Hard Working Americans, pictured, will perform at the Lockn' Festival in Arrington, Virginia on Aug. 27. (Photo by Jay Blakeberg)
It’s hard not to be awe-struck when talking to Dave Schools. The 51-year-old Richmond native and bassist of Georgia-based rock band Widespread Panic effortlessly weaves random anecdotes of music history and celebrity into conversation with no pretense, like an affable uncle at dinner. While we speak, his tour bus is pulling into Seattle, where Schools and his Hard Working Americans bandmates are kicking off their West Coast gigs.
The group – made up of a jam band’s who’s-who and relations – includes Schools and guitarists Neal Casal and Jesse Aycock, Great American Taxi keyboardist Chad Staehly, singer-songwriter Todd Snider and drummer Duane Trucks, the latter also of Widespread Panic. For someone who has been on tour for more than 30 years, Schools sounds excited about this night’s show and the weeks ahead with HWA.
HWA is young, especially compared to Schools’ other project. The band launched its first album (all covers), curated by Todd Snider, in 2014 and then put out its second, "Rest in Chaos," in 2016, with Snider writing all the lyrics.
What started as a fun side project has, in two years, become a driving force. “We did not expect the band to be as fun or as exciting, as it turns out, [so] quick,” says Schools. “We get along great. It goes further than what happens on stage. And that’s part of what makes this so wonderful. It’s always a lot of laughs,” he says of the tour. “We wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t love it.” Hard Working Americans is a different sound than Widespread Panic; a little more gritty, with a lot more rock and roll character. In this clip from a May 2016 show in Nashville, Tennessee, HWA performs a hit from the new album called "Half Ass Moses."
Schools attributes the difference between the two bands to their ingredients. “It’s like a stew,” he says. “Certain spices taste certain ways, and this stew is a very different one than the Panic stew. The spirit and the intent is the same; they are both very song-oriented, traditional song forms. There is a lot of personality.”
Hard Working Americans will play their first Lockn' Festival in Arrington this year, but the band members are no stranger to the event. Widespread Panic has played the festival since its inception. “We helped start this whole jam band scene – this H.O.R.D.E. tour – back in the '90s, [with] Blues Traveler, Spin Doctors. It's pretty great to see how everything still feels the same,” Schools says. Though he is quick to say that it has become harder to see live music because of the expense involved, Schools thinks the United States is getting better at embracing the large festivals that Europe is so adept at hosting.
Schools grew up in Richmond’s Stonewall Court neighborhood; his mother still resides there, and he’ll try to squeeze in a stop when they hit the Lockn' Festival on its third day, Aug. 27.
As we approach the end of our conversation, Schools hints at an upcoming “something” with the Grateful Dead's Bob Weir that he is not at liberty to discuss in detail. He laments the year off Widespread Panic will take in 2017 but perks up when sharing HWA's plans for the coming months.
“It has everything to do with Todd Snider; he is the cute one. And Jesse Aycock is cute, too. The band’s looks just varnish the music ability that is already here,” Schools says, laughing, as we wrap up and he heads off to “Stomp and Holler.”