The music The CRB puts out is pretty dense, with multiple layers. Do you see yourself stripping that down at any point? Ever think about doing an acoustic set?

We have been talking about doing an acoustic set for quite a while now. It hasn’t come together mostly for logistical reasons. Being able to fix equipment on stage, that kind of stuff. I know it will happen at some point, I’m just not sure when. The good news about the CRB doing a stripped down version is that our songs will stand up to that kind of scrutiny because we write all of our songs that way. By that I mean as expansive as our arrangements get, we always keep the melodies in sight—our songs are always songs. They have choruses and melodies, they are actually saying something. We make sure that our songs are substantial before we record them. Sometimes we play them for people in their more skeletal forms, but they are always on their way to being melodically complete. There is no other way for us. It’s a band full of songwriters. Chris has been doing this for a really long time, and I’ve plied my trade as a much stripped down singer/songwriter for years, so the idea of songcraft is well established in me. No one in the band will accept too much melodic fluff or something without bones. When the day comes that we strip our songs down, I do think they’re going to make it. That may be a little overconfident there, by that’s my prediction. We write these songs on acoustic guitars, so the bones are there. It’s been in conversation for quite a while now and I look forward to it. It will be worth the wait.

One can’t help but notice the similarities between the CRB and The Grateful Dead. The philosophy of opening your songs up to improvisation, The Grateful Dead had Stanley Mouse, The CRB has Alan Forbes, Dead Heads and Freaks, etc. And then you throw Betty Cantor-Jackson into the mix—what are your thoughts on the similarities?

The Grateful Dead is definitely a touchstone for us and it’s a good model to follow. We try to bring some of the essence of it to the audience, without you feeling like you’re being presented with a tribute or a cover band. If this results in a more committed night of music, then yes, we are using that model, and yes, we’re proud of it. We also use this model for ourselves, for a deeper commitment to the entire experience. I mean, let’s be clear, we’re not trying to be The Grateful Dead. Are we influenced by them? Yes, we are, but we are also very much our own identity. Chris established his own musical identity a long time ago, and that goes for everyone else too.

How did you get involved with Betty Cantor-Jackson?

This was all Chris’ idea. Chris had gotten to know Betty and realized that this incredibly talented lady, with a jaw-dropping legacy, was still working. So he had the idea to have her come out and record the Betty’s Blends. Great idea!

You recently brought Tony Leone onboard. When we last spoke, you mentioned that you hadn’t realized how large your catalog was until Tony started learning the material. What does that feel like?

So here we are in our fifth year as a band, and you go along without thinking about how much you’re doing. Having Tony in the band and learning all this material makes me realize just how much we have put together over the years, and the hundreds of shows we have under our belt. But I wouldn’t have noticed had it not been for someone new coming in and having to get a handle on all this material. Tony has been like a mirror, or mile marker to see how far we’ve come.

So, what is it about the CRB that keeps you excited about playing music?

All of it. Every part of it! Personally, I’m directly involved with the creative part of the band and that’s enough for me to go on. I’m involved with the songwriting process and the singing and the playing. We tour all the time. We’re not a band that sits around talking about playing, we’re a band that actually goes out and does it. We’re always recording and working on stuff. We’re a living band and openness and expansiveness is encouraged here. There are very few censors on what we do and there is a lot of room to do whatever we want to do. No one tells anyone what to play in this band. We all bring our personality and our own style to the music and it all works together. There’s a lot to be psyched about here. I don’t have to play someone else’s music… I’m involved in creating this thing. I’m a founding member of a working band. This is a very exciting thing to be a part of. If you want to work on your guitar playing or your singing there’s a lot of room for that. I get to stay vital as a songwriter and I get to test out my ideas in front of an audience several nights a week. I don’t have to wait months and months to go out and play a show. The next CRB gig is always right around the corner. I’ve made a lot of records and have played with a lot of people, and it’s been a few years now but I feel like I’m in a second round of inspiration.

Photo by Stuart Levine

You recently sat in with the Tedeschi Trucks Band at the Sunshine Music Festival. How did that feel?

It was a huge honor for Derek to ask me to sit in with him. For my money, they are about the best live band on the planet right now. Every piece of that band is masterful, powerful, soulful and exciting. And they have everything I’m looking for in music, in terms of inspiration, keeping the right principle and aesthetic alive, and putting it all together. They are the coolest, most fun-loving group of people who, through Chris, I am lucky enough to be acquainted with. As a guitar player, just standing next to Derek was a little bit daunting but once I was in there and in the groove I got comfortable pretty quickly. Also, being next to Susan and hearing her sing was something I won’t forget for a while.

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