Most bands can only dream of making it 20 years. For North Carolina-based Americana group 6 String Drag, that dream has become a reality. After an extensive hiatus, the band reunited in 2015 to drop its first record in 18 years, Roots Rock ’N’ Roll, and has another new album, Top of the World, out this Friday, Mar. 9. This weekend, 6 String Drag returns to Athens to help commemorate another 20th anniversary: that of BreastFest Athens, the annual breast cancer awareness benefit.
In addition, 6 String Drag is celebrating another current release: a 20th-anniversary reissue of its acclaimed debut LP, High Hat. “It’s pretty cool. It brings up good memories in general of those times,” says Kenny Roby, the group’s frontman. “There’s a lot of life that’s happened [between the two records].”
When High Hat was released in 1997, band members were in their 20s and constantly on the road. The songs were mostly familiar ones that they had frequently played or previously demoed. Two decades later, the band has grown and changed in countless ways.
“Our day job [then] pretty much was professionally playing,” says 6 String Drag bassist Rob Keller. “We had the hopes of going out and staying on the road and recording. Now, through the years, we’d love it if that could happen, but we’re keeping our families happy, and [we all have] day jobs.”
As such, the recording process for Top of the World was different than it was in the past. The band is now geographically split, with Keller living in Athens while the other three members live in Raleigh, NC. “We’re a 25 percent local [to Athens] band,” Keller jokes.
Keller, also a member of Athens-based bluegrass band The Welfare Liners, traveled to North Carolina to record, mostly on weekends. The actual recording took a total of two weeks, but the process was spread out over the course of six months.
“It was like a long-distance relationship… We just worked on it in spurts. There were a lot of gaps in that timeline,” Roby says. “The hard part is, the young musician in you wants to play and practice all the time. We don’t have that luxury.”
While the band members have changed as people over the past 20 years, they have also changed musically. With influences such as Thin Lizzy and NRBQ, Top of the World maintains the country sound of High Hat while adding more of a rock vibe. “You’re going to fine-tune things musically,” Roby says. “Twenty years is a lot of time to listen to other music and try different music.”
While there’s a sense of nostalgia accompanied with the reissue of High Hat, there’s also a sense of looking forward with the new album. For Roby, although it’s fun to look back on the past, it’s also important to maintain an eye on the future.
“I don’t want to live in the past or make High Hat part two or any record part two,” he says. “It is nice to look at [High Hat] and go, ‘OK, that’s where we started,’ but it’s where we started, not where we’re trying to end up. Where we’re trying to end up is [to] just continue to try to make the best records we can.”
Saturday, 6 String Drag will play BreastFest alongside The Welfare Liners, Monday’s Alibi, Todd McBride, Clay Leverett and John Neff, Sara O’Brien and Rachel O’Neil. BreastFest is presented by the Tyanna Barre O’Brien Breast Cancer Foundation, which was formed by five local sisters in memory of their mother, who died of breast cancer. The event raises money for prevention and treatment—10 percent of proceeds benefit the foundation, and the rest goes to the St. Mary’s Women’s Imaging Center—but it also serves as a way to celebrate those lost to breast cancer.
“[When we started BreastFest], there weren’t many channels to talk about loss,” says Sara O’Brien, one of the event’s founders. “We just wanted to lighten it up and raise money for a really serious cause, but bring joy and make it a huge party.”
This year, just like 6 String Drag, BreastFest celebrates its 20th anniversary. “It’s wild that 20 years has passed,” O’Brien says. “It’s just become this way to celebrate and remember so many women. BreastFest is about celebrating the dash in between, not when they were born and died.”
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