With a warm personality, sunny positivity and soulful musical vibe, Charleston-based quintet Sol Driven Train truly lives up to its name.
Specializing in a groove-heavy mix of reggae, soul, Americana and funk, they've earned a loyal following in town and around the Southeast over the past 12 years or so.
Recently, they've established a summertime tradition at The Windjammer on the Isle of Palms with the annual Sol Slam, a two-day festival and musical showcase.
This weekend, singer/guitarist Joel Timmons, saxophonist/singer Russell Clarke, singer/guitarist/trombonist Ward Buckheister, bassist/singer Rusty Cole and drummer Wes Powers will headline the fourth annual Sol Slam on The Windjammer's main stage and back deck.
On Friday night, award-winning singer-songwriter Elise Testone of "American Idol" fame and her band will open the show at 10 p.m. followed by Sol Driven Train and special guests.
The bill is quite full for Saturday's event, with early afternoon sets by Sol Driven Train (their "kids' show"), the V-Tones, and Megan Jean and the KFB. The evening roster includes sets from the Holy City Hooligans, Ryan Montbleau, the Reckoning, Big Something, Acoustic Syndicate and Sol Driven Train.
While Sol Slam is designed as a showcase of local and visiting musical talent, it also serves as a fundraiser. A portion of the proceeds from Sol Slam with benefit Surfers Healing, a national organization aimed at achieving "mainstream acceptance for both the families of and the kids living with autism" through surfing. Surfers Healing will host a camp in Charleston in late August.
This year's Sol Slam also marks a new step ahead for the band as it says goodbye to longtime bassist Cole and welcomes a new recruit.
Charleston Scene caught up with Sol Driven Train frontman Timmons ahead of the visit to IOP.
Q: You and the band have been quite busy this year, touring and recording. Have you had time to prepare for and get excited about this year's Sol Slam?
A: We've been touring the Southeastern festival circuit, recording new material at Charleston Sound, bringing our new bassist and keyboardist up to speed, and planning Sol Slam. Our drummer, Wes, has also been planning for his wedding this fall. It's a lot to keep up with, but fortunately, we have a great staff and volunteer army to help us out with the festival.
Q: You recently confirmed the news that Rusty will be stepping down as the official bassist. What's the latest on that? Will Sol Slam be one of his last shows with Sol Driven Train? Will any potential new bassist be on-hand to step in or jam a bit over the weekend?
A: We have already started the transition from Rusty to our new bass player, Matt Thompson. It's always hard to lose a brother and find another piece to fit our musical family. Rusty has been a big part of Sol Driven Train for many years, and he will be missed - on and off the stage. The change has been smoother than we could have hoped for, and Matt has already started to tour with Sol Driven Train. Sol Slam will be one of Rusty's last performances with the band along with a few shows later in the summer. The Sol Slam will also be the first Charleston show with Driven Train's new line up. It's gonna be an amazing night.
Q: Sol Driven Train has enjoyed a lengthy and colorful relationship with The Windjammer over the years. What is it about the venue that you love and appreciate in particular? And why is it ideal for an event like Sol Slam?
A: I believe that Sol Driven Train has been playing shows at The Windjammer for over 12 years. Before that, I spent quite a few adolescent summers riding my bike around the islands, hanging on the volleyball courts and standing in awe at the bikini contests. We really have grown up at The Windjammer, and it feels like home when we take the stage. I love bringing in bands and music lovers from out of town and showcasing the beauty of the beach and the classic vibe of the venue. Where else can you swim in the Atlantic in between sets?
Q: Tell us about your involvement with the Surfers Healing organization and what drew you to connect with them.
A: Two years ago, I was on the beach when the Surfers Healing guys came through town. Once I saw the joy on the children's faces as they experienced the thrill of surfing and heard their laughter over the crashing waves, I wanted to help out. Autistic children benefit in unique ways from the therapeutic effects of the ocean, and I admire the efforts of this traveling tribe of surfers bringing this powerful experience to children with special needs around the world.
