Chuck Ragan and The Revival Tour: Giving an age-old idea new life
For the past several years, Hot Water Music singer Chuck Ragan has organized The Revival Tour, an old school concept featuring new school punk singers and songwriters. The current tour features a revolving door of artists that includes The Loved Ones’ Dave House and Streetlight Manifesto’s Toh Kay in addition to singer-songwriters like Jenny Owen Youngs and Rocky Votolato. The tour kicked off earlier this month and Ragan recently phoned in to talk about the concept.
How did the idea for this tour come about?
Well, we did our first tour in 2008 and when I saw we, I mean my wife and I. We had put together something different that we wanted to bring to the table in terms of the scene. What we wanted to do was simply revive an age-old idea. This is an old school kind of way of sharing music in a simple grassroots fashion; you just strip down all the lines and barriers of who should be a headliner and who should be an opener. You get back to basics.
Half the time when you see an opening band it’s somebody you have never seen before and not as many people care or show much support. Then, there’s a break and the next band comes on and then it’s the band that everyone came to see. For those of us who have traveled for a decade or more, it becomes monotonous. We wanted to put together an event where you immediately saw every person you came to see. When you take the stage together from note one, that bonds every person on stage with everyone in the room. That’s what we’re shooting for. That unity and bond is really special. That carries through for the evening. From there, the show rolls for three hours straight with no changeovers and just seamless transitions.
Where does your interest in folk music come from?
I grew up in a conservative, Southern Baptist household. I was born in Texas and moved around my entire life. I went to Georgia and then Tennessee and Louisiana and then done to Sarasota, Florida and up to Gainesville and then out to California. I moved around my whole life. Rock ’n’ roll wasn’t allowed in my house. And definitely not punk rock. We had to sneak that. Growing up on my momma’s side, we’re all Cajun folks. There’s Cajun music and bluegrass and some country and mostly spirit-driven songs. Old gospel hymns and a little bit of old folk music. That’s where the music stood in our household. My mother is an entertainer and singer. Growing up, I was always in churches and around quartets and quintets. That seeped into the bloodstream.
And how did that music inform the punk rock you played with Hot Water Music?
When I was a young kid, I remember a time when I was in Lafayette, Louisiana and I had gotten into skateboarding. This family opened up a skate shop and they welcomed all of us kids over to their house. My buddy’s dad used to build skate ramps for us kids. He used to get out there and put his belt on and start swinging the hammer and building these ramps. They were supportive of what we did. He’d be building and mom would be cooking hotdogs. He let us play whatever music we wanted on the boom box. I had Doug Kershaw. My buddies would bring tapes and that’s when I started hearing GBH or Germs or Bad Brains. He would let us play whatever we wanted. Then he would put on CCR or he would put on Dylan. He put on all kinds of Woody Guthrie. We kept skateboarding and doing our thing. When I look back on it now, we were singing these songs and having our time. These two crazy styles of music collided and became totally seamless. I connected to CCR, which became one of my favorites. I think that’s where those seeds were planted.
Talk just a bit Hot Water Music.
We did a record last year and toured on and off for it for about a year. I’ve been juggling my work and The Revival Tour and Hot Water Music. We took a hiatus and we wanted to play again but we just didn’t know when. We went on that hiatus at the end of 2004 or 2005 and that just lasted for a few years. We’re playing and can jump on stage right now and do our thing.
What’s different now?
Just each of us being more patient with our duties and responsibilities. When we were young, we would just throw our hands up and just go, “Whatever.” We’ve known each other for everywhere from 20 to 25 years. This year, we’ll be 19 years old as a band. You grow to learn every aspect of each person in a lot of ways. That’s a positive and a negative thing. Each person knows what buttons to push and what buttons not to push. There’s a family aspect there. We love each and we fight like brothers. As we’ve grown older, we’ve matured quite a bit and just respect our outlets. As we grew up, we grew apart in ways. More so physically. I live in California and [bassist] Jason [Black] is in Seattle and [drummer] George [Rebelo] and [singer-guitarist] Chris [Wollard] are in Gainesville. We’re just spread out. And we’ve been spread out for over a decade.
Talk about The Revival Tour line-up and how you guys mesh.
It’s incredible and it never ceases to amaze me to see what comes into play. You really never know. Three quarters of the people on this bus never met each other before. You see us on stage or just come on the bus or come to the restaurant with us and you would never know it. People talk to each other like they’ve known each other for 20 years. It restores my faith in camaraderie and friendship and music and community. Rocky Votolato is on the tour and he was on the last tour we did in Europe and he’s absolutely wonderful—a kindred spirit and nothing but positivity. It doesn’t matter what your headspace is, you get around him and everything is okay. Jenny Owen Youngs is out here with and she is an incredible woman and an incredible songwriter and a total joy to be around. She’s fantastic. Jenny O. was on the 2009 tour and it’s great to see her back here and she jumps right in and collaborates with anybody. It’s great to witness that.
I’ve been trying to get Matt Pryor on the tour for quite a few years. Hot Water Music and The Get Up Kids were running in the same circles but I hadn’t spent a lot of quality time with him until this tour. I don’t know why I thought he was a timid fellow, but he is the exact opposite. It’s a sad day. We lose him today and he jumps off the tour and we have a new group to be formed literally tomorrow at 2 o’clock. That’s the beautiful but saddening thing about this tour. You form these bonds and get in this groove and it just rolls. Then you realize it will revolve and turn into something else. It’s tough but it’s special. I like seeing how it moves and changes. That’s what keeps people coming back. No one knows what will happen and who will pop in. You will never see the same show twice.
What’s the music like?
I don’t normally do a ton of covers. I play mostly my own songs, but it’s a wide range. We all start and end together and have these supersets with everyone on board. People will peel off. Jenny will focus on her set and will do anything from her original songs to a June Carter song and it’s the same with Rocky. Last night, we played a few songs we hadn’t played in ages and one song we never played before. It varies and it’s cool because it keeps everyone on their toes. It’s almost like you’re on call for about three hours straight. You’re in the backstage area entertaining people and then you’re waiting to be called out on stage.
Upcoming The Revival Tour 2013 Dates
Black Cat, Washington, DC
TLA, Philadelphia, PA
Irving Plaza, New York, NY
Paradise Rock Club, Boston, MA
The Bell House, Brooklyn, NY
Le Cabaret du Mile End, Montreal, QC
Lee’s Place, Toronto, ON
The Westcott Theater, Syracuse, NY
Altar Bar, Pittsburgh, PA
Grog Shop, Cleveland, OH
Magic Stick, Detroit, MI
A&R Bar, Columbus, OH
Mercy Lounge, Nashville, TN
Old Rock House, St. Louis, MO
House Of Blues, Chicago, IL
Turner Hall Ballroom, Milwaukee, WI
Varsity Theater, Minneapolis, MN
The Granada, Lawrence, KS
The Summit Music Hall, Denver, CO
Aggie Theatre, Fort Collins, CO
Knitting Factory, Boise, ID
Vogue Theatre, Vancouver, BC
Showbox at The Market, Seattle, WA
Aladdin Theater, Portland, OR
Great American Music Hall, San Francisco, CA
Belly Up Tavern, Solana Beach, CA
The Observatory, Santa Ana, CA
El Rey Theatre, Los Angeles, CA