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Rayland Baxter with Bendigo Fletcher

Doors: 7 PM | Show: 8 PM | 18+ only with valid ID 

Thoreau had Walden Pond. Kerouac had Big Sur. Rayland Baxter? He had an old rubber
band factory in Franklin, Kentucky, and it suited him just fine. As one of the hardest-
touring artists on the road today, Baxter’s spent most of his professional life in transit,
but ever since he was a kid, he dreamed of creative seclusion someplace lonely and
isolated, somewhere he could sit still and devote his every waking hour to writing
without interruption or distraction. When the opportunity finally presented itself in
late 2016, the Nashville native pounced.


“I packed everything in my van and moved to Franklin for three months,” says Baxter.
“It was the fist time I ever got to be alone and focus solely on songs like that. All I did
was write, write, write all day every day. I was obsessed.”


By the time Baxter emerged, he’d penned more than 50 tunes and crafted a detailed
blueprint for his spectacular new album, ‘Wide Awake.’ Deftly produced by Butch
Walker, the record infuses Baxter’s easygoing, soulful sound with British Invasion
melodies and rock and roll swagger, marrying lean, muscular songwriting with
adventurous, inventive arrangements. It’s a cutting, insightful collection, one that
takes a sardonic view the violence, greed, and division that seem to define the
modern American landscape. Rather than point a finger, though, the music holds up a
mirror, offering a sober reflection of the times thoughtfully bundled in bright,
infectious hooks. There’s no judgment here, only keen observation, and Baxter
implicates himself as much as his neighbor through it all.


“This is an album about decision making,” he explains. “It’s about being a human at
the crossroads. Do I do good or do I do evil? Do I lie or do I tell the truth? Am I going to
be happy or am I going to be sad? All of these questions and emotions are things I see
in myself, and they’re the same things I see in everyone else no matter where I go.”
Baxter’s built a career on capturing those sorts of timeless, deeply human sentiments,
bringing colorful characters to vivid life with equal parts humor and pathos. His debut
album, ‘feathers & fishhooks,’ was a critical hit praised by Interview for its “well-worn
maturity,” while NPR described “Yellow Eyes,” the lead single from his 2015 follow-
up, ‘Imaginary Man,’ as “close-to-perfect.” Stereogum dubbed the record “an
impeccable sophomore break-out,” and Rolling Stone hailed its pairing of “whimsical
narrative with often deceptively complex arrangements.” The music earned Baxter
festival appearances from Bonnaroo to Newport Folk in addition to tours with an
astonishing array of artists, including Jason Isbell, The Lumineers, Kacey Musgraves,
The Head and The Heart, Shakey Graves, Lauryn Hill, and Grace Potter.


“The six months leading up to the release of ‘Imaginary Man,’ that was the first time I
really started playing electric guitar and performing with a band,” says Baxter. “We
did my first headline run and toured that album for a year-and-a-half, and the
experience really opened up this whole new sound for me. It helped me figure out
more of who I was as an artist and a songwriter and a traveler and a human being.”
It was with that newfound sense of self that Baxter entered Thunder Sound, the
abandoned rubber band factory-turned-studio in the cornfields of Kentucky that would
become his home for three months of intensive soul searching and songwriting.

“I blanketed the windows so no one could see inside,” he explains. “I laid a mattress
down next to an old Wurlitzer so I had somewhere to sleep. I had a guitar, a desk with
a lamp and some paper and pencils, and that was it. For fifteen hours a day, I wrote.”
When it came time to record his mountain of new songs, Baxter relocated to Santa
Monica, California, where he wrangled an all-star studio band that included Dr. Dog’s
Erick Slick on drums, Butch Walker on bass, Cage The Elephant’s Nick Bockrath on
guitar, and piano wizard Aaron Embry (Elliott Smith, Brian Eno) on keys. A producer
and artist equally at home working with massive pop stars and indie stalwarts, Walker
immediately embraced Baxter’s vision for the album, and the result is a sunny and
altogether charming collection. Scratch beneath the surface, though, and you’ll find
it’s populated by a cast of characters who project a vision of the good life as they
struggle to keep it all together behind closed doors. On the punchy ‘Casanova,’ the
singer reckons with debts he knows he’ll never be able to repay, while the volatile
“Amelia Baker” charts the narrator’s descent into near-madness as he pines for a
starlet perpetually out of reach.


“We have this society where we’re obsessed with celebrity and living on the top of the
mountain,” says Baxter. “But what’s at the top? Maybe it’s a lonely place to wake up.”
Late 2016 was a particular tumultuous time in the country, and though Baxter did his
best to isolate himself from the outside world while he wrote, it was inevitable that
some of the chaos would seep in. On album opener “Strange American Dream,” a
chiming piano and spare Motown groove give way to lush harmonies and unexpected
melodic twists as Baxter sings, “I close my eyes and realize that I’m alive inside this
strange American dream.” Meanwhile, the soaring “79 Shiny Revolvers” finds him
reflecting, “you really wanna save the world, man / well, I wanna save it, too / we
can blow ’em away / the American way.”


While ‘Wide Awake’ offers plenty of broad, wide-angle musings, some of its most
arresting moments arrive bundled inside deeply personal memories and snapshots. The
heartfelt “Everything To Me” is a tender tribute to family (Baxter’s father Bucky, who
played pedal steel with Bob Dylan and Ryan Adams among others, contributes to the
record), and the laidback “Let It All Go Man” is a reminder that there’s beauty in
simply being alive.


“I actually started that song two years ago on a trip to South America,” says Baxter. “I
was sitting on the porch of a house in this little town in Colombia, and I was all alone
playing a gut string classical guitar, just staring out at the ocean and the beach in the
middle of the night. It made me realize how much unnecessary stuff we hold on to, all
the grinding away we do chasing success and money and missing the big picture. It
made me realize what an incredibly beautiful gift it is to be human.”
That empty South American beach may have been a world away from the rubber band
factory in Kentucky, but for Baxter, the effect was the same. The solitude offered a
chance to observe, to reflect, to grow, to appreciate, and most importantly, to write.