Alt-Rock Overdose

Devin Grant

I've been experiencing greater-than-normal feelings of nostalgia lately, thanks to some local music happenings (not the least of which is this weekend's Last Summer on Earth concert at Family Circle Stadium). I'm a child of the '80s, and while endless arguments can be made as to just how influential that decade's music was, there's no doubt that the music had a huge influence on me.


There were several factors that led to me cutting my musical teeth in the Decade of Greed (at least the first one of those...), but there were two main motivating factors in my case. The first was radio station WSSX, better known as 95SX. When my family moved to Charleston from California in 1982, 95SX was the big rock station in town. I discovered numerous '80s acts both good and bad listening to that station, and it was responsible for me attending my first rock concert (see the earlier entry "I Love Rock and Roll"). The second, and more important, was MTV. Like just about every other teenager in the '80s, MTV ruled my pop culture world. This was back when Music Television still played music videos and not crap like Jersey Shore and 16 and Pregnant.


While I cut my musical teeth in the '80s, I refined my tastes in the '90s, largely thanks to first interning, then working, for radio station WAVF, better known as 96 Wave. Thanks to 96 Wave, I broadened my musical tastes beyond what I'd been able to discover myself while in high school and then while living in Europe while in the army. The full-time folks at Wave, including Woody Bartlett, Dave Rossi, Hollie Anderson, Michael Blaze, Danny V, Richard Todd, The Critic, and Atom Taler, all genuinely loved the music they played for listeners, and while I was already into alternative rock thanks to bands such as R.E.M., They Might Be Giants, and Talking Heads, I soon discovered acts such as Cracker, The Replacements, and The Meat Puppets that blew my 20-something-year-old mind. Add to that the fact that alternative rock was going through its golden age, thanks to bands such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains, Smashing Pumpkins, and Soundgarden, and it was a good time to be a rock fan.


Another one of the bands that I discovered for myself while in Europe, but really came to appreciate after going to work for 96 Wave, was Drivin' 'N' Cryin'. I had read a review of the band's "Mystery Road" album while in the army, and was intrigued enough to pick it up. Songs such as "Honeysuckle Blue," "Wild Dog Moon," and, of course, "Straight to Hell" made that CD a favorite of mine. About the time I joined 96 Wave, Drivin' 'N' Cryin' was flying high off the success of the album "Fly Me Courageous," and it wasn't long before I finally got to see the band live. The heart of Drivin' 'N' Cryin' has always been singer-songwriter Kevn Kinney. The guy is a truly gifted songwriter, with a unique vocal style and an attitude that is one part Southern (the band hails originally from Atlanta) and one part Haight-Ashbury beatnik. Kevn Kinney is to Georgia what Bruce Springsteen is to New Jersey and what Bob Seger is to Michigan.


Both Kinney and Drivin' 'N' Cryin' have had their ups and downs over the years, but Kinney has never lost his creative spark. Proof of that came recently when Drivin' 'N' Cryin' played the popular Party at the Point weekly summer series at the Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina in Mt. Pleasant. Local singer-songwriter Luke Cunningham played a spirited opening set as the sun set behind downtown Charleston across the Cooper River. If you haven't had a chance to hear Cunningham play live, or to sample his latest CD, "Heart Pressure," then I highly recommend checking either out. When Drivin' 'N' Cryin' hit the stage, it was with new guitarist Sadler Vaden in tow. Vaden, who has played locally for years as a part of various bands, most notably Leslie, got called up to the majors a year or so ago when Kinney asked him to join Drivin' 'N' Cryin'. Charleston fans had already had a chance to see Sadler play with the band a couple of months ago when they played the Pour House, but this was my first time seeing the new lineup. In addition to the great new song "R.E.M.," Kinney and his band tore through Drivin' 'N' Cryin' classics such as "Honeysuckle Blue," "Fly Me Courageous," and, of course, the ultimate '80s Southern sing-along, "Straight to Hell." Kinney's a bit older than the last time I saw the band (but then, aren't we all?), but the guy can really still bring it live. Add Vaden's scorching guitar solos, and right now is a very good time to be a Drivin' 'N' Cryin' fan. 


The nostalgia trip will continue this weekend out at the Family Circle Stadium on Daniel Island, as the Last Summer on Earth Tour lands in the Lowcountry for a trip back in time to the '90s. The show will feature Blues TravelerCrackerBarenaked Ladies, and Big Head Todd and The Monsters. I'm a fan of all four bands.

I first saw Blues Traveler at the now defunct Carolina Concert Stage in North Charleston back in 1994. John Popper is an amazing blues harmonica player, and over the years the band has eased itself into the jam band genre. I saw them up in Columbia a couple of months ago, and they still put on an amazing show.  


Cracker released its debut album in 1992, the summer after I got out of the army. I knew of David Lowery's previous band, Camper Van Beethoven, but Cracker was something else entirely. Teaming up with guitarist Johnny Hickman, Lowery made that self-titled debut, as well as the followup, "Kerosene Hat," staples in the '90s alt-rock catalog. Twenty years later Cracker still writes, records, and releases albums, and still blows the roof off of whatever venue it happens to be playing. I'll never get tired of hearing "Euro-Trash Girl" at a Cracker show. 


When Barenaked Ladies played the Music Farm in 1997, I skipped the show thinking they'd be back soon after. Big mistake. From what I heard afterward, the show was amazing, and it wasn't until just a couple of years ago that I had the chance to see the Canadian band live. By that time one of the band's frontmen, Steven Page, had left the band, but that hasn't affected the band's music much, and seeing them live was everything I expected. A Barenaked Ladies show is kind of like a group sketch comedy show where the comedians pause every few minutes to play really good (and more often than not, really silly) songs. If BNL doesn't put a smile on your face, then you need to check your pulse. 


Finally there is Big Head Todd and The Monsters. The Colorado-based band's 1993 album "Sister Sweetly," is still one of my favorite albums of the '90s, and lead singer and guitarist Todd Park Mohr has this awesome growl of a voice that punctuates every song. I first saw them back in the mid-'90s at either Myskyns or Acme (can't remember which). The band played to a packed house, and I actually carried a friend of mine on my shoulders for the entire show because she was too short to see over the crowd. I'm looking forward to seeing the band play songs such as "Broken Hearted Savior," "Circle," "Bittersweet," and the band's well-known cover of John Lee Hooker's "Boom Boom." 


Sure, I may be looking backward at my musical past more than usual these days, but I'm also still looking forward. That's part of what draws me to music; succumbing to the nostalgia is every bit as exciting as discovering a new band or hearing a new release from an old favorite. I may never be able to hear it all, but I'm going to absorb as much as I can while I'm here.