If ever there was a turning point in the narrative of Ohio’s own Red Wanting Blue, it might be right now. The band has fulfilled its three-album deal with Fanatic Records — assembling a mighty trio of rock ‘n’ roll — and now they’re packing up the car and hitting the indie circuit again. For everyone on the RWB ride, there’s every reason to be thrilled.
Scene got in touch with frontman Scott Terry, who’s getting the band psyched for a monumental 2017. They’ll kick things off with a pair of shows Dec. 30 and 31 at the House of Blues, right here in downtown Cleveland, in what’s become something of a budding tradition.
“Cleveland is our favorite place to play,” Terry says. “It’s always felt like a home to us.” Red Wanting Blue, of course, formed out of the Ohio University music scene in Athens, then moved to what would become their homebase in Columbus. Throughout all of it, though, Cleveland has held a mystique for the musicians and their fans. (The band has plans to check out the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame while they’re in town, something that Terry says they’ve never had time to do in the past.)
But there’s more going on for the band right now. 2016 marked the 20th anniversary of Red Wanting Blue getting together in Athens.
To mark the occasion, the band filmed a concert at the Lincoln Theatre in Chicago. Thing is, though, they almost missed their own anniversary. It was Terry’s wife who pointed out to them that Red Wanting Blue was turning 20 this year. So how would they celebrate it?
Talk turned to a “20th anniversary tour,” but the band felt that their time would be better spent by doing a mini tour and hitting the venues that have been very special to the RWB scene over the years — like Cunningham’s Journal in Kearney, Nebraska, and the Lincoln Theatre.
The CD and DVD of the Lincoln gig is now for sale and available online. It’s an interesting show, because the band meticulously crafted a setlist in reverse chronological order — opening with a new song and ending with the late-90s throwback “Decorator.” It’s a cool document, an imprint of a band taking stock of the past and the future.
And so the video is a testament to how energetic and atmospheric RWB gets onstage — something that fans didn’t get to see as much of this past year.
There’s good reason for why Red Wanting Blue pulled back on the touring in 2016. They’re a classic road band — touring extensively for two decades now — but they decided to refocus themselves at this most intriguing moment in their collective careers.
In 2014, the band released Little America
, which capped their deal with Fanatic Records. They were striking out on their own again, but it took some time to find the right path. “Once again we are the masters and commanders of our career and our destiny,” Terry says, reflecting on the crossroads. “What do we want to do?”
The central issue is that a touring band like RWB has little time to tend to studio matters. When the band decided to record a new album — a decision arrived at in early 2016 on a beach in Mexico — the only rational thing to do was to back off the road a bit.
“It was so necessary. We needed it,” Terry says of the patient approach to recording and the decision to take a year off from touring. “But at the time it was very difficult. It’s a very difficult thing.”
The soul-searching year brought excellent results, from the sound of it. RWB has been a band of best friends for years, but the all-in creative exploration that went into this upcoming album seems to have redefined what they’re doing here in the first place.
“We all said that we didn’t want to record any songs on this record unless it was 100-percent unanimous — unless everybody loved the songs,” Terry says. “It’s the greatest collective effort we have ever made.”
Throughout the process — writing and recording — the band members learned more about one another than they ever thought they knew. In many ways, Terry argues, the work of the last year pushed Red Wanting Blue into its fully realized destiny. At the peak of their time together — the 20-year mark! — Red Wanting Blue became the band that they set out to be as young kids from Ohio way back when.
The new album will drop later this winter. Terry couldn’t get into specifics when we talked, but keep an open eye for the title and release date. “It’s far and away our best effort,” he says.
Until then, expect big things and good times at the two-night New Year’s Eve run this weekend. The first show will be an acoustic set — something that the band has really leaned into these past few years — and the second show will be an all-out party as this most impressionable year comes to a soaring and anthemic close.
Red Wanting Blue
7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 30, 8:30 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 31, House of Blues, 308 Euclid Ave., 216-523-2583.
Tickets: $49.50 - $69.50 for two-day pass, houseofblues.com