Q: Friday night's bill with Elise and company seems like a standard weekend show with an opener and a headliner. Saturday's schedule, on the other hand, looks pretty intense and exhausting for the whole Sol Driven Train team. How challenging is it for you and performers to play, collaborate and oversee a two-day blast like this?
A: I'm sure we will be exhausted by the time Sunday rolls around. The energy and excitement of folks that come out to the event lifts the spirits of the performers and carries us through the numerous sets. We also have to remember to stay hydrated, eat lots of watermelon and reapply sunscreen throughout the day.
Q: Are there any special guest musicians or singers planned for the Friday or Saturday sets?
A: We haven't scripted any sit-ins yet, but we always enjoy getting our talented friends up on stage with us for a jam session. Our musical family is quite extended, and Sol Slam is like a seaside family reunion and an opportunity to get as many people on stage at one time as possible.
Q: What might be in store for the Soul Driven Train Kids' Show this time around?
A: Our Saturday afternoon kids show will be an interactive performance with sing-a-longs, hand motions and ridiculous costumes. It will get the blood pumping, the legs warmed up, and it's a great way for us to shake off any fatigue from Friday night's festivities - to be followed by a jump in the ocean.
Q: The Saturday afternoon sets will feature performances by the V-Tones, and Megan Jean and the KFB, two very unusual and creative local acts. What do you personally enjoy most about the music and performance style of these acts?
A: I agree that Megan Jean and the Klay Family Band and the V-Tones are two very unique acts. I love Megan Jean's voice, and I really enjoy the contrast between her theatrical stage presence and the stiff-lipped scowl of her husband, Byrne, as he stomps on the kick drum and picks the banjo. They're really nice and interesting people, and we recently got to hang out at The Big What? Festival discussing butter coffee, carbon footprints and van living.
The V-Tones also have a husband-and-wife in the band (Noodle McDoodle and Eden Fonvielle) along with a rotating cast of jazzers, retro-vaudevillians and fashion freaks. Their wacky stage presence and sense of humor belie a rare musical sophistication and pedigree. These two acts perform early in the day, following Sol Driven Train's Kids' Show, and will both terrify and delight the youngsters in the crowd.
Q: Was there a grand theme or idea behind the types of bands and musical styles included on this year's Sol Slam bill?
A: We continue the tradition of booking bands that we enjoy hanging out with as much as we enjoy their music. Most are bands that we have played shows with or toured with over the years. We're really excited to be bringing Ryan Montbleau and Acoustic Syndicate back to Charleston. We try to keep a cool mix of musical styles and rotate in acts from the Charleston area. I'm proud of the extensive list of fantastic bands that we have brought to The Windjammer over the last four years.
Q: Tell us about the band's latest original songs and the ongoing production of the new album, "Dance!," which follows last year's full-length album "Underdog" and the quirky EP "Watermelon."
A: Some of these songs are road-tested, and others have never been performed live. Our approach in the studio has been similar to our previous projects at Charleston Sound, in that we record the entire band live and use minimal overdubs. This allows us to capture the feeling and musical interactions that occur when everyone is playing together, rather than just stacking up tracks.
The title "Dance!" means what it says; we want people to dance to this music. All of our other albums have had a very eclectic collection of lyrical themes, rhythmic patterns and musical styles. While this collection still covers a lot of ground stylistically, the dance-ability factor holds it together as an artistic whole. It was fun to watch Ward Buckheister in the studio testing the dance-ability of the mixes. We have a Kickstarter campaign on our website to raise funds to finish making and release the new album. You can order advanced copies of the album and receive great rewards for your donation.
Q: What are Sol Driven Train's major plans for the rest of the summer and fall?
A: We have a great summer tour coming up, and we're looking forward to letting our music develop with the new lineup on the road. We're stoked about the new studio album, and we're stoked to be traveling and experiencing the music together on a new track of Sol Driven Train's journey.