Of beer, poodles and Astroturf
Four months between visits to Nevada County is almost unbearable for R.J. “Antsy” McClain, half of the Trailer Park Troubadours.
“It’s too long to be away from Grass Valley. It seems like such a long time!” said McClain on Monday from Nashville, in anticipation of the Troubs’ return to Center for the Arts Friday.
During their first visit here in July, they were struck with the quaint mining-town atmosphere.
“We miss you so much, we were ready to come back to Grass Valley the week we got back home to Pine View Heights in Kentucky,” McClain added.
When they’re not touring around the country, McClain and sidekick Stephen Foster Fleming III (“Flem” to his friends) can be found in Pine View Heights or Nashville.
“When your home is on wheels, you can live anywhere,” explained McClain. He lives part-time in Nashville “to be closer to the warm-and-fuzzy music scene” there.
With the duo’s seventh CD, “Living in Aluminum, The Live Experience,” to be released Nov. 8, the duo has found its niche.
The Troubadours has also developed a cult of sorts the last two years.
“We’re absolutely busier than we can be. I get goose bumps when we go to a new town. Every show, we ask a show of hands and two-thirds of the audience are new,” said McClain.
Many fans, affectionately called “flamingo heads,” follow the Troubadours city to city. They also follow the duo’s happenings on http://www.unhitched and through a monthly online newsletter, The Trailer Park Troubune.
“The cult thing has just been very validating to me, letting me know that I can keep doing this for a little longer,” said McClain before throwing out a zinger 10 minutes later. “Flem and I want to do this forever, even when we’re old, white-haired, stooped guys. It wouldn’t be as funny as the Rolling Stones, but it would still be funny.”
The Troubs describe their music as folkabilly. It includes Americana, country, rock ‘n’ roll and the blues.
“We’re just a couple of guys from a trailer park. Our roots are very basic; we’re just writing what we know,” McClain said. “If I wrote about China, it’s going to come out as a bunch of gibberish. I grew up among blue-collar, hard-working people who don1t have a lot of money. It1s shaped how I look at the world. Some of the stuff is funny, some is serious<life is serious.²
McClain composes his best songs when he1s driving a car or stepping out of the shower.
3It1s like blues singers tell you<you have to live it,² he said. 3You can1t make it up. My philosophy of songwriting is you have to write in the act of living, rather than making song writing a profession. You have more poignant songs if you are writing en route to life.²
The Troubs are cousins (or so McClain claims) who grew up four trailers from each other in Pine View Heights and played 3goofy stuff² around the kitchen table.
3It1s getting closer to where I hoped it would be<traveling to new places, meeting new people, making new friends, seeing new trailer parks,² McClain said.
Last month, the Troubs played a corporate event at a 3smancy fancy² venue in Las Vegas. During a break, they drove by a funky trailer park<with a name like Tropical Paradise<near the strip and pulled in.
3It had the coolest vintage trailers from the 160s and 170s, tear dropped-shaped things. We shot two rolls of film, drove around for 11Z2 hours in the park talking to residents. It was great,² McClain said.
He has recently heard from Nevada County fans that there are trailer parks here they missed seeing in July. Don1t be surprised to see a guy with big hair (McClain) and a 3Beverly Hillbilly²1s Jethro look-alike (Fleming)checking them out.
3Flem and I are kind of like puppy dogs. Pat us on the head, feed us, you1ll never get rid of us,² McClain said with a laugh.
KNOW & GO
WHAT: Trailer Park Troubadours
WHEN: Friday at 8 p.m. Peter Wilson opens show.
WHERE: Center for the Arts, 314 W. Main St., Grass Valley
ADMISSION: $15. Advance tickets at Herb Shop Records, BriarPatch and Book Seller, at (800) 594-8499 or online at http://www.thecenterforthearts.org
No one except R.J. “Antsy” McClain and Stephen Foster “Flem” Fleming III – the Trailer Park Troubadours – can predict what their performances will entail. Audience members can count on two things, however: nonstop laughs and great musicianship and showmanship.
McClain and Fleming have been compared to the “Smothers Brothers Meets the Blues Brothers” or the “Barenaked Ladies on Acid.”
At their first Grass Valley performance in July at Center for the Arts, the singers kept the audience in stitches with originals about trailers and life outside trailer parks.
Expect the unusual at a Troub performance – Fleming turning into Axl Rose and Fleming turning into Bob Dylan – because hardcore fans demand the impersonations.
“You know it, we can’t not do it or we’ll hear about it afterwards,” McClain said with a laugh. “Times I forget the masks, it doesn’t quite work and some people will cuss us out after the show.”
The Troubs have two backing bands, depending on which coast they’re on; the Alluminators return for Friday’s gig.
“We fly by the seat of our bands. The Alluminators are excellent musicians. If you heard us play, you’d be glad they’re there,” McClain said of the West Coast band.
Friday’s multimedia show will be different from the summer show, McClain promised.
For the first time, The Troubadours will have a simultaneous slide show featuring the folks back home in Kentucky and Tennessee.
“We’ve found California audiences to be the best,” McClain said.
“We got to try it on. If it goes big with the Grass Valley audience, we’ll use the slide show in our other shows.”
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