Drew Holcomb is a family man, and he’s a good neighbor as well. The fact that he and his wife, Ellie, whom he met while attending the University of Tennessee, worked and occasionally tour together affirms the former. Likewise, the name of his band, appropriately dubbed The Neighbors, gives credence to the latter.
That attitude also is evident in his populist approach and the communal connection he shares with his fans. He frequently sends out mass emails that provide updates on his ongoing efforts and inform audiences about upcoming concerts.
Indeed, Holcomb’s no slouch. His recent performance at the Gospel Brunch, a signature event that concludes Nashville’s annual AmericanaFest festival and conference, found him capping a series of shows he had performed earlier during the six-day celebration.
“You were catching me actually dead tired after our show the night before,” Holcomb said of the show while speaking by phone during one of his few days at home.
Surprisingly, he appeared wide awake, even though a 10 a.m. call could be considered early for many working musicians. Then again, as a family man, he’s obligated to be awake and attentive even during the morning hours.
“I come home Sunday, Monday and Tuesday,” he said. “When I’m home, my kids get me up at 7 a.m., so I’ve been up for hours.”
Still, Holcomb has ample reason to celebrate. “Dragons,” his recent album has netted all sort of critical kudos, little wonder considering that its upbeat and engaging sound is an aural antidote of sorts for today’s troubling times. It also marks a change in tack, one that finds Holcomb sharing the songwriting credits with a host of notable co-writers — Lori McKenna, his wife Ellie and members of the band The Lone Bellow among them.
Holcomb said that the cooperative effort has a practical purpose.
“By the time ‘Souvenir,’ my last record, was released and I was done touring, I was out of gas,” he said. “I got sick at the beginning of that tour and I was in the hospital with meningitis. I decided that I wanted to try some new things, and one of those was co-writing. I had done it before on an EP I put out with a band called Johnnyswim and Penny and Sparrow, and I loved what came out of that.
“I loved the energy and the pressure it took off of me when I wasn’t forced to do everything on my own. I decided to carry that spirit forward with the new record. I involved my producer more than I had done in the past. The co-writing thing was something I really enjoyed and I
just wanted to keep it going.”
That inclusive attitude carries over into the relationship he has with his audience.
“I’ve always thought of them as part of the conversation,” he said. “A lot of my favorite artists treat their live show as a conversation, and that’s part of what I try to do. It’s definitely becoming more prevalent in my concerts. As I get older, it translates into my work.”
Naturally then, the approach has garnered favorable reaction from his fans. Holcomb says that he sees messages on social media from folks that have made it a point to catch him and his band repeatedly.
“They feel like they’re part of the family,” Holcomb suggests. “I think part of that comes from the nature of our music and the fact that we make a deliberate attempt to engage the audience. I’m not the artist who plays the songs and never communicates with the crowd.
“We’ve invited ourselves into this conversation about music. A lot of it tends to illuminate some people’s life moments, whether it’s weddings or funerals or births, those kind of milestones in people’s lives. So it allows them to become more personally connected to it than they would otherwise. ”
The band’s annual Moon River Festival in Chattanooga, an event that takes place the weekend after Labor Day, is another element in that outreach. The group initiated the gathering six years ago and currently carries it on with help and support from the Knoxville-based concert promotions company AC Entertainment.
“They’ve become a great partner,” Holcomb said. “I get to make a dream list of the artists I’d love to have and we try to build it the best we can. I’ve enjoyed that curator role and I’ve become more confident in telling people about other acts I like. I’ve been the recipient of that kind of generosity by other bands that took me out on the road in the past. I feel like there are plenty of seats at the table. There’s plenty of room for everybody.”
Although he was raised in Memphis and currently lives in Nashville, Holcomb still considers Knoxville his second home. He said Ellie has family that still lives there.
“Whenever we play in Knoxville, it always feels like home,” he said. “Knoxville’s always been really good to us. We played at the Bijou last February, and we’ve opened at the Tennessee, but we’ve never headlined there, so this upcoming show feels pretty special. Knoxville’s one of those places that feels like home. It’s certainly in the top three.”
Although he toured with Ellie before, these days he’s the one who’s out on the road while Ellie stays home to take care of their three young children. However, he also has a long relationship with the musicians in his band. Guitarist Nathan Dugger has been with him since 2004, while bassist Rich Brinsfield joined in 2006.
“I often tell people that I have two families,” Holcomb said. “The one at home and the one on the stage.”