Old 97's - Wakarusa Music Festival

2008 Artist Lineup

Old 97’s

When the Old 97’s started back in 1993, we agreed on this weird band name. Murry thought of it and liked it because it references an old train wreck ballad that he thinks is cool. I went along because Joe Strummer used to have a band called the 101er’s. Murry and I had been through a handful of bands in the three years after Billboard magazine predicted (on the merit of my high school effort, Mythologies, which Murry produced) my eminent superstardom, and we’d been burned by our expectations of overnight success. The Old 97’s was our way of turning our back on all that. We figured no A&R guy would ever give a shit about a drummerless folk/country combo, and thus we could do our musical thing without worrying about whether or not opportunity was gonna knock. We didn’t think that the number 97 would be a problem. We never figured the band would last until 1997 – no other band we’d had together had lasted much more than a year – and we certainly didn’t contemplate the possibility of radio stations boycotting us in order to avoid confusion about their numerical location on the dial. It would have been outright hubris then for us to imagine that our little band, the musical equivalent of a middle finger to the industry, would ever last so long that the word “old” could even remotely apply. Hell, I was 23 at the time. We hired a drummer. We kicked up dust all over the US. We got big in Chicago and eventually our own hometown of Dallas. We made enough of a stir at the 1996 SXSW festival that we had hordes of A&R guys lining up behind our asses with puckered lips. We signed to Elektra (Pixies! X!). At the time, an executive from the label predicted, “We’re at a musical crossroads right now and the next big movement will either be alternative country or dance.” I’d only recently been exiled to the ghetto of alt-country (for some stupid reason, I’d thought that what we were doing was classic American rock and roll), but I’d always been aware of the plague-like power of dance music. If he’d been running a small pop-culture-as-commodity stock exchange, I know where the smart money would have wound up. I would have been right, too. A few weeks later The Prodigy’s “Firestarter” was the #1 song in the country and there was no alt to be found. But I’ve never been one to worry about smart money, and I could front a dance band about as well as I could conquer Wall Street. These Old 97’s were (and are) my brothers, and we’re in this thing for the long haul. What I’m getting at is this. We like to be the underdogs. We like a challenge. I’m reminded of an anecdote I once heard about Springsteen. He was just getting popular and he drove by the Tower Records on Sunset where he spotted a huge poster of his face. He climbed up on it with some spray-paint and affixed to it the slogan, “Prove it all night.” That could be the Old 97’s motto. If you come to see us play, you’re going to be impressed. You may not be absolutely converted, but you will be unable to deny the quality of our conviction. We give it up every night. Some of our fans over the years have complained that our studio efforts didn’t deliver the gritty sweat-storm that is our live show. What studio album does? That was never our intent anyway. That’s why every few months for almost a decade and a half, we’ve come to your town (or a town to which you could conceivably drive), and proved it all night. This is what we do. Rock is our business and business is good. See you soon. Yours, Rhett Miller

Mulberry Mountain :: Ozark, Arkansas
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