by Serena Carlson, Clint Burgess and Mike Corrigan
BR5-49 was the telephone number of a used-car lot on an old Junior Samples Hee Haw comedy skit. And to the members of the alt-country band that would later co-opt the number to use as a name, it seemed fitting.
"There was a subtle sort of genius to that show," says Shaw Wilson, BR549's drummer, by phone from Nashville. "We liked the idea that, [historically,] in this part of the country, everything you could possibly need was right in your own backyard. And we thought we would dodge the copyright issue if we moved the hyphen."
Thus BR5-49 was christened (the roving hyphen was eventually dropped from the name altogether). The band's story, however, begins prior to the band having a name -- or even more than one member.
"The band getting together is kind of a Cinderella story," Wilson explains. "Robert Moore, a former boxer, a very strong and smart man -- he put us together."
Moore was the owner of Robert's Western Wear, a clothing store in a run-down section of Lower Broadway in Nashville. Ten years ago, Moore hired founding BR549 member Gary Bennett to play guitar in the window of his store while people shopped. People started coming to Robert's Western Wear just to hear Bennett play. Moore, a former owner of Tootsie's Orchid Lounge in the same section of town (and an obviously shrewd businessman to boot), added more musicians to the lineup. And then he went one step further and obtained a liquor license for the store. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.
BR549, with its mix of high energy, country-rockabilly-bluegrass sound and good humor, quickly became crowd favorites, and the formerly run-down section of Lower Broadway cleaned up its act as a result of the increased concert-going traffic. BR549 began touring, primarily as an opener for acts as diverse as the Black Crowes, the Brian Setzer Orchestra, Faith Hill, and Bob Dylan. ("The first time in my life I have levitated," says Wilson of the Dylan gig.) Does this mean that BR549 exploded onto the scene? Did they become overnight successes, with a string of mega-hits on Top 40 country radio?
The current trends in mainstream country radio, according to Wilson, are not exactly supportive of acts such as BR549.
"Most of the music that's on mainstream country radio isn't real country, and it's not even that good," he says. "However, it is getting better -- it's sounding more country to me. BR549 had some support from country radio in the early days -- we were on a major label, we were young, and we were hopeful."
That early support for BR549 has since petered out.
"Our demand for [artistic freedom] might be hindering us a little bit," Wilson concedes, "but I don't see the point in playing someone else's game or music to make a living."
And Wilson is quick to point out that major label success is not necessarily all it's cracked up to be.
"Call that learning a lesson from The King himself," he says. "That's what happens when you give a hillbilly too many things to play with. The fame thing again -- who wants to be famous?"
Regarding the current tour with the Reverend Horton Heat (which brings both bands to Fat Tuesday's this Saturday night), Wilson believes that someone somewhere deserves some hearty congratulations:
"I don't know whose brainchild it was, but it seems like a great billing. Horton really picked up the ball [from the previous musical generation] and ran with it. I've known these guys for at least fifteen years -- it'll be a good reunion. It'll be a dynamite show that people can really sink their teeth into. The energy is going to be great. It's a testament to what we do and why we do it."
Down But Not Out -- You can't help but feel George Silva's pain when he talks in detail about the suspicious fire that destroyed Five Foot Thick's rehearsal space in the early morning of Tuesday, Sept. 2.
"We're looking at a 99.9 percent loss for us," Silva laments. "Unfortunately, whatever the fire didn't get, the 300 gallons per minute that it took to get the thing under control finished off the rest."
The fire, currently under investigation, did about $30,000 in damage and also decimated the practice space of local hardcore act Clintch. The shock of such a disaster would be enough to get anybody off their game, but Silva's resolve remains unshaken.
"It seems like whenever things are going good, life comes along and deals you a blow. But anytime something tremendously bad has happened to us, in our personal lives or as a band, we always come back swinging even harder."
The timing of the fire couldn't have been worse. With a full calendar of shows coming up in October and the national release of Blood Puddles (FFT's latest album) the band will be scrambling to regroup.
"We have a standard of professionalism to uphold," Silva says. "All of our gear is part of that standard, and goes along with what people expect of a live Five Foot Thick show."
More than the band's pricey gear was lost in the blaze. Back stocks of their CDs and other merchandise went too. Five Foot Thick's label, the New Jersey-based Eclipse Records, at this time is unable to offer assistance in replacing gear due to financing the band's upcoming national release. Fortunately, the local and regional music communities are rallying around their favorite metal sons to try and get them back on their feet. The band's Jagermeister compatriots in Seattle and Portland already have benefit shows planned, and there will be a benefit in Spokane at Fat Tuesday's on Saturday, Sept. 27
"We're a very determined group of guys," Silva notes. "We've made this our full-time ambition."
Donations to help get FFT on their feet again can be sent to Sterling Savings (trust account #39991259201) or through the mail: Five Foot Thick L.L.P., PO Box 18515, Spokane WA 99228.
Three and Thirty -- They've been doing this crazy Earfest thing for three years now. Three years of treating their customers to a day-long party with live music, food, fun and community. But that's nothing compared to the 30 years that Terry and Deon Borchard have been running Coeur d'Alene's Long Ear music store. Keeping any small business afloat for three decades is reason enough to throw a party. But when that business has carved out a distinctive and respected place in the increasingly competitive world of recorded music selling, well, it's something more.
"From what I'm hearing, 30 years is getting to be rather unusual for a small business anymore," says Deon Borchard, the company's P.R. executive. ("I'm just the stock boy," laughs husband Terry.) "It's rather sad, don't you think? Eventually, I think," says Deon, "people will realize that they are missing the smaller, more personal-type service."
That service, a great selection of everything from the latest hits to blues to classic and indie rock and more, and employees who aren't just music-lovers, but music fanatics are the keys to the Long Ear's incredible longevity. This is an independent music store that has earned its patronage.
Earfest 2003 kicks out the jams all day this Saturday at the Long Ear store, featuring live music on two stages from predominately Coeur d'Alene and Spokane blues, punk, rock, folk and surf groups, along with a dusting of artists from Seattle, Bellingham and Portland. Artists performing indoors are of the acoustic variety and include Ava Mae, Dan Mills, Darin Schaffer, Kathy Colton, Doug Porter and She Said Yes. The noisy boys and girls (Melefluent, Scatterbox, Humming, Kite, the Nate Schierman Band, Tina Denning & amp; Lockdown, Phat Pharm, the Bel Airs and Phat Sidy Smokehouse) will be making a ruckus out back on the newly erected "Purple Stage." DJ Discophile will also be on hand to spin wax between acts.
All this and a barbecue, giveaways up the wazoo, henna art, chair massages, a laser light show and drawings for electric guitars and skateboards, plus the lovable Long Ear rabbit handing out goodies and -- whoa. This is a party. So come on out and help the Long Ear celebrate 30 years of great music with -- what else? -- more great music.