Review by Greg Hargis; Cover Photo by Alysse Gafkjen
You’ll find them somewhere at the intersection between old-school country, Americana, rock ‘n’ roll, blues, and soul. They’ve been branded as a country band and as The Eagles reborn. But don’t be fooled; The Wild Feathers is so much more.
I had seen the Wild Feathers once; three years ago. I remembered the stacked harmonies and the expert instrumentation. I remembered the unique voices complementing one another and the heartfelt lyrics. I remembered the feeling when I first saw them: that I still had reason to get excited about new rock ‘n’ roll. I felt the same Friday night before they came on stage at The Hamilton in Washington, D.C.
If you’ve never been to The Hamilton, it’s a small venue that brands itself as a “listening club.” It’s intimate and very conducive to a personal experience with whomever happens to be playing. My wife and I made sure to get there early to get a close seat in order to catch the opening act. There are very few bands I trust enough to make sure and catch their opening act; The Wild Feathers is one of them.
Lauren Jenkins came out and entertained with just herself and her guitar (I have great admiration for artists that can succeed that way). Unsurprisingly, knowing the Wild Feathers, she was soulful and extremely talented. Not only that, her performance was highlighted by an ongoing conversation with the audience. She made clear what each song meant and even talked specifically about personal experiences that led her to write them. Her voice was unique and powerful; her song-writing was personal and relatable.
Shortly after Jenkins left the stage, more people started to crowd the small general admission area in-front of the tables, so we ducked the rail to ensure we had a good view.
I was expecting it to go like every other show: they come out, play some songs, thank the crowd, play some more, thank the crowd again, then it’s over. But that’s not what happened. Right up front, guitarist and “front man”—and I put that in quotes because Joel King, Ricky Young, and Taylor Burns are all former front men and they all share the lead singer role with the Wild Feathers; they just line up on stage with Ricky Young in the middle—Ricky Young told the crowd that he felt like doing some Q&A throughout the set. As I planned on writing this article, I took advantage.
I had two questions answered by Ricky during the show: (1) ‘What was the inspiration behind “Goodbye Song?” He looked right at me and shot back, “drugs my friend.” After some laughter, he clarified, in a more serious tone, that it was one of their several confrontations with the difficult topic of addiction. And (2) ‘What bands would you compare yourself to?’ I almost didn’t ask the question because I know that bands get sick of hearing it. A truly unique and talented group of musicians will only give you one answer, and that’s what he did: “us; rock ‘n’ roll.”
Later, after the show, I asked vocalist and guitarist Taylor Burns a more palatable question: ‘What bands do you guys look to for inspiration?’ He answered: The Eagles, The Band, and The Black Crowes. That led to a discussion about how we were both disappointed about the Black Crowes’ break-up and are both big fans of the Robinson brothers and Steve Gorman. I already knew they looked to the Eagles for inspiration; that was obvious to me in their sound and presentation. But I loved hearing about The Band and the Crowes.
They opened with two songs from their first two albums, including the title track of their sophomore effort, Lonely Is A Lifetime. The band then went into the first track from their latest release, Greetings from the Neon Frontier. That song is called “Quittin’ Time” and is probably my favorite track on the album. It really showcases each artist’s unique voice and the power of the sound it produces when all three harmonize over and between strong, driving guitars and complex solos. It also gives drummer and Dave Grohl fan Ben Dumas a chance to showcase his active and aggressive drumming style.
This band is so fun to watch because they have great chemistry. They’re all great friends and live close to one another in their hometown of Nashville, Tennessee. The “Neon Frontier” refers to them being on tour and “on the road;” constantly moving from city to city and state to state. They genuinely enjoy that lifestyle because they love experiencing it together; even though they have families back home. In Ricky’s case, Friday was his daughter’s second birthday.
As Ricky promised right up front, they covered a lot of ground and hit most all of their most popular songs, including: “The Ceiling,” “Left My Woman,” “Happy Again,” and “Hard Times.”
“Hard Times” deserves its own discussion. This is one of those songs for me that has a home in “all-time favorite” territory. Not just of Wild Feathers songs; but out of all songs, by anyone, anywhere, from any time. It’s a blues song at its core that feels like a song about overcoming adversity and succeeding at the same time. It showcases each artist’s unique vocal style and of course features the band’s distinctive harmonizing and complimenting talents. As a result, it’s a beautifully heartfelt masterpiece that transcends genre.
The song also features some of my favorite blues lyrics of all time. Right after Ricky Young knocks on the door with his own solo, Taylor Burns breaks it down and busts in with his signature soulful and belting style: “Dog won’t bark and my rooster won’t even crow no more; I’ve got hard times, and they’re comin’ for more. Tried to shine my shoes before you cut me loose; I got the in too deep no way out running blues. Talkin ‘bout hard times . . .” I can almost guarantee goosebumps if you’re lucky enough to see it live. It’s also the band’s favorite song to play. As Ricky Young put it, “that’s a great fuckin’ song.”
“Hard Times” will always have special meaning for us. About three years ago, I was unable to be with my wife when her mother passed away. That was a difficult situation because I wanted to be there to support her in person, but I couldn’t. So the first thing that came to mind was sending her a message that said, “don’t forget about the power of music.” I attached a YouTube link to The Wild Feathers performing “Hard Times.”
After the show, we headed up to “The Loft” at The Hamilton. The Loft is a bar that’s open late and features free live music. It was an excellent place to hang out with the guys. We sat around a table with Ricky and Taylor and talked about how they came together as a band. “The timing was just right,” they said. We talked about their families and how being together on the road makes it easier being away from them. We segued into favorite drinks, which led to a few whiskey shots with Taylor. At that point, the night became a blur. I do remember, however, having a discussion with bassist and vocalist Joel King about aliens and ghosts. If I remember correctly, we both believe.
The Wild Feathers are an amazing band not just because they have exceptional individual and collective talent; not just because they bleed rock ‘n’ roll and wear it on their sleeve; but because they accomplish everything as best friends and genuinely love what they do. Not only that, but they love their fans and it shows.
They are mid-way through a spring tour with several dates still on the calendar through the end of June. Check out their website for details: www.thewildfeathers.com.
If you’re in one of those cities, go see them. If not, find a way to go see them anyway. It won’t be long until the tickets get more expensive and the venues get bigger.