall) with Band of Heathens. Post-2011 additions of keyboardist Trevor Nealon, drummer Richard Millsap, and bassist Scott Davis round out the current lineup. With Austin as a home base, members have crossed paths with a virtual who’s who of country, Americana and other roots musicians. For example, Ray Wylie Hubbard produced an early album for BOH, and Quist remembered a moment when he interviewed New Grass legend Sam Bush.
“And I’ll never forget Guy Clark is one of my favorite songwriter,” said Quist.
He remembers a time he opened as a solo act for the late country/folk legend.
“I ended up getting his phone number and that turned into being in Nashville at the same time where he invited me over to his house and spent an afternoon with him,” recalled Quist. “I don’t know why he invited me in, I had no business being at this house.”
He was particularly struck by Clark’s generosity and kindness and said he carries that with him today.
“Man if Guy Clark can be so kind to me and invite me into his house, it just puts things into perspective. Sometimes at the end of the show it’s been a long night and there might be people that want to meet us. I just try to keep a generous heart about that because I’ve had so many people be good to me,” said Quist.
Band of Heathens with special guests Miles Nielsen & The Rusted Hearts play Six Strings Club in downtown Bloomington on June 30.
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