Americana singer and songwriter Drew Holcomb and his band, The Neighbors, kicked off their latest tour with a sellout of Nashville, Tennessee’s famed Ryman Auditorium.
The Sept. 14 concert was the fourth time the act has played there, and the fourth time it has sold out, but the first time it happened to begin a road swing, Holcomb said.
“It was a really special night, kind of got us pretty fired up for the whole tour,” the Nashville-based Holcomb said.
Holcomb’s tour opens Jefferson Center’s 2019-2020 Star City Series on Saturday. Also coming to the venue’s Shaftman Performance Hall, as part of its premiere series, are The Wood Brothers (Nov. 7), Del McCoury Band (Dec. 5), The Steeldrivers (Feb. 7), Booker T. Jones (Feb. 21), Squirrel Nut Zippers with Dirty Dozen Brass Band (March 4) and Kathy Mattea (April 2).
The climb has been steady for Holcomb, who first played Roanoke in 2012, at the old Kirk Avenue Music Hall (now The Spot on Kirk). He and The Neighbors opened for Railroad Earth the next year, at the J.J. Redick Foundation Kickoff Concert, at the Patrick Henry (onetime Cave Spring High School basketball star Redick, who went from Duke University to the NBA, is a Holcomb fan). A 2015 show at Harvester and a couple of shows in Abingdon have followed.
“That’s a microcosm of what it’s really looked like for us everywhere — finding the local listening room where it’s a venue but people come there really to hear songs and hear music,” he said. “Kirk Avenue was one of our favorite local gem finds. Roanoke wasn’t really on our radar. Sometimes in towns that size, they don’t really have a room like that. To have a place to play where people came to listen to music was a great start, and we’ve been able to find other ways to play in the area since, to kind of grow our audience.
“ ... We’ve made our way. We never had a big radio hit. We weren’t on ‘American Idol’ or anything silly like that. We’ve just been making our music and touring every year, consistently, wherever we can find an audience. We’re really grateful for the journey and where we currently are. It’s pretty enjoyable to play rooms like that and have people come and sing along and listen to your band and your stories.”
Not that his songs have been obscure. If you watched such television shows as “House,” “Criminal Minds,” “How I Met Your Mother,” “Parenthood,” “Justified” and “Nashville,” you have probably heard a Drew Holcomb and The Neighbors number. “Live Forever” and “What Would I Do Without You” are among the songs licensed to TV, adding up to about 75 placements.
“We’ve had a good run,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of songs on TV, and it’s been a way that we’ve made a lot of our fans. It’s been a cool thing. It’s kind of been our radio, in a way.”
His 13th album, “Dragons,” came out in August, peaking at No. 3 on the Billboard folk albums chart, No. 30 on the rock chart and No. 5 among indie albums. The disc includes something new for Holcomb: Co-writers. Two-time Grammy Award winner Lori McKenna, who co-wrote Tim McGraw’s “Humble and Kind” and Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush,” and Holcomb teamed for “You Want What You Can’t Have” and “Make It Look So Easy.” Natalie Hemby, a country hit songwriter who is getting a lot of press lately as part of the supergroup Highwomen, co-wrote “Maybe” with him.
“I have met a lot of great writers and made friends over the years, just through playing music,” Holcomb said. “Both Lori and Natalie and a few others I’d met at different songwriter nights. … Both of them, on different occasions, told me after those nights, hey, that was a lot of fun. I love your songs, and if you ever want to get together and write, let me know, I’d love to write with you.
“When I started to write for this record, I thought I’d take a few chances and try some different things, and wrote with both of them and some other folks [Sean McConnell, Zach Williams and Cason Cooley]. I’m not one to turn down someone like Lori McKenna telling me she wants to write a song with me. I think those experiences were fruitful. We wrote some songs I’m really proud of that made the record. It just made the whole process a lot more collaborative, and I really enjoyed that. I do think that I’ll do it again.”