Ashville-based SFTRB making a pre-IBMA trip north for 3 shows
By Chris A. Courogen
When Charles Humphrey III decided to make Songs From the Road Band a full-time, touring gig, he knew it meant starting over almost from scratch. Sure, he brought the band some name recognition thanks to his time with Steep Canyon Rangers. And the rest of the band’s roster was made up of stellar pickers like mandolinist Mark Schimick, flat-picker Sam Wharton, and fiddler James Schlender.
It’s an all-star cast. Schlender is a two-time national fiddle champion. Wharton earned his chops in the Telluride bluegrass community before moving to North Carolina and becoming a part of the burgeoning Ashville scene. Schimick has played with the likes of Larry Keel, Vassar Clements, and Tony Rice. Still, when the band went from being an Ashville based side project with a rotating cast that picked together when they were in town between gigs with their other bands to being a touring outfit, there was a need to build a name for itself.
The name recognition of some of the band’s members probably helped some. Certainly the band has had no trouble finding gigs. They are on the road almost constantly. But now, as they enter their second year as a touring band, SFTRB is looking for a higher profile and Humphrey has a sense everything is starting to come together.
“The show is as good as it has ever been,” Humphrey says. The band just released its fifth album, “Waiting On A Ride,” an 11-song collection of mostly Humphrey-written, or co-written, songs.
Hear the “Any Highway” from Songs From The Road Band’s new LP “Waiting on a Ride”
Folks in Eastern Pennsylvania and Northern Virginia can hear the new stuff live this weekend as Songs From the Road Band ventures north for a three-day run that includes stops in Philadelphia (Thursday), Jim Thorpe, Pa. (Friday), and Warrenton, Va. (Saturday).
Expect to also hear a few songs off of the band’s previous albums and a mix of some well curated covers, which Humphrey says help make the band more accessible to new fans. “A listener who has never heard the band, perhaps they will hear songs they like and that will give them something to judge the band by or to connect with,” he explains.
This weekend’s jaunt that will cover more than 1,300 miles. Close to one full day of the weekend will be spent in the van traveling between shows. They’ve kept up that sort of schedule since they first hit the road in March of last year.
“That’s an average weekend. It’s a lot of miles,” says Humphrey. It’s the kind of miles you put in when you are trying to build the profile of a new band.
“We’ve been touring for about 18 months now. We’re just getting started on our second year, which is big for any band, People start knowing who you are,” Humphrey says. “People book music so far in advance, it is hard to get the bookings you want in your first year.”
Not that they have not gotten some pretty nice bookings in their first 18 months. Songs From The Road Band has played a number of higher profile festivals such as Grey Fox, FloydFest, Gettysburg, and Red Wing Roots. They will be at Watermelon Park next week. But aside from headlining a few smaller festivals, most of those shows have been early slots, or on side stages.
Humphrey is confident that is about to change. Now a known entity, Songs From The Road Band will be getting tremendous exposure the end of the month in Raleigh when they take part of the International Bluegrass Music Association’s annual World of Bluegrass gathering. The band is set to play a number of showcases as part of the event’s “Bluegrass Ramble” series.
“World of Bluegrass will put us in front of talent buyers and promoters,” says Humphrey. “I think we will see some nice opportunities in 2020.”
While this will be Songs From The Road Band’s first visit to Jim Thorpe’s “Mauch Chunk Opera House,” it is not the band’s first visit to Pennsylvania. They’ve played a number of festivals in the Keystone State the past two summers and have begun building a fan base here.
“We’re looking forward to getting up to the northeast, to some of the markets we’re just starting to break into,” Humphrey says. “If you are on the edge about coming to the show, take that leap of faith and come on out. We’re a people’s band. Now is the time to get in on the ground floor.”