It all started in Athens, Georgia in 2001 during a most peculiar spell when 5 or 6 bluegrass bands circulated the town. The famous Athens, which had once spawned the B-52s, REM, Widespread Panic, and countless other indie, pop and punk acts,was now the home to a competing minority of bluegrass players. The Packway Handle Band emerged from this small scene, finding national acclaim first as finalists at the Telluride bluegrass competition in 2002 and 2003, then taking 2nd place in 2004. The band’s 2003 debut album, “Chaff Harvest” was produced using prize awards from a local Battle of the Bands when they beat out 72 other rock bands for first place.
In early 2006 the band went on the road full time (and later even to Europe), wowing audiences across the country with close 4-part harmonies and their dance around two tightly-spaced condenser mics. Packway Handle Band has emerged at the national forefront of bands that use a gather-around-the-mic style. Theirs is not a mission to preserve historical styles– it’s just how they do what they do the best. And what they do best is rooted in thought provoking songwriting, clever choice and arrangement of bluegrass traditionals, and totally unexpected (even totally inappropriate) covers, all delivered with a crackling energy.
Currently, the band is compiling live recordings for a Live Album. We caught up with Josh Erwin, Guitar & Vocals for the band, before their show at Smith’s Olde Bar this Friday, March 1st. If you’re hesitant about bluegrass, don’t be! These guys make it really fun!
What is the strangest thing a fan has done for you? or at your show?
[JE]– It’s always a highlight when someone in the crowd falls over, but that’s not that strange since it’s fairly common. One of the most unique things someone did for us was in Burlington, VT. A girl had carved a wooden duck, named it Earl (namesake of the duck in the song, “Earl the Duck” by our fiddle player, Andrew), and asked us to sign it for her. So, we obliged.
What is the funniest moment you have had as an artist/band so far?
[JE]– That’s a really overwhelming question! Here’s a moment the band experienced together. The last night we were in Europe we had to catch a connecting flight to come home in Amsterdam. We had to wait 17 hours or something, so we needed to sleep in the airport. The only place we could find was beside this horrible merry-go-round that played R&B Disco all night. For 17 hours straight. That was in 2008. Every one of us can still sing the melody of that song today.
Do you have any pre-show rituals?
[JE]– Usually arguing about what to wear…getting second and third opinions from different members in the band about a particular outfit. The most ridiculous part of it is that almost all the clothes I’m talking about have been worn over and over again many times. There’s only so many different combinations of shirt, pants, and vests, ya know?
If you could describe your music in one word, what would it be?
How do you connect with a crowd?
[JE]– We love when people start jeering us from the audience. It’s always good gateway to self-depricating humor and stage banter with everyone in the room.
How did you come up with your band name?
[JE]– From a Tourette Syndrome tic
What is the best way to write music?
[JE]– Using Google.
See Packway Handle Band at Smith’s Olde Bar – Friday, March 1st.