The Lone Bellow
Zach Williams said he missed most of the 1990s - musically.
"I wasn't allowed to listen to the regular radio stations," he said of his childhood in Georgia. "I had to listen to oldies."
At the time, his parents' rules might have seemed like a nuisance, but now Williams, who fronts the acoustic band The Lone Bellow, is grateful that he was exposed to classics from Kris Kristofferson, Guy Clark, John Prine and Creedence Clearwater Revival.
That Southern blend of gospel, blues, country and rock has shaped The Lone Bellow's style.
Williams, who called from a summer show in Kansas City, Mo., said the group is seeing America this summer. Louisville, Ky., is one the places he enjoyed most.
"It's got a pretty nice swagger about it," he added.
The group, which has been supporting Brandi Carlile in recent months, has gotten enthusiastic crowd reactions.
Since they don't rely on many electric instruments, they're able to pick up and start impromptu jams.
Later this summer, Williams said he's looking forward to the Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island and Austin City Limits in Texas.
"I know we will start music collaborations at some of the festivals," he said. "It feels like a big, happy family out there."
But his outlook wasn't always so rosy.
About eight years ago, his wife was seriously injured in a horseback riding accident on his family's farm in Georgia. Doctors didn't know if she would walk again. Williams and about 15 friends lived at the hospital.
There, he started writing songs.
His wife defied the odds and recovered from her injuries. Together, the entire hospital network, which included other aspiring writers and actors, decided to move to Park Slope in Brooklyn, N.Y.
It was the one place where Williams said they knew they could be together while advancing their artistic careers.
Williams struggled as a solo musician.
"I started off playing a show in China Town at 2 a.m. on a Tuesday night," he said. "You have to wait in open mikes forever to play your two songs. I think that's really important (to) how we create art. It starts small in a little community (that) will rally around and keep you going."
One morning a few years ago, he met up with longtime friend Brian Elmquist and Kanene Pipkin, the sister of a friend, at a nearby diner.
When they all hit a difficult note during one of the first songs they tried together, Williams knew the trio would be his new focus. Their first big gig - opening for The Civil Wars at World Café Live in Philadelphia - quickly followed.
The Lone Bellow's acoustic, stripped-down style continued to evolve organically.
"It's really important to us and it's really important to our listeners that it's not Auto-Tune or electric," Williams said. "The crowd that would listen was very honest. They helped us curate the art."
In return, the band has tried to be honest with its songs and lyrics. Its self-titled debut, released earlier this year, struck a chord and forged a new genre dubbed Brooklyn country.
Williams said his group has NPR and triple-A station listeners, who are tuning into more through-provoking music, to thank.
He credits artists like Ryan Adams, Jim James and Emmylou Harris for paving the way.
The Lone Bellow has now rounded out its recording and touring band to include bass, piano, lap steel, drums and electric guitar.
The goal for the rest of the summer, Williams said, is for the band to continue to stretch its songwriting skills, vocal chords and fanbase.
- ERIN McCRACKEN,
If you go
The Lone Bellow takes the stage 7:30 p.m. Sunday at Long's Park, 1441 Harrisburg Pike, Lancaster. The concert is free. Visitors can bring lawn chairs, blankets and snacks. Vendors will sell food. For details and to view the rest of the Long's Park Summer Music Series, visit longspark.org
More band interviews: flipsidepa.com/music
More summer concerts and festivals: www.yorkblog.com/flipside