Dustbowl Revival gets to the roots
The Dustbowl Revival might specialize in antiquated genres like pre-war blues and swing, but don’t call them a throwback band. The L.A.-based roots collective breathes new life into the foundations of popular music with barnstorming live shows that marry nostalgia with joyful urgency.
The band plays HopCat Detroit and the Ann Arbor Folk Festival this weekend and for founder Zach Lupetin, the latter gig is a dream come true. The University of Michigan alum cites his years spent in Ann Arbor, including catching legends like Taj Mahal and John Prine at Hill Auditorium, as a major influence on his musical taste.
“It was definitely unexpected,” Lupetin says of being booked for the festival. “People are going to have a lot of fun seeing this band in that big beautiful room. It’s a big sound, so there’s a lot of room to fill up with our big crazy noise.”
After graduating from U-M, Lupetin moved to Los Angeles to pursue writing and film. When he posted an ad on Craigslist looking for fellow musicians to play with, he didn’t expect it to lead to a very different kind of career.
“It was kind of a shot in the dark,” Lupetin says. “You move to a new city and you don’t know a lot of people who have your interests. I was looking for people who could play any one of 17 instruments and who listen to Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, Robert Johnson and Bruce Springsteen. I basically listed a bunch of instruments and musicians that I love and said, ‘Let me know if you want to hang out and play music.’ ”
The response was enthusiastic and Lupetin spent the next couple of years building what he calls an “old-time party band” with drums, strings and horns. He jammed with a rotating cast of musicians of all ages, including a retired chiropractor on slide guitar and a school principal on pedal steel. The project evolved from a small string band to an eight-piece touring orchestra which began playing up and down the west coast and eventually the whole country.
“There’s a reason certain styles of music never die,” Lupetin says. “Roots music is part of our DNA. It’s sort of always somewhere rattling around in our heads, even if we don’t know it. Even young people kind of sense that when they come to a show. Maybe they’ve been listening to rock ‘n’ roll or hip-hop but they can sense that it all comes from something. That’s why it’s such a great name: ‘roots music.’ It’s the root of where it all started.”
The band specializes in a kitchen-sink mix of bluegrass, blues, folk and swing that has earned them widespread acclaim, including an Independent Music Award for Americana song of the year (for “Dan’s Jam”), with fellow roots revisionist Tom Waits on the judging panel.
“I would say that it’s almost like going to a rock ‘n’ roll show, but in 1938,” Lupetin says. “There’s definitely not a shy, stoic thing going on with us. We’re there to blow the roof off the place, and people are aware of that once we get going. We always encourage dancing, and there’s a lot of musical call and response. I like to say it’s a conversation between us and the audience.”
Steven Sonoras is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.
The Dustbowl Revival
9 p.m. Friday
The Huma Room
at HopCat Detroit