In a world filled with people who feel disconnected from life, disconnected from others, freewheeling troubadour Steve Poltz seeks for nothing more than genuine connection to the people and experiences around him, the true essence of life.
It explains why he’ll immortalize his midweek convenience store banter with delight on a song like “Ballin’ On A Wednesday” or write a song as nakedly simple as “I Want All My Friends To Be Happy.” It explains why he’s still zipping down the Australian coast doing house concerts and crowd surfing at High Sierra Music Festival into his late 50s. It explains why he doesn’t have a setlist and will write an impromptu new song about what is going on around him at most concerts.
“I’ve been in situations where I’ve hopped out of a car with one minute to go and ran on stage, not knowing what you are walking into. Those are fun too because there are no expectations.”
Poltz understands that you just have to laugh at life and take the world as it comes, one moment at a time. There are moments that will be daunting and sad, others will be free and enthusiastic. There will be time for making friends in those moments, time for making enemies and time to sit and think about all the people that have passed through in those moments. But ultimately, your life is nothing more than these tiny little moments strung together and you will be more connected to your life and the people around you the more you keep yourself open to experiencing those moments in real time.
Onstage, on record, in person (and on the phone) Poltz likes to tell you of the tiny moments in his life that have made his life special. In trying to share those moments with you — with his wit, charisma and zero filter — he’ll give you a couple tiny moments to cherish as well.
Here are a few cherished moments from Steve Poltz’s interview with Tahoe Onstage.
On meeting folk singer-songwriter David Olney just before his death
“I was picking up my guitar (at 30A Songwriters Festival) and there was David Olney. I know his manager very well and I have coffee with her in east Nashville. I never met him the last couple years but he was always on my radar. So I saw him and I wasn’t going to miss this opportunity. I walk up to him and go, ‘Hi, my name is Steve Poltz, I know your manager, Mary, I love her.’ He goes, ‘I love her too.’ Then he goes, ‘Wait, did you say your name was Steve Poltz? Did you just play this crazy house concert in Ontario, Canada? They are still cleaning up the ashes from your show.’ So we were laughing and I shook his hand again. I swear to God, I’m across the stage and he’s on stage and we locked eyes. It was so weird. I waved to him and he waved goodbye to me. Forty minutes later he was dead, sitting in his chair. It’s so unfathomable to me, the timing of that and how I always wanted to meet him, it was bizarre.”
On his coffee table book idea
“I’ve wanted to put out a book of the last things people said before they died. Like, ‘I’m just gonna head out and grab a carton of eggs and a pack of cigarettes.’ Did they know they were going to die, what were they thinking? I’m kind of obsessed with it. Or is it just a chance of random meetings, where if you had left five minutes beforehand you wouldn’t have been in a head-on car collision? Or is there a maker or god, who says your time is up and there is a white light you go to? Who knows? I don’t know, I haven’t died yet (laughs).”
On his music memorabilia
“I have a shirt from the late ‘80s. There was a record that came out by Camper Van Beethoven called ‘Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart.’ On it they do a cover of ‘Pictures of Matchstick Men.’ I saw them on tour the year it came out in San Diego. I bought the T-shirt there and I still have it. It’s so soft and I only wear it at special shows when I want to feel really good. I’m scared it will just fall apart, it’s got so many holes in it. You know what else was weird about that? I’m a huge Camper Van Beethoven fan, fan of David Lowery. I went to see him in 1988. This was the year I quit my job and was busking in the streets of Europe. I had already formed the Rugburns, but I left for nine months and went around Europe busking. At that time, I thought it’d be so cool to shake his hand one day. Two years ago, he played my birthday bash at the Belly Up in Santa Cruz and now I know him. It’s weird how life works out, it took 30 years.”
On Jam Cruise
“Jam Cruise was out of my comfort zone for sure (laughs). I went on after Ivan Neville in the atrium, so picture this cruise ship atrium and Ivan Neville is up and it’s packed for his show. I had to go on 15 minutes later and he played a little over his set. The place cleared out and I was just watching people leave and be high on drugs and Jam Cruise-y and dressed up (laughs). In the old days I would have gotten in my head but now I’ve learned after all these years you just gotta laugh at it. I started joking to people in the audience, ‘God, couldn’t some of them have just stayed? Do I stink? (laughs).’ People were laughing so hard and it made the show so fun. That energy is contagious and sure enough people are coming around seeing the show because they could see everyone was having fun.”
On stealing David Crosby’s line
I have this saying with all of my friends, right before we go on stage: Remember, everything is riding on this one gig. We got it from David Crosby. He said it to my buddy who was going to play djembe with Jackson Browne. He was at a festival on a side stage and Jackson Browne heard him and wanted him to play on his final song. So he’s side stage, standing there right before he’s going on, nervous because it is the main stage. Right before he goes out, Crosby grabs him by the shoulder and says, ‘Remember, everything is riding on this one gig.’ I’ve said that to so many people.”
On playing with “Supervirus Kids”
“Billy Strings came over to my house to write a song. He’s such a shredder and it was super fun, we wrote a song called “Don’t Crash That Car.” There’s all these bluegrass people out there and I’m starting to meet this young, energized crew of 27-year olds. I like to say they are ‘Supervirus Kids’. There’s these strains of these viruses that you can’t kill, they only get stronger; that’s these kids. When I grew up we didn’t say, ‘It sounds like The Beatles,’ because it was The Beatles. We didn’t say, ‘It kinda sounds like ‘Pet Sounds’ with Black Flag (laughs).’ We didn’t have YouTube. We’d put on a vinyl record and stop it to try and figure out a guitar solo. These Supervirus Kids are able to pull up YouTube and pull up a song, learn that solo, take a guitar lesson and it has made them stronger and faster. Billy Strings, Molly Tuttle, Daniel Donato are all ‘Supervirus Kids.’ They have a lot of life skills to learn because they are still growing into their skin, but it’s fascinating to watch. I feel like the future of music is safe.”
Playing live without a set list
“Every show is completely different. I don’t use a setlist so I’m looking at people and trying to read the energy of the room, feel if something is working or is it bombing. In ‘The Terminator,’ Arnold Schwarzenegger has a computer in his head, when someone comes up with a question, he has ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ flashing across the screen trying to compute (chuckles). I always feel when I play a show, I’m that (laughs), trying to figure out what to do. It’s like a quarterback dropping back and reading the defense. I gotta drop that play, there is a blitz coming. I try to make adjustments on the fly. I don’t know what works. I’ve been in situations where I’ve hopped out of a car with one minute to go and ran on stage, not knowing what you are walking into. Those are fun too because there are no expectations.”