There is a small chain of hotels that grace the western U.S. For decades, they have served as bastions of relief and comfort along, for instance, the flat contemplations of I-80 in Wyoming. And when he and his bandmates needed a moment of solace a few years back, Scott Terry, the lead singer of Red Wanting Blue, found it at Little America.
This was a few years ago. The band avoided a deadly truck accident on the top of a mountain in Wyoming. The first truck stop they encountered down the road was outside the Little America hotel. They stopped, took a moment to recollect themselves — “If it wasn’t for that guardrail, the truck would have hit us,” Terry says — and exhaled.
“You forget how fragile you are, living in a van and driving around the country,” Terry says.
And Red Wanting Blue is a touring band’s band. They’ve essentially been on the road for nearly 20 years, deepening their personal map and writing what Terry calls “road records” along the way.
So when he and his bandmates — bassist Mark McCullough, guitarist Greg Rahm, drummer Dean Anshutz and guitarist Eric Hall — found themselves on the other side of a near-death experience, well, that’s when the writing for their next album grew more immediate.
They released Little America
in July 2014, etching a moment in time for a band that’s relished countless others. The songwriting seems more clear-eyed and more laid-back on this one. Terry may have become a more comfortable songwriter over the years, as he’s maintained his commitment to honesty in music and to transposing the stories of his life into song. It’s less heavy, dynamically, while still being complex, “Dumb Love” being analogous in some ways to 2012’s “Audition.”
The album closes the book on a trilogy of sorts — the three albums that came out of Red Wanting Blue’s relationship with Fanatic Records. (The label had re-released 2008’s These Magnificent Miles
.) And in that way, the band finds itself contemplating a crossroads. What’s the score here? What’s next?
“That whole time period was a real experience for our band,” Terry says. “We’re autobiographical writers, so we write about what we know. Little America
on a lot of levels felt very introspective to me, like we were looking back on all the experiences that we’ve been gathering.”
Terry spins a metaphor when he describes the band’s arc — the narrative that’s led them to this level of success and happiness. He compares his work to building a boat. It’s his boat, he says, even if it’s just a ragged little canoe drifting in the shadow of some other guy’s grand yacht.
“I will always love to get in that boat. I built it, and it’s mine. I know every corner of it,” Terry says. “The greatest emotional triggers I can draw from when I perform onstage come from my own life.”
That’s how Red Wanting Blue has built its songwriting and its approach to music. It is indeed a conscious evolution.
To take one example, that’s how a slew of acoustic dates cropped up over the past two years. Since dropping Little America, the band has toyed with an ever-increasing focus on how to reinvent their acoustic performances. (In fact, new fans in some cities grew so accustomed to this type of playing that they were surprised to find out that Red Wanting Blue is actually an electric band, Terry says.)
It’s a thrilling avenue for a band that dines on self-examination and expansion.
And, for our sake, the timing is terrific.
The band arrives in Cleveland for shows on Dec. 30 and 31. It’s a special return to the Forest City for Red Wanting Blue, a Columbus-bred band that considers Cleveland something of a second home. (“Cleveland, Ohio, is one of my favorite places in all the world to play,” Terry says, adding that breakfast with the band at the West Side Market comes with the territory.)
For the Dec. 30, they’ll bring something special to the Cambridge Room at the House of Blues. Since they didn’t play Cleveland on those past acoustic-focused tours, they’ll perform an acoustic set the night before New Year’s Eve.
“It’s not enough to play acoustic; you’ve got have an acoustic version,” Terry says. For instance, the band’s acoustic version of “Audition”
— a mega-hit in their canon — is accented with a shaker and taut picking high on the neck of a banjo. For new fans and longtime vets alike, the different takes on classic RWB tunes offer a refreshing listening experience. Live and in the moment, Terry says, the focus is placed even more so on the lyrics and the inherent message of the song.
It’s kinda like the band’s long, winding trips across the country, where they’re left with nothing but the hum of the highway and buzz from the last show. For Terry and his bandmates, there’s no other trip they’d rather be taking.
The band’s 20th anniversary will come around in the fall of 2016, two decades after Terry got the music going in Athens, Ohio. Big things are in store, he says. Watch out.
Red Wanting Blue
7 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 30, and 8:30 p.m., Thursday Dec. 31, House of Blues, 308 Euclid Ave. 216-523-2583. Tickets: $30 ADV, $35 DOS (Dec. 31), $50 for two nights. houseofblues.com.