The Return Of Bowlive: Eric Krasno On Soulive’s Guest-Filled Run At Brooklyn Bowl & More
Welcome to another edition of The Art Of The Sit-In, where we mix it up with the scene’s most adventurous players and hear some stories from the road. For more, check out our recent interviews with Marc Brownstein, Mihali Savoulidis, Marcus King, Chris Wood, Andy Falco, Bruce Hornsby, Nels Cline and many more. (A full archive of more than 50 The Art Of The Sit-In features is here.)
Bowlive is back — which, to a certain breed of concertgoer and lover of groove-a-licious jams, is pretty damn good news in a year that’s already been such an emotional rollercoaster in our scene.
When Bowlive — to be clear, an eight-night, nine-show stand by Soulive at Brooklyn Bowl in the heart of Williamsburg — first kicked off in 2010, it was something long-awaited: the first time Alan Evans, Neal Evans and Eric Krasno had done a proper New York City Soulive residency in years. It became a tradition to rival even the mighty Allman Brothers Band’s Beacon Theater stand; a new spring classic that brought countless guests and lots of surprises into the fold.
Now, Bowlive returns after skipping a year, and relocating from what was its typical March perch to a two-week stretch in June, kicking off on June 7. Bowlive staples — George Porter Jr., John Scofield, the Shady Horns, Karl Denson, Nigel Hall — abound, but there are just as many first-timers in the announced slate of guests, from Doyle Bramhall II and Steve Kimock to Marcus King, and that’s just the guitar slingers.
Krasno takes all this in stride; Soulive’s excited to be back in action, and, he represents, also excited that Soulive can co-exist with its members many other pursuits, which include Neal Evans’ work with Lettuce and Alan Evans’ return behind the kit with Denson’s Tiny Universe. Krasno himself has already had an epic year, playing with everyone from Phil Lesh and Bob Weir to his own Eric Krasno Band and in a galaxy of combinations at the recent New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
In a new interview with JamBase, we heard about all of that and more, including Krasno’s reflections on departed scene luminary Col. Bruce Hampton. Our chat with Kraz also marks the first time we’ve invited a musician back for a second The Art of the Sit-In discussion since the inception of the column. (His first AOTSI, from March 2014, is here.) Rest assured we’ll be doing it more, as well as continuing to connect with our scene’s brightest and busiest.
JAMBASE: Bowlive returns this month, and we’re of course excited. What happened to Bowlive in 2016?
ERIC KRASNO: You know, we were pretty burned out. Bowlive is always a pretty intense endeavor. There are a lot of things going on, and we’ve also been focused on different things. Neal’s been out with Lettuce. Al’s been out with Karl Denson. I made a solo record that was starting to come out and putting together a new band around that. I’m really glad we took a minute. I’m also glad we rescheduled it for June. We have to plan pretty far ahead for Bowlive. When it was in March it’d be the holiday season by the time we started to get people lined up, and it’s just a hard time of the year to be planning things. But this year a lot’s worked out well. I’m really happy about who’s coming this year; it’ll be a really cool mix of people.
JAMBASE: But to be clear, it is the plan to continue to do Bowlive going forward?
EK: Yes. We’re happy to say it’s back, and we’ll be better than ever.
JAMBASE: Glad to hear it. This year does have a really interesting slate of announced guests. How much do you balance bringing in people like George Porter, who’s always in the lineup and I assume always invited, and bringing in new blood?
EK: This whole thing is about people we know and respect. People like Doyle have been on my list for a long time. I’ve been working with Marcus on tour and with my solo band, and that just made perfect sense. Son Little is another I’ve been working with, and GRiZ is someone I’ve done a lot of writing with. And Steve Kimock, man, I’ve always loved him and wanted to get him before, and it just so happened he’d be on the east coast and this would fit into his schedule. I was just with him out in California — he’s one of my absolute favorites.
Again, we’re fortunate that we’re in June this year — people are able to line it up. We’ll always have George if he’ll have us. He’s the captain — we keep calling him that. And Scofield, we reach out to him every year and it really comes down to whether he’s available, or doing festivals or on tour somewhere else in the world. Whenever we can have him, it’s on. He’s one of my heroes, obviously. And Karl of course. So those are kind of the pillars of Bowlive, and next to that we have a bunch of new blood. Ron Artis is someone probably a lot of people don’t know. I ran into him in Hawaii playing the Wanderlust Festival. He’s kind of a staple in Hawaii, and on Oahu, and he comes from an amazing musical family. I was blown away by his trio. I was like, you have to come for Bowlive.
JAMBASE: And it seems like you guys have settled on eight as the ideal number of Bowlive shows, though, I’m sure, you could put up 15 nights and make it meaningful.
EK: Yep, we kind of do it this way to keep from going insane. Eight is good.
JAMBASE: What’s the state of Soulive right now?
EK: We played two shows at Jazzfest that were I think in our top shows we’ve ever played. We get together now and we’re all really excited. The other things is that we have so many records, and I sometimes forget how much music we have. I’ve been starting to nerd out with this app where I have all the songs inputed that we’ve played over Bowlive and over our careers, and it’s pages and pages and pages long. I’ve been going through it because we don’t want to play the same thing every night.
At Jazzfest, we kind of looked at it and went out and played. We could blend so many things together, and we didn’t even need to follow a setlist. Coming back together, it’s fresh again, but we also have all these skills we’re building in from other projects. We haven’t been playing much so when we do, it’s so fun and it can all make for a really great show.
