First off, it’s Grand “Ole” Uproar — a name considered in the days before SEO made even a single letter’s difference cause a downward trend in one’s Google-ness.
Second: Their digital footprint doesn’t seem to concern them that much. Their website sucks — though bassist Sanders Davis says he’s working on it — and they’re a bit behind in their social media.
But they just came off a tour, which is the thing: a sweep through the southern states of Texas, Florida and Virginia, with stops in New Orleans and Memphis, chaperoned by Greensboro bar owner Will Henry, who helped underwrite the enterprise in both dollars and deeds, as the story goes. Davis is still working on his iPad footage from that run. And the band’s frontman, Josh Watson, has always been more comfortable with the written word than the ones and zeroes.
He earned his MFA in creative writing from UNCG in 2008, and worked the profesorial circuit from Guilford College to NC A&T University. Now he teaches English as a second language to the children of European Volvo executives, which, ironically, affords him the time to live a writerly life.
Tonight, fresh off the road, they’re tucked into the middle of a triple bill at the Ramkat, where just down the street an all-day food and music festival wiped out most of Winston-Salem’s eligible social scene.
Opening act the Distractors brought an after-work crew ready to rock at 7 p.m., and after their set of covers and might-as-well-bes, a third of them decide to hang around to see what comes next while headliners Crenshaw Pentecostal and their fans filter in. You can tell the difference by their haircuts.
The Grand Ole Uproar plays Friday at the Craft City Sip-In in Greensboro at 7 p.m. and at World of Beer in Greensboro on June 22. Find out more at thegrandoleuproar.com.
Tucked in the middle, and with very little fanfare, Grand Ole Uproar moves to their instruments, beginning a study in the Americana genre that picks from the tree of rock’s various Southern boughs: the Band, Creedence, Leadbelly, virtually every aspect of the Traveling Wilburys — heavy on the Dylan, and country, but the kind the Rolling Stones used to do.
Watson laces his solidly crafted songs with elegant rhymes, peppered with references to driving, highways, mistakes, jail, Southern skies and open roads, backed ably by the seasoned band that in itself seems literary device: a compelling cast of characters. Watson’s the grizzled, erudite frontman and lyricist, channeling a lot of Dylan though he could pass for three of the four Wilburys. Davis plays the journeyman bassist with the facial hair and the cool hat — he’s played with Crystal Bright & the Silver Hands, Emily Stewart & the Babyteeth and the Family, and worked on numerous other live and recorded projects. There’s a monster drummer — Jeremy Parker — who seems to take great pleasure in bashing things. And then there’s the virtuoso hobbyist Wake Clinard who, when he’s not adding soaring and searing lap steel to the Grand Ole Uproar’s mix, has a day job as president of Clinard insurance.
He drives the nicest car in the lot tonight.
It all makes for a sumptuous tale of the road: Watson, Davis and Parker ticking off the miles between Virginia and Texas; the late-night set at Checkpoint Charlie’s in the New Orleans French Quarter; Clinard flying in for the gig at Lafayette’s Music Room in Memphis; Will Henry acting as booking agent, tour manager and spiritual advisor.
“He was our Cassady,” Watson says. “It was like On the Road without the Mexican brothel.”
Now. Onstage. After the Distractors say their piece and before Crenshaw Pentecostal washes the place down with a fine, lonesome crooning. Josh Watson, heedless of the crowd and the miles and the hour on the clock, tells his story, the one he’s been writing this whole time.