Funky fun in the sun: Sol Driven Train hosts the third annual Sol Slam on the Isle of Palms
By Ballard Lesemann Special to The Post and Courier – Wednesday, July 17, 2013
If you go
It’s only natural for a band called Sol Driven Train to celebrate summer sunshine with lively beach parties.
For the third year running, the busy Charleston-based roots-rock quintet will get to soak up some rays, dispense some positive vibes and jam with musical friends as they present Sol Slam at The Windjammer on the Isle of Palms on Friday and Saturday.
“We’ve been playing summer shows at The Windjammer for years,” says singer-guitarist Joel Timmons, one of three founding members of the group. “We released our debut album at a show there 10 years ago.”
The Windjammer has long embraced and supported Sol Driven Train.
In 2009, the band released “Live at The Windjammer,” a concert DVD recorded at the venue. Shot and edited by a production team from “GillznFinz,” a fishing and lifestyle television/web show, “Live at The Windjammer” follows Timmons and his bandmates from the upstairs dressing room to the stage, where they deliver a tight, energetic set of various originals and renditions.
“This will be the third year in a row where we invite a bunch of other bands to play with us over the course of two nights during Sol Slam,” Timmons says. “We try to make this a family-friendly event every time. Most of us grew up hanging out on that part of the beach, playing on The Windjammer’s volleyball courts and enjoying the live music. It’s the perfect setting.”
Timmons, Russell Clarke (saxophone and vocals), Ward Buckheister (vocals, guitar and trombone), Rusty Cole (bass) and Wes Powers (drums) will headline both nights of Sol Slam on The Windjammer’s main stage, with local rock ensemble Fowler’s Mustache as the opening act Friday night.
Saturday’s events will kick off early in the afternoon with an all-ages jamboree on the oceanside deck from 1-6 p.m.
Members of Sol Driven Train will be on hand to introduce a handful of local and visiting acts, including the Dead 27s, Royal Tinfoil, Graham Whorley and The Shack Band.
The Saturday night performances on the main stage kick off at 7 p.m. with sets from the Reckoning, Yarn, Dangermuffin and Sol Driven Train.
A portion of the proceeds from this year’s Sol Slam will benefit the Rainforest Action Network in memory of Becky Tarbotton, the organization’s former executive director.
“Becky was a dear friend of mine,” Timmons says. “She drowned in an accident in Mexico, and we’re still dealing with the loss. This will be a way to honor her work and shed some light on the incredible work she did.”
Decade of evolution
Sol Driven Train formed as a group of like-minded high school buddies in 2002. Over the last 10 years, the band has toured extensively around the U.S. and Caribbean islands, recorded a handful of albums (live and studio), headlined benefit concerts and rocked regional festivals.
Core members Timmons, Clarke and Buckheister initially started with a rhythm section comprised of high school friends: drummer-keys player Phill Eason, percussionist Shawn McGrew and bassist-tuba player Davis Buckheister.
Based on Folly Beach in the mid-2000s, the sextet’s blend of Southern jam rock, New Orleans funk and Caribbean styles caught on with local audiences.
Their 2003 debut album “Churning Bulward” helped establish them as one of Charleston’s more versatile groove-rock bands.
Cole stepped into the lineup in 2006 in time to record “Tajar Tracks,” the first of two children’s albums produced at Camp Gwynn Valley in Brevard, N.C., and the 14-song live album titled “Live on the Outer Banks,” recorded at Outer Banks Brewing Station in N.C.
Powers, Eason’s former drum teacher in North Carolina, came aboard in 2008, shortly after the release of studio album “Lighthouse.” Powers’ smooth and dexterous technique complemented both the funk material and Americana leanings of the band, as heard on the 2009 studio album “Believe.”
Over the past three years, Sol Driven Train has worked elements of vintage country, brassy gospel, waltzy folk and exotic world music flavors into the mix.
On their latest studio collection, “Underdog,” released in February, the band presents a more song-oriented roots-rock style. The collection follows last summer’s quirky EP “Watermelon.” Sol Driven Train recorded and mixed both discs at Mount Pleasant studio Charleston Sound with engineers Joey Cox and Jeff Hodges.
“Everybody was involved in every step of production,” Timmons says of the band’s latest recordings. “Wes is really fantastic and solid in the studio. Everything else came together tastefully. We’re all more comfortable being us in the studio and on stage these days. Sometimes it gets silly, and sometimes it gets emotional, but there’s always a supportive vibe there.”
