INTERVIEW: Dave Howard of Relic on opening for Bernie Sanders!

Yesterday, Senator Bernie Sanders and Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez visited our fair city for a sold out engagement at the Louisville Palace. To my surprise, opening for Sanders and Perez was the band Relic, featuring my friend and yours Dave Howard. You may recognize Howard from his years working at Music Go Round, from the music that he’s made in the 23 String Band and others, or as the founder of the Louisville Folk School. So how did my friend get this opportunity? I had to ask to find out. You can check his music out below to see what he’s all about, but be warned that it’s Bluegrass goodness that will put you in a better mood. Read on and feel that good old timey Bern

Never Nervous: How did you manage to get the Sanders gig? Did you have to grease any palms at the DNC?

Dave Howard: I had a series of text messages come in around midnight the night before saying that the Senator was asking if a bluegrass band could play at their event at the Palace Theater. I can’t remember getting a gig offer with less than 24 hours notice, much less for a sold out theater performance, but it just happened that we could all pull it off. I had my shift covered at work within five minutes of getting the first message – it all happened quickly! I’m still trying to catch up but it was totally worth it.

NN: Were there any political objections internal to the band about playing or was this a show? Can you work with people that have drastically different world views?

DH: A friend asked me this last night, and I think its a great question. There were no political objections within the band. I can see how someone who supports a political figure with a hateful message might not want to make that public, but Bernie is a compassionate man who represents the values kids are taught in Sunday school. There is no controversy in his message. Relic would most likely not play for a political event that was counter to our values.

“Bernie is a compassionate man who represents the values kids are taught in Sunday school. There is no controversy in his message.”

I have worked with people that have different political views, which can work out if we aren’t playing music with a political message. Bluegrass music is played by folks all across the political spectrum, so it works best not to stir the pot when working with folks I don’t know well. We don’t talk politics at the Folk School either, that’s not what we are there for – I work hard to make that atmosphere as inclusive as possible.

NN: What did you do to prepare? How do you pick a set list for something like this?

DH: We have been preparing for over ten years, and, considering the venue, the size of the crowd, singing with Bernie, and the publicity, this has been the pinnacle for us as a band! These guys in Relic are top notch musicians and singers, and we play every Wednesday night at the Barrett Bar, so we are pretty much always ready to hit. We didn’t have, nor do we usually have a set list. We talked a little about some songs we would want to make sure we get to, and some of those were givens for us – the songs that we will typically play for a crowd that isn’t specifically a bluegrass crowd. It’s good to know the first two or three songs before the first down beat, but we feed off the energy of calling the next song as it comes to us. Often we are all thinking about the same song when someone calls it out, but that is normal after spending so many hours on stage with the same crew.

NN: Relative to that, were there any restrictions to your set by the event organizers?

DH: Absolutely not. We came recommended by more than one contact, so I think they just trusted that we would make it work.

NN: How was the crowd? How did they respond to your set? To the speech?

DH: The crowd was supportive, sang along to some of the songs that they knew the words to, and were full of energy during our set and the speeches both. I’ve played a handful of sold out smaller theaters, including the Brown Theater in Louisville earlier this year, but playing the Louisville Palace with every seat full was a highlight of my experience as a musician. Getting my picture in the paper with Bernie embracing me and smiling is pretty amazing, but even without that it would have been a thrill to play that room with that crowd. Have you ever been in a packed room and just known that these are your people? It’s a good feeling. There are a lot of factors that came together to make last night special. They came with energy to share, were very generous to us, and we were humbled by it.

NN: Did you meet Sanders?

DH: We just made silly faces at my baby before the event and ate lots of pizza after. Oh, you mean Bernie? No, not really. He shook my hand a few times, said we did a great job, and sang next to me during our last song. I was happy with that, but was hoping Christy and Finn would get to meet him and get a photo. Maybe next time…

NN: I’m not sure why they were in town, but I wish I was there. How were their speeches?

DH: Apparently they should have been in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District this week, but I’m glad they were in town, and I wish you were there too. Let’s be honest, the Kentucky Democratic Party needs to start making some really solid decisions and bringing Bernie here was a smart move. The speeches were high energy and focused on goals of the party and the work that progressive folks need to do to get Democrats back in the seats they have lost recently. There are way too many seats held by Republicans in Kentucky who run unopposed – that can’t happen anymore. The full live stream can be viewed here.

NN: I caught a video and it looked like Sanders didn’t have the best timing with claps. Do you think that someone without rhythm could be a great leader?

“He’s feeling the beat like I’m feeling the Bern.”

DH: Ha! Sanders is a good leader, and is a positive roll model for young people, unlike our president. I’m glad he’s still in the spotlight – he has great ideas. I hope that years from now, when our kids will probably be playing in bands together, they will look back at the time before single payer healthcare and comment on how we were all being ripped off by insurance companies and the politicians that work for them. It’s gonna happen and Bernie is leading us in that direction. Put that on the ballet nationally and watch it happen! As far as the clapping goes, I disagree! Sanders clapped on time, just not every beat, and maybe not always the beat you may have expected him to clap on. I just watched the video again and he’s feeling the beat like I’m feeling the Bern. What you are seeing is Bernie thinking out of the box.