We at Grateful Music are super excited to take our “festivacation” this weekend on Snowshoe Mountain in West Virginia for the inaugural 4848 Festival. We told you about the details on the diverse lineup, special accommodations, unique events and more through our interview with All Good founder Tim Walther back in May. One of the bands we are most anticipating seeing live on the mountain is Cris Jacobs Band, the dynamic Baltimore-based bluesy-meets-cosmic-country band that is quickly emerging as a must-see act. We took a minute to catch up with Cris to talk 4848, the recent Mike Gordon sit-in, his new album, and more.
GM – 4848 Festival looks to be another great mountaintop festival — what is it about that environment that lends so perfectly to music, specifically jam, bluegrass, Americana, etc?
CJ – Good question. Something about the mountain air and big skies just makes music sound better. Connecting with the majesty of nature conjures up those deep, old voices in the air and in the earth.
GM – I know some of your friends and past collaborators (like Billy Strings) are also on the bill at 4848. Do conversations about sit-ins start in advance or how does that typically play out?
CJ – It depends. Sometimes there are discussions ahead of time, like for example when we collaborated recently with Billy. That instance was a pre-planned actual set of it’s own, so there was more discussion needed. But sometimes it can be a spontaneous thing based on who’s around during who’s set, how long the sets are, etc. I’d say it usually leans more to that side of things.
GM – Speaking of collaborations, Mike Gordon recently sat in with your band after Phish at Merriweather. Can you tell us a bit about the backstory leading up to that night?
CJ – I’ve known Mike for a few years now. He invited my old band, The Bridge, to open one of his solo tours years ago. We’ve kept in touch here and there and have always had a nice rapport, talking about music we like and recommending listening to each other. When I saw that Phish was coming to Merriweather, it was right when we were discussing playing the new venue close by, The Soundry. I figured trying to line the shows up could be a fun thing. The day of the show, I just shot Mike a text letting him know about it and he replied that he would try to make it. As the day went on, he let me know that he was definitely going to come. It was as simple as that..
GM – I envision a guitar sit-in as being easy — stand back and let someone rip. But what’s it like to let someone guest with the rhythm section? What effect does a Mike Gordon have on the Cris Jacobs Band sound in the moment?
CJ – Bass is a hugely important role in the entire picture of the music, so yes, it was much different than just a guitar guest. It really requires some good listening and locking into the groove that he plays, and it’s definitely lots of deferring to how he interprets a groove, rather than someone just jumping in on what we want to do. But it’s a fun challenge, and one that we were super excited about. Mike is such an open guy too, so he was listening just as much as we were, all of us trying to lock into a collective thing. It’s definitely harder but much more interesting than just having a soloist sit in and rip on top of what we are doing.
GM – You’ve had the chance to tour and play with some musical legends like Steve Winwood, Sturgill Simpson, Ivan Neville, and more. Musically, how does opening for Sturgill Simpson (for example) compare to a day like at 4848, where you’re playing a lineup that includes funk-giants Lettuce, jamgrass artists like Billy Strings and Greensky Bluegrass, Marcus King Band, reggae artists, etc.? Is the approach the same or is there a mentality that you maybe have an audience that will embrace the ‘weird’ and you can go places that you may not otherwise?
CJ – Well, there’s the obvious differences in doing a solo acoustic set to playing a full band set at a festival. There is always a bit of adaptation to whatever vibe I find myself in, but at the end of the day, it’s just music. I’m not bracing myself any differently or executing anything differently. In early years of playing festivals, I probably over thought what the crowd would like and tried too hard to cater to whatever audience I thought was there. But trying to please everyone at once can be maddening and ultimately, I feel like people want to see an artist dig into what they do as deeply as possible. I’m still digging in and playing, no matter what types of songs we choose. Maybe it’s also that now I have a band and we are a few records deep, so we trust ourselves to just do what we do.
GM – Finally, Color Where You Are has been out for a few months now and, well, it’s great! I’m not sure if the album was written with a sense of vulnerability of if that’s somewhat inherent in that loose-country-with-a-hint-of-psychedelia sound that the album captures — or likely a combination of the two. What’s it like to put that bit of yourself out there knowing that some people are going to pick it up and embrace it, while others are going to listen to it and say ‘eh, this sucks’? I’m imagining something between cathartic and terrifying.
CJ – Those two adjectives are spot on! It is certainly both of those things. Anytime you make art, it’s vulnerable. You dig deep and try to create something out of emotional responses to the world around you, and you conjure up whatever images and forms that you can to express it. There’s no right or wrong, but the listener’s tastes will discern whether they like it or not. I wish every single person in the world liked my art, but at the end of the day, I can’t control that. And it’s maddening, and ultimately paralyzing to me creatively to try to please everyone. All I can control is the work that I put in to create something, and how focused I am, and how healthy my mind and heart are at the time of creation. I’m learning every time around how to remember this, because i can say it all day long, but when the pen hits the paper all bets can be off in an instant. If I know that I put my best intentions and full focus into the work, I’m satisfied. But I’m also human, so when the reviews start coming in, it’s a constant challenge to remain steady and remember that the goal is not one record or one song, but eventually a body of work that will hopefully last.