While inspiration has fueled many musicians’ careers, few on the local music scene can be said to follow it quite as frequently as Dallas Baker. The ink had barely dried on the 2014 CPMA issues celebrating his work with Big John Belly as Up-and-Coming Act of the Year when he announced his departure to concentrate on his then side gig, Dallas Baker & Friends. Now Bluegrass Band of the Year, Dallas Baker & Friends don’t stop at bluegrass.
“We’ve gotten way more beachy lately with our music. We’re calling it beachy-country-bluegrass now,” Baker says. “What I mean by how I describe our music — in a super abbreviated, roundabout way — is that we play bluegrass music, but we also play music that people actually want to hear. We have a very large amount of obscure tunes that we play, so if you come to see us at Charleston Music Hall and then a few days later at Surf Bar, there’s a good chance that you will experience two different shows. We might play a beach tune like ‘Under the Boardwalk,’ or we might play Hank Williams Sr.’s ‘Hey, Good Lookin’. It’s different, and it feeds a need. It feeds the need of that young guy sitting hammered at Surf Bar, feeds the need of that 70-year-old woman who sees you playing at her granddaughter’s wedding rehearsal dinner. Look at your audience, and feed that need.”
That has led the frontman to as varied a career as any you’ll find in the Holy City. He played heavy metal around town before discovering bluegrass and following its calling. Joining up with local act Steel Rollers, Baker helped anchor a band with a reputation for being amongst the rowdiest to play the area, which eventually led to his stepping into the spotlight with the first iteration of this year’s award winner all those years ago.
Maybe the recent change in direction is a new variation on the creative wanderlust he has shown since first picking up a guitar. Or maybe it’s as simple as Baker states, and he’s merely following the wishes of the crowds he plays for so frequently.
“We’re catering to the desire of an audience that doesn’t have many options for live music. I want them to know how grateful we are for being able to play for them, no matter what it is: a wedding, a private party, if we’ve booked a gig at an oyster bar. I want everyone to know how grateful I am for everything that has been going on around me, and I don’t take it for granted. Sometimes it would be so easy to say, ‘Look at all of these people into my stuff. Go me,'” Baker says. “That would be such a dickhead way to go about it, so the amount of gratitude that I show to anyone that knows the words to one of my songs may seem a bit much, but I mean every word of it. Never let any of this get to your head.”