As they’ve done with many local up-and-coming groups, Sol Driven Train casually served as mentors for local band Fowler’s Mustache.
Matt Stanley (guitar and vocals), Chris Richter (bass), John Tankersley (drums) and guitarists Thomas McElwee and Nick Collins came together as an eclectic jam-rock project in 2009. Sol Driven Train took them under its wing, helping them book gigs and hiring them to play opening sets at big venues and generating a feeling of mutual support.
Fowler’s Mustache was on the bill for last year’s Sol Slam but tragedy struck when Collins suffered significant injuries from an automobile accident just a day before the show; his injuries led to the amputation of his left leg.
After months of intensive rehabilitation, the wheelchair-bound Collins is back in action this year as a professional musician, playing local solo gigs and performing with his band.
The opening night of Sol Slam this weekend marks a notable return for the Fowler’s Mustache guitarist.
“When we found out for sure that they could perform this year, and that Nick was going to be able to do it, it felt like such a triumph for everybody,” Timmons says. “They had to cancel at the very last minute last year, but here they are, a year later, with everyone on board. That’s a beautiful example of his spirit and the support of his family.”
McElwee is excited, too.
“It definitely feels great to be a part of Sol Slam,” he says. “This is our third year being invited back, and it’s always great to play with Sol Driven Train and all the other amazing local groups that we admire. Sol Driven Train helped us into venues like The Windjammer and the Pour House when we were first starting out, and they continue to ask us to play these shows with amazing lineups. We’re always grateful to play with those guys. So much has happened between last year for us as a band, so it feels really good that we are all still able to do this together. The vibe is always a very open and happy one. In a front beach venue, how could it not be?”
A session for all ages
Day two of Sol Slam, a rain-or-shine event, will kick off early in the afternoon at The Windjammer with a kid-friendly, all-ages showcase.
Members of Sol Driven Train will host a volleyball tournament, conduct a watermelon-eating contest and provide stand-up paddleboard demonstrations.
“We’ll be outside on the deck with that view of the Atlantic Ocean,” Timmons says. “The kids show is pretty zany and high-energy. Russell really takes center stage like a bearded pogo stick. It’s audience-interactive, the kids move around, and we get to act like the children we are at heart.”
The afternoon lineup will feature sets by the Dead 27s, the Royal Tinfoil, Graham Whorley and The Shack Band.
“The Shack Band guys are tour friends of ours from Richmond, Va.; young guys who kind of remind me of Fowler’s Mustache,” Timmons adds. “The Royal Tinfoil are always a hoot, although, we might need to provide a disclaimer about their crazy lyrics before their set. Graham Whorley is the man, and the Dead 27s are terrific. It’ll be really fun from start to finish.”
The evening show on the main stage kick off at 7 p.m. with performances from the Reckoning, a Grateful Dead-themed project conducted by Cole, rootsy rock band Yarn from New York, local Americana trio Dangermuffin and Sol Driven Train.
“All of the bands with us on the main stage on Saturday have a musically incestuous bro-mance thing going on, like three-way love triangles,” Timmons says of the bill. “We’ve played and jammed together in different venues at different times, so we’re really excited about everyone being on the same stage.”
Dangermuffin guitarist Dan Lotti also looks forward to the onstage interaction that day.
“This one is all about celebrating the wonderful local music community,” he says. “You’ve got to love The Windjammer for the mainstay that it is and the ocean breeze flowing through. The best part will, of course, be the onstage collaborations.”
“All of us love the music of Roy Orbison and John Prine,” Timmons adds. “And none of us will cover (the Old Crow Medicine Show’s version of) ‘Wagon Wheel’ at any time.”
From the jam-oriented side of rock to the twangy side of folk and blues, the full Sol Slam bill offers a well-balanced mix of Americana styles, all of which Timmons and his bandmates can easily elaborate upon.
The two-day fest celebrates the band’s long-running East Cooper roots and reflects the high level of musical camaraderie and positivity they’ve developed within the local scene over the years.
“You know, things go pretty smoothly for us nowadays,” Timmons says. “Everyone feels healthy, and our new vehicle has allowed us to travel efficiently on long or short trips, and we love to come and go while staying in touch with the Lowcountry. Sol Slam allows us to really come home and reconnect.”