Downtown Nashville’s free concert series Live On the Green continues Thursday night at Public Square Park with performances from indie rock band Cold War Kids, Americana group Houndmouth and rockers J. Roddy Walston and the Business, the latter of which is sure to evoke fond comparisons to Southern rock and blues legends.
They’re anchored by Cleveland, Tennessee native J. Roddy Walston, a frontman/pianist whose lively presence, chest-length hair and full beard draw instant comparisons to legendary bandleader and session musician Leon Russell. On the band’s rowdiest tracks, they sound like the Rolling Stones circa “Exile on Main Street,” and on their tender moments they recall The Band’s strongest ballads.
Even though these musical touchstones pop up throughout the band’s three full-length albums, Walston doesn’t credit these groups for the Business’ down-home spin on alternative rock. He says his influences were first drawn from early Southern musicians he discovered in his youth.
“These early country, blues and gospel players [were] just becoming a part of my world,” Walston said in a recent phone interview. “I was writing stuff and people would say, ‘Oh, I hear a lot of the Stones or the Band.’ It was like I was getting to those places by listening to the same people that the Stones had listened to, or Leon Russell had listened to.”
Since being formed by Walston in 2002, the group has gained a reputation for frenzied live shows centered around the frontman, who mans a 300-pound upright piano center stage with the fervor of Jerry Lee Lewis in his prime. Media buzz and a rigorous touring schedule lead to slots at high-profile festivals, including the 2014 Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee.
“We’ve been playing festivals for four or five years, and that was the first time we ever got to headline a serious stage at night,” Walston said. “It felt triumphant. We’ve been going at it for a long time. We’ve been a band for over 10 years and touring full time for six or seven. Bonnaroo last year was a highlight, watermark moment where we all kind of stepped back and said, ‘Things are changing.’”
With a tour docket filled with both intimate club shows and festival gigs such as Live On the Green, Walston said the band members have had to learn to adapt their performances for larger audiences.
“We knew how to be a big band on a small stage with a crowd right up on us, and it’s a whole different experience playing to a larger crowd,” Walston said. “Before, I used prefer the small clubs, hand down. But now, it’s nice to have a mix of both.”
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