Carrying on the tradition of Sonoma County homespun Americana bands playing at the Outside Lands music festival, the Easy Leaves make the pilgrimage south this weekend for the biggest show in their short-lived career.
"I remember the day we got the news and the call came in from our manager. It was a total surprise," said singer-guitarist Sage Fifield. "When you haven't played a festival anywhere near this big, it's pretty exciting."
A few years ago, it was Arann Harris and the Farm Band. Now the Easy Leaves are the down-home, twangy band representing Sonoma County at the largest annual Bay Area music festival, expected to draw around 50,000 fans a day to Golden Gate Park today through Sunday.
<strong><a href="http://www.ustream.tv/OutsideLands" target="_blank">View the live stream of the Outside Lands festival</a></strong>
It's an impressive festival debut for two guys who met at an open mic session in 2008, back when the Hopmonk Tavern was called the Powerhouse Brewery.
"We had really bad open-mic habits, playing like three nights a week," said singer-bassist Kevin Carducci. "Eventually it was like, 'Hey man, I like your songs' and 'Yeah man, I like your banjo.' So we wound up playing together and working some stuff out."
Before long, they started doing longer sets at Barley and Hops in Occidental, eventually headlining a Saturday at Hopmonk in Sebastopol. Usually it's just the two of them, Carducci on the stand-up bass and Fifield on guitar, both sharing vocals. But they'll fill it out with drums and slide guitar this weekend at Outside Lands.
Plowing through a steady bill of gigs in the last few months, "I like to say we've turned semi-pro this summer," said Carducci. Their last round of day jobs — Fifield did "pond maintenance," literally diving and digging up weeds from congested ponds, and Carducci started an organic vegetable farm with a former girlfriend — are hopefully a thing of the past.
Before they pack up for Sunday's noon gig in the park, the hard-working duo took a break while driving back from a show in Truckee to chat about Sonoma County land, bodyguards and their old banjo:
<b>Q:</b> What does it mean to you guys to get tapped to play Outside Lands?
<b>Kevin:</b> Just to be invited to play in that forum with all these artists who we know and respect their music, it's an honor. It's super-humbling to be on that list below Willie Nelson, and Hall and Oates, and D'Angelo, who we're big fans of even with the music we play. I wouldn't probably be able to go if we weren't playing because I don't have money to throw at festivals any more.
<b>Q:</b> Have you thought about how you're going to arrive at the festival?
<b>Kevin:</b> We're gonnna get an Escalade limousine and bring our entourage and pull up right next to the main stage as our bodyguards roll out the red carpet.
<b>Sage:</b> No. But we are gonna have our full band with us, with drums and pedal steel. That's always a big show for us. It just adds an extra girth to the sound, especially on a big stage like that.
<b>Q:</b> I understand you parted ways with the banjo at some point?
<b>Sage:</b> Thank God!
<b>Kevin:</b> It's an instrument we love to hate. When I was playing banjo, we were thinking of starting a string band along the lines of Old Crow Medicine Show. But ultimately we couldn't find a bass player that we could afford to pay to play with a new band like us. They're kind of mercenaries for hire.