JAMBASE: What do you say to fans who’d like to see Soulive play more?
EK: I think it’ll come at some point. We have a record that we’re waiting to finish it, and we still have some work to do on it, so it’s been on the backburner. Our producer [Pretty Lights] has been pretty busy so we’re waiting on him, too, but I really love what we did.
JAMBASE: What does this album sound like, especially for fans who’ve been with Soulive since the early days?
EK: It sounds like us without a doubt. But it also sounds like the dustiest, grimiest version of us. [laughs]. It’s a little more concise, too — it’s not 20-minute songs with tons of noodling. I think it’ll be the best sounding album we’ve ever done.
JAMBASE: Well tell me about the rest of your Jazzfest — favorite nights, favorite sit-ins, favorite everything…
EK: Oh, man. It might have been my favorite one yet. I got to bring the Eric Krasno Band in and it was one of the best shows of our tour — we were primed, we were really into it. Then, right after that I did a set with Oteil [Burbridge] and Stanton [Moore] and Ivan [Neville] called The Heat. It was total no rehearsal, not really a setlist, and it felt so good to play with that crew. We all got out of our element a little bit and got into something pretty unique.
I also did Daze Between, which was a pretty epic night. It was a heavy week losing Col. Bruce, and a lot of us needed to pay tribute, give some back, and receive a little bit of healing, too. What was originally going to be a tribute to Butch Trucks also became an ode to the Colonel. Warren [Haynes] came down and played a bunch of songs, and we added Jeff Sipe at the last minute, and him and Duane [Trucks] and [Scott] Metzger and Danny Louis…it was an amazing band. We did a bunch of Allman Brothers tunes, and a bunch of different stuff, Lyle Divinsky came through for a bit. Everyone was feeling the energy.
On top of that, Soulive at the Maison near the end. Oteil and Ivan were there and we had the full horns, including with Rashawn [Ross] who hadn’t played with us in a long time. That one definitely.
JAMBASE: Did you know Col. Bruce well?
EK: I knew him very well, yes.
JAMBASE: What do you take away from your time with him?
EK: First of all, he guessed my birthday when he met me, like he did most other people. He was just one of those people who made everybody feel like… and I know this sounds funny, but he really did make everybody feel like they were his best friend. His friendships meant a lot to him and he took a lot of pride in teaching young musicians the way.
Look at all the people he influenced, from obviously the ARU guys to the Panic guys to the Phish guys, Derek, Duane, so many of my favorite people learned from him. He’s honestly the only guy for which I have friends that we get together just to share Bruce stories. I was down in Mexico for the Panic thing, and I hung out with him most days, and a lot of what we were talking about was Butch and all the things Bruce wanted to do. Later on, I ran into [Dave] Schools and he was like, hey man, if you’re hanging out later, let’s hang out and play and tell Bruce stories. We talk about him literally all the time. He was a powerful being.
JAMBASE: You mentioned Daze Between and that calls out to another association you’ve been making a lot of lately, playing with Phil Lesh, Bob Weir and in other roles surrounding Grateful Dead music. What does playing that music do for you?
EK: It’s very fulfilling for me — that’s what I love about it. I was a Deadhead before I was a musician. That was the one band I was really a fan of before I became a musician. I love pop music, too, but a lot of the imagery came first ahead of the music. It was the MTV era when I was growing up and the Dead were just playing their music and experimenting like they were still in their basement, writing these amazing songs and improvising. What they did combines so many different elements that I love.
Later on, I didn’t really listen to it for a while. I was more into Hendrix and Zeppelin and later of course got into jazz and funk. But it full circle came back to me as I got deeper into songwriting — I kind of started revisiting the Grateful Dead from that angle. And when I first got the call to play with Phil, I dove in again. All this stuff was engrained in my head — I collected shows and tapes, and I went to my first Dead shows when I was 12. Being able to play this stuff now is surreal, and to do it with Bobby, and Phil, and Billy…it’s..well, I call up my dad and brother, because they used to make fun of me. I used to travel with my dad and carry these huge tape cases, and they were all full of Dead tapes. He’d open it up and he’d be laughing and be like, this is all the same band! He loved them too, but he thought it was totally insane.
JAMBASE: I don’t think a lot of folks know your Deadhead roots.
EK: I didn’t really publicize it, never did. I was the only guy in any of my main bands who really liked the Dead. Recalling it has been really good for me. And man, it is not easy music. It’s some of the hardest music I’ve ever had to learn. It’s really interesting, and it’s such great writing, and I’ve come to love Robert Hunter more and more over the last few years, and he and Jerry as songwriters. And Bobby — man, Bobby is singing better than ever. He played an acoustic set in Mill Valley as part of this show we were on, and he sounded better than ever. I know he has ups and downs, but I have so much respect for him and all of them and what they do.
JAMBASE: What else is on your plate? You don’t slow down.
EK: I’m working on a new solo record. It’s a concept record, and it’s kind of my ode to Brooklyn. We’re going strong with EKB, doing a bunch of festivals throughout the summer and some more shows. And Soulive is going to Japan in October. Beyond that, I can’t say anything just yet, but I have another project on the horizon that’s going to be really interesting. It’ll be in the fall, and I’m working with some amazing musicians and we’ve blocked out a few weeks to do something awesome. I wish I could say more right now but word will be out soon enough.