The Hot Club of Cowtown has been lauded by some as the “crossroads where country meets jazz and chases the blues away”—but to the band’s lead singer and fiddler, Elana James, their music has little to do with labels.
“Distinctions are just purely commercial because people need a way to identify and market your music. I think in many ways our band is a kind of guilty pleasure for us. When you have a guitar, bass and a fiddle there is almost nothing that that combination can’t do,” explained James.
Now in their 21st year of bandhood, the Hot Club of Cowtown is putting James’ theory to the test by teaming up with LA-based Americana swingers Dustbowl Revival for a special 50th anniversary celebration of a mutual musical influence—The Band.
Canadian-American roots rockers The Band were predominantly active in the 60s and 70s. Under the wing of Bob Dylan, they skyrocketed to popularity with their iconic song ‘The Weight’ which has since been ranked 41st on the Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. The Band toured with the likes of the Grateful Dead and Crosby, Stills and Nash before calling it quits in the late 90s. In 1994, The Band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and in 2008 received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Although The Band’s monumental success is reason enough to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their first album, James’ personal connection to their music was the impetus for a collaborative tribute tour and EP.
“I used to be in Bob Dylan’s band and toured around with him. When I was playing with him, I got to get closer to some of the songs that he wrote for The Band. We even have a few of the songs in our current set list but for our tried-and-true Hot Club of Cowtown fans this is going to be a different show than they might be used to because it something other than what we’re really known for which is exciting,” said James.
While the music may be different than the Hot Club of Cowtown’s typical repertoire, James was adamant that they choose songs they could do justice to.
“We did try to pick songs that were stylistically approachable as a trio and songs that I felt like I could sing reasonably well and understand what I was doing instead of aping my way through a masterpiece,” joked James.
Of course, with a pair of Ameripolitan Music Awards to her name, it’s doubtful that there is anything James can’t pull off.
The same is true of James’ touring compatriot, Zach Lupetin. As the lead singer and founding member of Dustbowl Revival, Lupetin has been playing covers of The Band for over 10 years.
“They really were an early inspiration for us, and we’ve been playing their music for years so you could say its just a part of our lives at this point,” said Lupetin.
Covering The Band may be old hat for Lupetin but playing their music alongside the musicians who inspired him to begin performing is something that doesn’t get old.
“I’ve been a fan of the Hot Club of Cowtown since college and they were actually one of the bands that inspired me to want to play. It’s still surreal when I think about the first time, I got to play with them,” explained Lupetin. “We’ve actually only played this particular set list once at about a year ago, so this week is kind of the real start to the tour.”
Right now, the tribute tour, which began in Vancouver, Canada on Wednesday, has 16 scheduled stops but more may be added later. But it won’t be commercial success that dictates the tour’s length.
“You definitely don’t have people thinking that vintage Western Swing is going to be a fat money maker and the accompanying attitude tends to marginalize it and make it seem like some fusty irrelevant genre when in reality, the music is filled with an incredible amount of joy and power,” said James. “We gave up on the traditional sense of commercial music years ago. All I know is that we play this music because we love it and I don’t think there’s any other band out there quite like us which is something I’m really proud of.”