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Published: 2010/10/14
by Gregg Morris

Savoring Poor Man’s Whiskey

For the past decade, Poor Man’s Whiskey has dedicated itself to bringing their “High-Octane Hootenanny” to music lovers from the West Coast of the United States to the East Coast of Australia. Going to a PMW show is a bit like attending a modern music history lesson…with your best friends. Seamless transitions drag the concertgoers from audience-based acoustic performances to an electric rock star assault from the stage. PMW is currently enjoying their most successful year to date, including a performance covering Old and in the Way with Peter Rowan (Old and in the Way) and Michael Kang (String Cheese Incident). I asked the front line of PMW, Eli Jebidiah (guitars, theramin, vocals), Jason Beard(guitars, mandolin), and Josh Brough (keyboards, banjo, vocals) a couple of questions about the continuing evolution of Poor Man’s Whiskey.

Back on May 8th of this year, Poor Man’s Whiskey decided to throw a 10 year Anniversary party at the Great American Music Hall. You covered the classic Old and in the Way album and invited a couple of special guests. Why pick Old and in the Way and how did you get hooked up with Michael Kang (String Cheese Incident) and Peter Rowan (Old and in the Way)?

Eli: Old in and the Way seemed a natural choice because it represented where the roots of Poor Man’s Whiskey came from. We were all exposed to the album when we were in college at UC Santa Barbara, and for us it was our entry point into bluegrass based music.

Peter Rowan was integral part of what made Old and in the Way magical. We had run into each other at festivals that we’ve both played over the years, so we decided to reach out to him to see if he would be interested in playing some songs from Old and in the Way with us. Needless to say, we were extremely honored and excited that he chose to join us for the night.

We needed a fiddle player for the Vasser Clemens parts, and thought of Michael Kang. We have been long time fans of String Cheese and their various side projects, and our paths have also crossed from time to time at shows and festivals. We hadn’t met Michael yet, but were thrilled when he got back to us saying he was interested in doing the show.

Jason: It was fortuitous at the time that our back up bass player (Joshua Zucker) was on tour with Peter Rowan in Alaska. We had him put in a good word with Peter. We also shortly thereafter played a show with Del McCoury. Peter Rowan was sitting in with Del. Eli had a chance to talk him up a bit about the project backstage, and luckily he came on board. For us it was pretty magical to actually play Old and In the Way with Peter. Maybe next time David Gilmour will sit in on “Dark Side of the Moonshine”!

Did it seem surreal backstage with Peter Rowan considering you were about to cover an album of his?

Eli: Even thought we have hung out and spent time with Peter back stage at other events and festivals before this, it was definitely different this time. The entire evening was like a dream. Getting to sing and play with one of your founding influences is an experience one never forgets. It was very inspiring and special for us.

Jason: We took liberty with some of the arrangements and made them our own, so it was a little weird to show someone who wrote a song how it was going to be played. Luckily he was pretty open to it and seemed to enjoy it. During the show it was pretty awesome to have him singing on some of his tunes we have been covering for years. Definitely surreal indeed!

How was getting ready for that show different than preparing for your “Darkside of the Moonshine” shows?

Eli: The main difference was the rehearsal schedule. After we had worked out the arrangements for the songs we wanted to play, we did a rehearsal with Kang and Rowan. It was a testament to the musicianship of those two in how quickly they learned their parts, and the new arrangements.

There was also a real palpable spontaneity on stage because the material was fresh, and making it through the arrangements kept everyone on their toes and musically very engaged with one another. The whole evening really felt like a team effort. I think in the end, that was the most rewarding aspect of the night. It really felt like a genuine communal experience was shared between the musicians, fans, and crew at the Great American. It was a great night!

Jason: Since we recorded Darkside all of the arrangements are pretty much in place very similar to the album. Although there are some improv moments within the solos a bit, most of the arrangement is pretty tight. Preparing for Darkside shows consist mostly of executing parts and tightening vocals. For Old and in the Way we were definitely flying more by the seat of our pants. Josh, Aspen, and myself met with Michael at a house party to go over some parts briefly (which turned more into a mini performance), and we met with Peter only the day before the show. Josh, Eli, and myself divided the songs up to take lead on the arrangements ideas, but because of the lack of rehearsal time with the guest musicians things seemed to be much more improvised and willing to change at the last moment. This seems to fit the spirit of the “Old and In the Way” live shows we heard.

Poor Man’s Whiskey has played festivals and shows all over the world, including HIgh Sierra(CA), Hardly Strictly Bluegrass(CA), Byron Bay Blues and Roots Music Festival(Australia), 4 Peaks(OR), Telluride Bluegrass Festival(CO), Las Tortugas(CA), and you have Yonder Mountain String Band’s Harvest Music Festival(AR) and another Las Tortugas coming up. Do you prefer festivals to shows, or vice versa? Do you guys have a favorite venue?

Eli: I love festivals and shows for different reasons. Festivals are great because you always discover something new. Also, the bar for unexpected musical collaborations gets raised with doing sit-ins, or spontaneous sets. The scale of festivals has a whole different energy too. When there are thousands of people singing along with a song you wrote, it is an otherworldly experience. The level of mass connection one feels is hard to put into words. I also love the opportunity to be able to meet people and spend time with other folks who love music as much as I do. Often my festival highlights are the time I get to spend with people I meet just walking around. I am inspired by the notion that all those that attend festivals are there because they are inspired by music enough to make the sustainability of festivals a reality. It is a beautiful union of musicians, artists, fans, crew, and families. In the end, we all come together because we are united by our passion and love for music.

I love shows because there is an intimacy about them that is hard to reproduce in other environments. I definitely feel connected to the fans in a different way at shows. Also, we as a band really enjoy the opportunity to get down onto the floor and play a few tunes with everyone. It starts and ends the evening in a communal place, and that is really important to us as a band.

I can’t choose a favorite venue, because we have had some really magical experiences in so many different ones now. It feels like choosing one child as your favorite over the others. I will say that PMW feels a deep gratitude to the Mystic Theatre (where we are recording our new live album on November 12th) and the Great American Music Hall for everything they have done for us. Both venues have really supported us and other great local talent over the years, and we feel very fortunate to have made some life long memories at those respective venues when PMW has some sold out shows there. We also feel very blessed to have been able to play the Fillmore several times with good friends of ours. Those magical moments we’ve experienced in celebrated halls like those make all the hard work and sacrifices worth it.

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