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Soulive: An interview with Ben about 'the greatest band ever'

Ben is a music teacher. He teaches 4th and 5th grade instrumental music in Baltimore County. His passion for music is much deeper than just his day job. I ran into him at the My Morning Jacket show at Merriweather Post Pavilion in 2015. I was enjoying a cold beer under the warm sun, waiting to meet up with a friend. We started chatting and I told him about The First in Line. He thought the project was cool, but said he didn’t really have any stories to tell. Then, I asked him, "Who is your favorite band?"... and then the floodgates opened.


My favorite band of all time is Soulive. They have the best combination of elements from all the music that I love.

To give a little bit of context- when I was growing up, I loved the funk-metal stuff. Bands like Red Hot Chili Peppers, 311, Incubus, and Primus. At that time, I was also into jazz music because I'm a saxophone player. If you go to my uncle's house in Takoma Park, it's basically a whole wall full of jazz LP's. I have listened to my uncle's entire collection; there are a lot of great albums.

I went to summer camp one year and my friend introduced me to Galactic. I fell in love with the band and I went to see them live. As I was discovering Galactic tracks, I came upon this band called Soulive. The first track I ever heard was “Turn it Out” on the album with the same name.

The first time I heard it -- it was in 2001 -- I turned it on and it sounded kind of like the regular old organ trio classic from the sixties. Then they break out into the outro, which I've never seen them do live. They always just play the tune itself as the outro. On the studio album, the outro is what got me hooked. Bum bum - ba bum bum. Bum bum ba bum. Ba ba bum bum. You just get into it from there.

 

In 2001, I went crazy on Soulive. In 2004, a buddy and I were supposed to go to Medeski, Martin & Wood and Soulive together, but we didn't get a ticket in time. I was bummed. I didn't actually get a chance to see them until 2006.

At that time, I was in music school in North Carolina. My buddy Daniel and his buddies and I drove from Winston-Salem to the Neighborhood Theatre in Asheville. There’s a Mellow Mushroom across the street from the theater; it's a pizza place that uses spring water or some shit like that. We went there and I got to meet Neal Evans from Soulive. He's the organ player and he plays the bass-line and the organ part at the same time!

I said ‘Yo, Neal, what's up man!?’ I was so excited. ‘Yo, where's Kras?’ I asked.

He said, ‘Oh man, I don't know where Kras is and we're about to go on in 10 minutes.’

Really, it was an hour or something like that. It was the coolest thing ever- my introduction to Neal Evans of Soulive, was 'Where's my guitar player?’ It was hilarious.

After that, I saw 10 shows. That was my first show in ‘06 and then I went to Rams Head in ’08. That's where another favorite band of mine called the Higher Hands opened for them. Then I went to the 9:30 Club and there was this local DJ that played at the time, I don't remember who it was. I saw them open for Derek Trucks -- before they were Tedeschi Trucks -- at the National Harbor in 2009. If you look on the video online, you can see me rockin’ out.

 

For my fifth show, I saw them at The 8x10 in Baltimore,  which was completely, totally insane! It's so small, like 200 people, and it was completely sold out. Then I saw them twice at the State Theatre, in Virginia.

The pinnacle show was in November 2012. It was the best weekend of my life. Friday was The Metermen with Page McConnel at the Howard Theater in DC. On Saturday, Soulive and Lettuce played at 9:30 Club together. It was the best, funkiest weekend ever. I was so exhausted by Sunday, I couldn't possibly go to anymore shows, even though there was another show I wanted to see. I just couldn’t do it.

Then, the last show that I saw before they stopped touring was when they played the Kennedy Center. I got the ticket that day. I was so lucky because it was completely sold out. I don't know how I got a ticket. It was a miracle. But, the thing that is a little disappointing, is that Lettuce kind of out-funked them. You don't have to out-funk Soulive, but it kind of happened. Nonetheless, I'm still a hardcore Soulive fan.

Here's the thing: [Soulive] defined my 20's. I'm 28 now and I've been going to see them since I was 21. If I saw them today, I would say, ‘thank you.’ That's the only thing I would say. I wouldn’t ask them to get back together because if they were to do the Soulive thing again, I would want them to really be dedicated to it. But right now, they're doing other shit. The parallel I make is this: Robert Plant is offered $100 million to do a Led Zeppelin reunion and he just said, 'no thank you’, because his heart is not into it; it's not the thing. So if I could talk to Soulive right now, I would just want to say, ‘thank you for being the greatest band ever.’

 

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