Editor’s note: Due to blizzards in the Tahoe region, Spafford’s debut at the Crystal Bay Casino has been moved to Monday, March 5.
Spafford is jamming everything into its rare opportunity.
The four-piece rock group from Arizona has a rapidly growing fan base and a busy national tour schedule that includes the greatest festivals in the land. This week, it starts a run of shows that begins in San Diego and flows up the West Coast before inundating Colorado. The tour includes Spafford’s first-ever appearances at the Crystal Bay Casino in Lake Tahoe and Phil Lesh’s Terrapin Crossroads in San Rafael.
“We just had three weeks off in between the first leg of the tour and every minute that we can we spend in rehearsals, we spend writing and practicing,” said keyboard player and singer Andrew “Red” Johnson. “There’s no days off and we don’t take lunch breaks. This is not an opportunity that very many people get.
“We don’t ever want to be complacent. We always want to keep growing pushing each other and ourselves to always keep growing and see how far we can really take this.”
Exposed to new fans by touring extensively last year with Umphrey’s McGee, Spafford has been embraced by the jam band community. Accessible and interactive, Spafford has a penchant for improvisation and seamless segues into an endless style of sounds.
Their smooth, tight performances are recorded and streamed live by concertgoers, who use social media to suggest songs. Not only will the band members learn new tunes requested by fans, they have even used an entire set list someone recommended. Every show and every rehearsal is recorded. “There’s a plethora of ways to listen to Spafford,” Johnson said.
Formed in 2009, Spafford includes Brian Moss (guitar), Jordan Fairless (bass) and Cameron Laforest (drums). Johnson joined in 2011 after he moved from freezing Belvidere, Illinois, to the sunny Southwest.
“Being from Illinois, my favorite part about winter is watching it on television from Arizona,” Johnson said. After a jam session with Moss and Fairless in Prescott, Arizona, Moss asked Johnson about joining the band. He replied, “Let’s give it a whirl.”
Spafford’s rise has indeed been a whirlwind.
“We’ve got some really cool stuff coming up this summer,” Johnson said. “We’re going to go out to Red Rocks and jam with the Disco Biscuits. How cool is that?”
Along with Bisco Inferno in Morrison, Colorado, Spafford’s endless summer of festivals was announced today. They will play the Bonnaroo, Firefly, Frendly Gathering, Element, The Peach, Lockn,’ Hogs For A Cause, SweetWater 420 and Summer Camp music festivals. The band also will play at the Lake Tahoe region’s largest festival, High Sierra.
Johnson said he is enjoying the ride, looking forward to debut performances in the Crystal Bay Casino’s Crown Room and at Terrapin Crossroads, the jam band mothership.
“Crystal Bay, that’s a legendary room,” Johnson said. “Everybody’s played there. I feel like it’s a rite of passage to get up on these stages where so many have played. It’s an honor for me.”
The litany of keyboardists who have appeared in the Crown Room include Dr. John, Leon Russell and Art and Ivan Neville.
“You’re talking my language,” said Johnson, enthused to be talking about his craft and whose Midwest accent became thicker as he learned he was speaking with another native of Illinois.
“You’re talking about guys that have been the foundation for almost every keyboard player in our scene. You’re talking about Dr. John, who is one of the greatest of all time, and Leon Russell, rest in peace. It was a sad day when we lost him. He’s always been a hero of mine. People don’t give Leon enough credit. That guy played on every one of your favorite albums from the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s. And the Neville Brothers are absolutely phenomenal. I mean, come on!”
Johnson’s first inspiration was the band Little Feat and the keyboard player Billy Payne.
“Little Feat was about the funkiest band on the planet. I mean, they toured with the Tower of Power horns. Don’t get it confused, they were funky as you can get and I think that was kind of the crossover.”
Johnson loved jam pioneers the Allman Brothers and Grateful Dead. He also listened to bluegrass, rock, country, ska, punk and techno, which now goes by EDM.
Johnson is as passionate as the people who pay to listen to him play.
“I am a live music junkie,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with breaking out the squeeze box and having a good time. This scene is so strong because (fans) are so accepting.
“From punk rock to polka, I’ll take a listen and I think that’s a philosophy of the jam-band scene. They want to listen to live music, people performing, putting their heart out there. It’s a beautiful thing.”
Related story: The Higgs will join Spafford on Monday, opening the show at Crystal Bay. We’ve actually known The Higgs for a little while,” Johnson said. “They are a phenomenal band, really coming into their own and catching a lot of notoriety right now. I would strongly recommend coming out early and checking them out. They’re a phenomenal band with amazing musicians and some of the nicest guys we know. We’re excited to have them with us. Link
Opener: The Higgs
When: 9 p.m. Monday, March 5
Where: Crystal Bay Casino Crown Room
Tickets: $17 in advance or $20 on the day of the show
Red Room after-party: Yak Attack
- Where else:
Terrapin Crossroads on Saturday and Sunday, March 3-4
High Sierra Music Festival July 5-8 (Show dates tba)
- Entire schedule
2/28 – Solana Beach, CA – Belly Up *
3/1 – Santa Barbara, CA – Soho *
3/3 & 3/4 – San Rafael, CA -Terrapin Crossroads (3/3 SOLD OUT)
3/5 – Crystal Bay, NV – Crystal Bay Club Casino *
3/7 – Bend, OR – Volcanic Theatre Pub
3/8 – Bellingham, WA – The Shakedown
3/9 – Missoula, MT – Top Hat Lounge *
3/10 – Boise, ID – The Olympic *
3/11- Salt Lake City, UT – The State Room
3/14 – Aspen, CO – Belly Up Aspen
3/15 – Steamboat Springs, CO – The Old Town Pub
3/16 – Frisco, CO – Barkley Ballroom (SOLD OUT)
3/17 – Winter Park, CO – Ullrs Tavern (SOLD OUT)
3/23 & 3/24 – New Orleans, LA – Uno Lakefront Arena
4/20 – Atlanta, GA – Sweetwater 420 Fest
5/24 – 5/27 – Chillicothe, IL – Summer Camp Music Festival
5/27 – Morrison, CO – Red Rocks Amphitheater
6/7 – 6/10 – Manchester, TN – Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival
6/14 – 6/17 – Dover, DE – Firefly Music Festival
6/28 – 6/30 – Waitsfield, VT – Frendly Gathering
7/5 – 7/8 – Quincy, CA – High Sierra Music Festival
7/26 – 7/29 – British Columbia, CAN – Element Music Festival
8/10 – 8/13 – Scranton, PA – Peach Music Festival
8/23 – 8/26 – Arrington, VA – Lockn’
* with The Higgs