It started with a favor, one that was only supposed to be a single show. Vince Herman, of the jam band Leftover Salmon, joined keyboard player and singer Chad Staehly to play a benefit for South American rain forests hosted by Rainforest Action Group in Boulder, Colo.
Eight years, three new band members and what might be as many as 1,000 shows later, the band now known as Great American Taxi just can't seem to give it a rest. And they've played a lot of benefits and cause-based festivals along the way, including appearances the past two years at the Renewable Resource Foundation's Salmonstock festival here in Alaska.
"We feel like some of these things -- especially when it comes to the environment and some of the destruction that's taking place -- we find that to be important and take offense to some of the things people are willing to do in the name of a dollar," Chad Staehly said over the phone last week.
Staehly says Taxi has done a lot of things for fans, friends and others who approach them with an issue that resonates with the band.
"If we can get by and pay the bills, that's all we're looking for. We're not trying to get rich doing this," he said.
But the band's No. 1 mission is to get people to have a good time. Taxi is really about the live show, though their albums have found success on Americana radio.
"It's all centered around dancing and getting people out on the dance floor and moving, and the more that happens, the more we get excited about it and the better we play and the more fun everyone has," Staehly said. "It just kind of turns into this synergistic thing."
They call their music "Americana without borders." Taxi is a jam band that blends the classic American music styles of rock 'n' roll, country, bluegrass, jazz and even a bit of Cajun. Along with playing their instruments, each member of the band sings and writes songs.
"And being a Colorado band, we certainly cherish Mother Nature a whole lot," Staehly said.
One of the band's first recognizable songs is "Appalachian Soul." The song was featured in the documentary "Coal Country" and includes critical lyrics like, "Well, you can tear at a mountain/ You can wash it down below/ But you can't take the heart out of this/ Appalachian, Appalachian soul."
From mountaintop removal to fracking to speaking out against the proposed Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, everyone in the band shares the idea that politics should find a home in music.
"It starts with a lot of conversations that we have while we're driving hundreds of thousands of miles. We'll start thinking about things," Staehly said.
The band has developed a following here in Alaska, with Alaskans often commenting on the Taxi's social networking pages when the group asks questions about the weekend or what music people are listening to these days.
Taxi's first Alaska experience was the 2010 Fiddlehead Music Festival during summer solstice in Girdwood. The band has been back twice a year ever since and are no strangers to the Sitzmark Bar & Grill, where the full band will play tonight and tomorrow as part of its Great American Snowball Tour.
"Coming up to beautiful spots like Anchorage and Girdwood, you know, it just makes the job all that much better," Staehly said.