When: 8 p.m. Wednesday Where: The Blue Note
Sometimes, jamming with your fraternity brothers can turn into a prosperous career.
OK, there’s no evidence to suggest that dropping out of college to pursue a musical career is a practical endeavor more often than not, but for the Josh Abbott Band, that path has yielded three albums and growing recognition in the Texas country music community.
Lead singer Josh Abbott formed the band with banjo player Austin Davis and other fraternity brothers during his time in the Phi Delta Theta fraternity at Texas Tech University. When Abbott wanted to take the band more seriously, he left school.
“A couple years into it, we decided we wanted to make it a little more serious, and try making a career out of it,” Abbott says. “The other guys didn’t want to, so we hired some other guys and took off from there.”
Now touring in support of its latest effort, Small Town Family Dream, the band has settled into a lineup consisting of Abbott, Davis, Preston Wait (fiddle, guitar), Edward Villanueva (drums), James Hertless (bass) and Caleb Keeter (guitar).
Small Town, released back in April, peaked at No. 15 on the Billboard 200. The first single off the album, “Touch,” broke the top 50 on the Country Songs chart, according to Billboard, and now the band is on the verge of releasing a second radio single, “I’ll Sing About Mine.”
JAB have also made its debut at Grand Ole Opry this year and is now one of a handful of country bands to sell out the Whitewater Amphitheater in New Braunfels, Texas, along with the likes of Willie Nelson and Miranda Lambert, Abbott says.
When writing the new album, Abbott had a specific concept in mind: small towns and family dreams.
“I mean there’s a couple songs that kind of stray away from that: ‘She Will Be Free’ is about this girl, and ‘Touch’ is obviously a sex song,” Abbott says. “But the other songs kind of hone in on the great parts and the hardships of being from a small town. I think when people listen to it, whether they’re from Missouri or Kansas or North Dakota, Alabama or Texas, I feel like it’s relatable.”
Allmusic.com writer Steve Leggett describes the band’s sound as “a quirky kind of country, often more like Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers with fiddles and banjos than it is like George Strait.” For those not so keen on country, Abbott says “She Will Be Free” is “our version of a Dashboard Confessional song.”
When touring, Abbott creates a set list before each show based on the audience, playing different tunes to an unfamiliar crowd than the band might for its home state. No matter where they play though, the band members' priorities when playing to live audiences are different than, uh, “some other country bands.”
“I won’t name names, but they’ll just play covers of AC/DC, or some rap song,” Abbott says. “People will sing along and everyone says, ‘Yeah, these guys are badass!’ but that’s because the familiarity is there. That’s the easy way out. We’ve never taken that route.”
As for their upcoming Blue Note show, Abbott says Columbia can expect a lot of energy, and a lot of their own tunes.
“College towns are a big part of what we do,” Abbott said. “We’re not that mom-and-pop country that you hear on the radio. A lot of our music is fun and upbeat, or deep passionate love songs, and that really works well with college kids.”