Zach Lupetin has an eclectic sense of what a band can be.
When he created Dustbowl Revival, Lupetin took elements of folk and bluegrass and merged them with the brass sound of R&B, funk and Crescent City soul.
“I’ve always had an expansive vision of what a band can be sonically. I never wanted to be in a bluegrass band or a blues band,” Lupetin said. “I love a lot of the different genres of roots music. They’re much more connective than people think.”
If that template sounds somewhat familiar, it should.
As standard bearers in modern roots music, The Band honed a similar sound five decades ago, blending genres at a rollicking clip with compact harmonies.
So it would make sense that Dustbowl Revival would offer a hat tip to The Band on its recent tour with Hot Club of Cowtown.
The groups perform a 50th anniversary tribute to The Band this weekend in Fairbanks and Anchorage called “Across the Great Divide.”
“We are both mutual admirers of the music The Band put out,” Lupetin said. “It’s kind of a cultural touchstone for people making roots music then and now. It’s very important for musicians who like cross-pollinating genres. The Band was one of the first to bring folk music into funk together in a way, which we’ve been trying to do in Dustbowl for years.”
The Band influenced Lupetin on many levels, as a songwriter and band leader.
“Having a band that reached into people’s consciousness is always an inspiring thing for a songwriter,” he said. “Sometimes you fear when you mix things together that don’t always fit, especially mixing a horn section and a string section. They already did this and a lot of the stuff on (the documentary concert) ‘The Last Waltz’ is very reminiscent of the sounds we’re making for several years.”
Now an eight-piece band based out of Los Angeles, Dustbowl has been playing songs by The Band for a number of years and added a few new selections for the tour.
“We started doing a couple Band songs six or seven years ago when we played an event for the Levon Helm documentary,” Lupetin said. “We learned several songs and we never stopped doing a few of the songs, ‘(Up on) Cripple Creek’ especially. We added some of the songs for this tour that I had listened to in my dad’s car growing up.”
Hot Club of Cowtown, based in Austin, Texas, is into its third decade of blending jazz, swing and country influences.
Cowtown fiddle player Elana James developed some favorite songs by The Band when she performed them as part of Bob Dylan’s touring band.
Among her favorite is “This Wheel’s On Fire,” co-written by Dylan and The Band’s Rick Danko.
“Elana was instrumental in selecting the songs, and then she arranged the vocals and sang harmonies on all these songs,” said guitarist Whit Smith. “Those lent themselves very well to this style.”
Smith takes lead vocals on “I Shall Be Released,” another song penned by Dylan for which The Band delivered a memorable live version.
“We interpreted them a little bit,” Smith said. “ It’s a Bob Dylan song but our approach is a little more of a Nina Simone version. I play much more folk rhythm. I still play an old archtop, so we didn’t reinvent ourselves. We tried to find a happy medium.”
James and Smith met in 1994 in New York City and initially formed a much larger Western swing band in the realm of Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys. But they soon scaled back the project to include just the two of them and a bass player, relocating to Austin by the late ’90s.
The tour with Dustbowl came together quickly, allowing both bands to play both their own material and songs from The Band along with a little cross-band collaboration mixed in.
“It was kind of several coincidences all came together,” Smith said. “They were already doing some of these songs and we have the same agent, so we do some of the same shows. When we did a show together, it was fun to play with other musicians, and sometimes they would sit in with us. We formalized it, so now we’re doing it with two bands and there are a couple moments when we play together."
Smith had one particularly distinct memory of one of Cowtown’s previous trips to the state.
“No one can make you feel more appreciated,” he said of the crowds. “I had one of those televangelistic moments at a show. I had food poisoning and had to play and was sitting down and feeling pretty horrible. The crowd just went nuts, and by the second song I was standing up, I had broken the fever and was rocking.”
Hot Club of Cowtown
with Dustbowl Revival
“Across the Great Divide” 50th Anniversary Tribute to The Band
Fairbanks, Friday, 7:30 p.m., Davis Concert Hall (fairbanksconcert.org)
Anchorage, Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Atwood Concert Hall (www.centertix.com)