At SteelDrivers show, great bluegrass a sure thing, but a Bill Murray cameo isn’t
The touring musicians finally are sharing tunes from pre-pandemic album ‘Bad for You’ with live audiences, and hoping for another visit from their famous fan.
The SteelDrivers aren’t sure Bill Murray is coming to their Chicago shows.
Certainly, the Grammy-winning bluegrass band would love to see the actor and comedian who has long declared his love for the Windy City. But if the SteelDrivers know anything since first meeting Murray on the set of his 2009 movie “Get Low,” they certainly know this.
You just never know where Murray might show up.
When: 8 p.m. May 26-27
Where: City Winery, 1200 W. Randolph St.
Tickets: $38 - $55
“It was 2018 I think, and we were up on stage with John [Prine] getting ready to sing at the Grand Ole Opry, and then we see Bill standing in the wings,” laughs the SteelDrivers’ Tammy Rogers during an interview. “We were not even sure how he even got backstage. (Laughs.) We introduced him to the crowd, and I remember that he just had this angelic look on his face the whole entire time we were all there performing together. It was priceless.”
The fiddle player suddenly draws in a deep sigh.
“I’m so glad that we got professional photos of that night,” she says.
Because not only would the SteelDrivers’ performance with Murray be a first, but their performance with Prine would be their last.
“I think it was the very next year that suddenly we were in the whole COVID-19 thing,” Rogers says quietly. “And John [Prine] was one of COVID-19’s very early victims. So yeah, that performance was so special for us on so many levels.”
Indeed, the dichotomies that the hard-edged bluegrass players have experienced in their own lives also have been infused into their music over the past decade, the latest musical selections being held within their chart-topping fifth album “Bad for You.”
“It had been five years since our last record [‘The Muscle Shoal Recordings’], and we just had worked so hard on that album,” says Rogers of 2020’s “Bad for You,” which was released just a few short weeks before the world shut down. “Plus, we had a tour planned and all of this excitement surrounding the record, and then everything just came to a complete stop.”
And suddenly, Rogers says she found herself mourning it all.
“I don’t mean this to sound dramatic, but it was a loss,” continues the Tennessee native who helped found The SteelDrivers back in 2008. “There was so much we wanted to do and accomplish with that album. I don’t know that I’ve completely dealt with it, to be honest.”
But Rogers and her SteelDrivers bandmates are getting better at coming to terms with the chaos of the past few years, especially as the resilient band — now made up of Rogers, lead vocalist Matt Dame, bass player Michael Fleming, banjo player Richard Bailey and mandolin player Brent Truitt — get to breathe new life into the music of “Bad for You.”
“The thing that keeps me going is that the overall reason for the band even existing has never wavered,” Rogers says of the song-driven band whose music has been featured everywhere from the Justin Timberlake movie “Palmer” to the wildly popular TV show “Yellowstone.” “As far as musical direction, I think the band has never really changed. I think we’ve just evolved.”
One of the band’s most earth-shaking evolutions occurred in April of 2010 when band co-founder Chris Stapleton made the decision to go solo. Since then, Stapleton has gone on to become a true country music powerhouse with hit songs such as “Broken Halos,” “Starting Over” and “You Should Probably Leave.” But in the years since Stapleton’s departure, the SteelDrivers have found many a worthy lead vocalist to take his place.
“We’ve been very fortunate to find great singers where you don’t get that feeling like they’re imitating or copying anyone else,” Rogers explains. “It still feels really vibrant, you know? And now when we walk on stage, it’s as much about our catalog of songs that we’ve created as it is any one person.”
And as far as the Chicago shows go, Rogers says she is ready to show audiences all that the SteelDrivers are now capable of, whether Murray shows up or not.
“You know, I haven’t talked to him lately,” Rogers chuckles. “Usually its Richard [Bailey] that has his private number and sends him a little message if we’re headed to Chicago. We just haven’t been there in a while. But it would be lovely obviously to see him. It would be cool to see him standing in the wings again.”