Eli Young Band – Taking their place on stage


Taking their place on the stage

The Eli Young Band averages about 260 live shows a year, so its Sunday gig at the 2007 Austin City Limits Music Festival is just another concert, right?

No way.

Even though the group spends more than 70 percent of the year on the road, the Eli Young Band knows playing at the annual Austin music festival is a special occasion.

“We’ve played a lot of festivals, but ACL sticks out,” said Mike Eli, the group’s lead singer. “Last year we were one of the first bands to play, but the crowd was still great. This year we’re closer to a headlining act, and that’s exciting.”

There undoubtedly will be some pre-existing Eli Young Band fans in attendance, but with 65,000 people expected to attend Sunday (the day the band performs), there are thousands of potential new fans roaming Zilker Park.

Eli said that’s 65,000 reasons to make sure he and his bandmates are on top of their game when they take the stage at 7:45 p.m. (one of the last acts before Bob Dylan takes the stage that evening).

The late time slot, and a highly anticipated new studio album that’s scheduled for early 2008, is proof that the Eli Young Band is an up-and-coming star on the Texas country horizon.

Eli (who is joined by lead guitarist James Young, bassist Jon Jones and drummer Chris Thompson) said the group’s rise is a product of quality songwriting and passionate live performances.

One of the big knocks on Texas country musicians is that the market is oversaturated with acts that sound too much alike.

Eli said his band doesn’t try to do anything special or different to capture the ears of music lovers or to distinguish itself from the pack. The Eli Young Band, based in Denton, is interested only in making its own music and hopes people enjoy it.

“We just go in there with a tone and lyrics that make sense for us,” Eli said. “There’s not a whole lot of thought into, ‘Let’s do this to sound different.’ Hopefully the sound works for us. We can’t do anything [to make people like us] other than be ourselves.”

The same principle applies to the group’s new album, which is going through final tweaks before its release. Don’t look for a radical departure from the group’s first studio album, Level, but the songs won’t sound exactly the same.

“We have so many songs, so we wanted to record them while they’re still fresh and keep moving along. We tend to get busy after releasing a record, so we’re recording as much as we can when we have the time. We don’t want to be rushed. We want to make each record special.”

The band instead focuses on writing and performing original songs with an emphasis on making sure the melodies and lyrics are just right.

The formula seems to work. Crowds at Eli Young Bands are consistently growing. Radio spins are increasing. And the band’s stature in the world of Texas musicians is on the rise.

Evidence of that is in the group’s time slot at the Austin City Limits Music Festival.

But Eli said the band doesn’t necessarily get to sit back and enjoy the fruits of its labor.

The band will be in town for only one day, and most of its time will be spent either preparing for the set and taking care pf publicity commitments.

What little free time the band members have, Eli said will be spent catching as many shows as possible.

“Nowadays, if we can catch a show, we’re just going to enjoy it,” Eli said.

This isn’t some fledgling band that will act star-struck to see fellow Sunday performers Robert Earl Keen and Lucinda Williams.

The Eli Young Band knows it belongs and is out to prove its rise in popularity is no fluke.

That means injecting just as much, if not more, care into putting on an entertaining show for the fans who gather around the stage.

Last year, Eli said, the band met fans from Pennsylvannia and New York. He added that if fans are willing to spend the money and time to see an Eli Young Band show many hundreds of miles away, the band better deliver a memorable experience.

“Sure, [ACL] is in Austin, but not everyone is going to be from Austin,” he said. “We want to make the show as special as possible. Some people, this will be the only chance to see us. We’re not going to play in Pennsylvania every few weeks.

“Because it’s ACL, when it comes to the show, we want it to be good. We’ve played a million times, but the fact it’s ACL, we want to put on the best show we can.”

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