The Drive-By Truckers’ annual three-night run at the 40 Watt is a spectacle unto itself. Fans from across the globe jet in for the event, which was even more chaotic in 2014, after a freak snowstorm descended on Athens.
The headliners are the main reason for the fervor, of course, but the list of handpicked opening acts also tends to be a pretty good barometer for what’s about to blow up locally and nationally. (Remember seeing St. Paul and The Broken Bones and Alabama Shakes before they launched into the stratosphere?) It also usually showcases at least one longtime Truckers favorite.
This year is no different: A swath of talent will grace the stage each evening before the raucous crowds hear the opening licks of “Lookout Mountain.” Here’s a preview of what to expect if you arrive early (and you should).
Thursday, Feb. 12: Jay Gonzalez
The first show keeps things close to the family, with one of DBT’s own members kicking off the weekend. For his opening slot, Jay Gonzalez will be accompanied by a cast of characters that he says will include members of other Athens bands he’s played with in the past, like The Possibilities and Nutria.
Watch Gonzalez perform—with a band, solo or with his “acoustic keytar”—and it’s clear why he got the call to join DBT in the first place. You’d be hard-pressed to find another multi-instrumentalist in town who can lay down power-pop on keys as easily as he can wail on guitar.
Gonzalez looks forward to a proper release show for his The Bitter Suite EP in the coming months. “I’m aiming [for] sometime in April to officially release it,” he says. “Originally, when I planned it, I wanted to do a bunch of overdubs with strings and make it a big, pompous thing. But when I actually started to record it, the main thing was to make it performable.”
Though some might cringe at the thought of performing onstage for four to five hours straight, Gonzalez looks forward to putting in the overtime. “I’m lucky to be able to do it at all. Playing with the Truckers has changed my life. [I’m] able to play music all of the time and make a living doing it.”
Friday, Feb. 13: Lydia Loveless
Lydia Loveless is likely to break plenty of hearts on Valentine’s Day eve. Although the 23-year-old Columbus, OH resident has established herself on the national alt-country scene, the young singer is open about her love of pop music, even including Kesha songs in her live repertoire. “The thing about [modern] country… [it’s] not really all that honest. Pop music is silly and fun. People wear cupcakes on their boobs, and there’s glitter,” says Loveless.
Despite her age, Loveless has already garnered comparisons to Lucinda Williams and other singer-songwriters in the country canon. But she shakes off the buzz with grace and humility. “Mostly, I would just like to be viewed as a good songwriter. Hopefully, I’m getting that done.”
Loveless says it has long been “a personal goal” to open for the Truckers, even after landing a few solo dates with Patterson Hood late last year. “I’ve come a long way from being 15 and playing scum-punk bars,” she says with a laugh.
Following the hoopla surrounding her latest effort, Somewhere Else, and a run of sold-out shows, Loveless has started work on another album. “I have the artist’s mentality,” she says, “which means, as soon as I’m done with something, I think, ‘This sucks. I need to do better’.”
Saturday, Feb. 14: 6 String Drag
Sunday’s program is a double-header homecoming. Led by Raleigh’s Kenny Roby and Athens-based bassist Rob Keller, 6 String Drag is back after a nearly two-decade hiatus. They’ll be playing in support of their newly minted record, the aptly titled Roots Rock ‘N’ Roll.
“We broke up because we got the girlfriends and wives pregnant, and had to stay home and take care of family. We were all still friends,” Keller says. “We’re really good friends with Patterson going way back. I think that one of the first [DBT] shows were them opening up for us in Raleigh.”
Even with all the years apart, Keller says that the new 6 String Drag record was surprisingly easy to create. “It felt way more natural than we thought it would,” says Keller. “I would like to think that this record would’ve come out even if we would have stayed together.” Lest the opening slot be misconstrued as a one-off gig, Keller says the group will play several weekend shows around the region in support of the new album.
WHAT: Drive-By Truckers Homecoming
WHERE: 40 Watt Club
WHEN: Thursday, Feb. 12–Saturday, Feb. 14, 8 p.m.
HOW MUCH: $31 (Thurs.), SOLD OUT (Fri. & Sat.)