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Festival preview: Tedeschi Trucks Band ready for its SweetWater 420 Fest closeup


BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene

The Tedeschi Trucks Band is renowned for its commitment to meaty, visceral concerts.

Last summer, the 12-piece musical crew led by Susan Tedeschi and her husband, Derek Trucks, rolled into the Fox Theatre for a memorable night on its annual “Wheels of Soul” tour. It was also Trucks and Tedeschi’s return to Atlanta since performing at Col. Bruce Hampton’s fateful birthday concert in May 2017, which, naturally, triggered much emotion.

They’ll be back on the road with “Wheels of Soul” in June, but TTB’s immediate future is centered on a spate of headlining dates and, this weekend, its inaugural appearance at the SweetWater 420 Fest (on Saturday, for an extended set).

In between, the ever-busy outfit is working on a new studio album — its first since 2016’s “Let Me Get By” — in its home base of Jacksonville, Fla.

Last week, the always-gracious Trucks checked in from TTB’s first tour stop in Fort Myers, Fla., to discuss their 2017 Fox show, the challenge of playing festivals and what fans can expect from the new record.

Q: This is your first time playing the SweetWater fest, but do you know much about it?

A: I have a lot of friends and family who have gone up to it to check out other bands. There’s something about playing an outdoor show in Atlanta that feels like home. Doing Music Midtown in the ‘90s was always a blast, and then with the Allman history and Piedmont Park, it just always feels right in Atlanta.

Q: You guys do a lot of festivals. How does that environment compare to doing your own show?

A: It’s a different beast. You’re getting up in front of audiences who, a good portion, have never seen the band and are coming in completely cold. You have to think about that a little. This band has gotten better at doing what we do, and it generally connects. When you’re doing theaters and multiple sets, the arc of the show is a little different. At some of these fests, they expect the audience will be a little more educated about the bands, so then it’s just fun. Any time you’re playing outdoors, you just adjust because the sound is so different. I think we’ve learned how to make it feel intimate, even outside. If you can lock into that, it can be pretty magical.

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Q: Last summer, you played the Fox Theatre for the first time since you were on that stage when Col. Bruce (Hampton) died in May. What do you remember from that show?

A: It was a heavy day. (Keyboardist) Kofi (Burbridge) had just gone through some health issues, and it was the first time the band had gone to see him and the first time since the Colonel shows. It ended up being cathartic for the whole band. I think it was the best show we played all year, at least how it felt afterward. There was some apprehension about it, and it ended up being a beautiful experience, and you could feel that the crowd was aware of what was in the air. It was better than I had hoped for. Looking back at the end of the year, that one stood out for being significant in lots of different ways; there were a lot of spirits in the room.

Q: So Kofi is doing well?

A: Kofi is full force. It reminds me of "Lord of the Rings" when Gandalf goes down and comes back as the white wizard - he’s got a few extra layers of magic! His musicianship has always been amazing, but listening back to the studio (recordings) the last few days, he crossed over there for a minute!

Q: With so many other band members who live in the Atlanta area (Burbridge, singer Mike Mattison, drummer Tyler "Falcon" Greenwell and saxophonist Kebbie Williams), are the shows here sort of like coming home? 

A: Always. And in fact, the day after we do this fest, Kebbie has his Music in the Park (event) , a nonprofit he does every year for people in his neighborhood to get real instruments and music to people and take over the neighborhood in the West End. It ends with about 80 musicians walking through the streets playing music. This will be the first time the whole band is around, so we’ll park the buses and bum rush it.

Q: Have you thought about yet if you’re going to do anything to commemorate the anniversary of Gregg’s (Allman) death next month (May 27)?

A: I don’t think as a band we’ve talked about it, but you always think about that stuff when it comes around. You either just internalize it or play a few tunes, but it’s always kind of on your mind. Sometimes we do a thing that’s subtle and other times it’s an obvious tribute. If we put an Allman Brothers tune on the set list and we’re not feeling the spirit, we’ll skip it. The same with (any tributes to) the Colonel. I think it’s important to make sure it never gets watered down. We write a set list every night, and that can happen with any tune, but especially those tunes because it has to be authentic.

Q: Your 2018 “Wheels of Soul” summer tour will feature Drive-By Truckers and the Marcus King Band. What can you tell us about the tour?

A: This is the fourth year and it’s been so much fun. Being able to travel for a month or two with other bands that you enjoy being on the road with and hearing every night, it’s a treat. Some of my favorite memories the last few years have been the interaction on stage. It’s been a healthy thing and it makes you realize how fortunate you are that you do what you do and get to share that with other groups who do what you do. This one will be fun. I don’t know the guys from Drive-By Truckers that well — we did some shows with them with the Allmans early on — but I know their lineage and their story. I’ve definitely enjoyed their last few records.

Q: What’s the latest on the new studio album?

A: We’re still recording (at home in Jacksonville). We’ve done about 14-15 tunes, and a lot of ideas are still floating around. The idea is to record as much stuff as we feel strongly about and see what ages well. We’re gonna work right up through the summer tour and probably release it early in the fall. Until it’s done, we’re not gonna put a deadline on it.

This will be the first record with this band that we recorded all to 2-inch tape with classic microphones, an old console … it’s a different pace. You can record so quickly with Pro Tools, but there’s something nice about having to rehearse your parts and it’s like a performance. I’ve been enjoying that part of the process; the sound is so warm and inviting. It’s been a long few years between the last studio record, and a lot of life has unfolded. A lot of the tunes are reflected that way. As long as you’re making honest music, people know that.

FESTIVAL PREVIEW

SweetWater 420 Fest

With the String Cheese Incident, Umphrey’s McGee, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Sturgill Simpson, Vulfpeck, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Greensky Bluegrass, SOSA and more. Friday-Sunday. $138 (three-day general admission); $392 (three-day VIP); $66 (single-day general admission); $170 (single-day VIP). Centennial Olympic Park, 265 Park Ave. W. NW, Atlanta. www.sweetwater420fest.com.

 

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About the Author

Atlanta Journal-Constitution staff writer Melissa Ruggieri covers the Atlanta Music Scene and entertainment news for print and online.