Hammond’s Festival of the Lakes always guarantees there’ll be a show for everyone - whether you’re a fan of R&B, classic rock, or country. This year Mayor Tom McDermott picked the right band for the festival within the country scene: the chart-topping Eli Young Band. The four piece will be making their debut at the Pav on Thursday night, but before the lights go up on their set I got the opportunity to talk to Eli Young’s drummer Chris Thompson about the current place in their career, their upcoming album, and what to expect from their FOL set.
There’s a few things to know about the Eli Young Band: they’ve released four albums (the first in 2002), they’ve had three #1 Billboard singles, were nominated for a Grammy and multiple Country Music Awards, toured across the country with other Country heavyweights, and to end with the most simple fact: they hail from the great state of Texas. The band, which formed while they were college, have come a long way since their 14 year-old debut. A current hit single, a new album on the way, and hundreds of tour dates under their belts makes it safe to say they know a thing or two about the game. Even through those years making it to the top, it’s not a career they could’ve predicted.
“It’s been fun, I’ll tell you that.” Thompson joked. “It’s been a great process of realizing and living our dreams of what we had back so long ago in college. Being young I don’t think we knew what we wanted other than ‘we’ll be on magazines and tour and it’ll be great!’ but it’s been a much more different process. There’s a lot of hard work, but a lot of great experiences too living this life we thought about for so long.”
Even after over a decade of history, there’s still a future to create for Eli Young. As a place-holder for fans before their currently untitled fifth album is released, the band dropped “Saltwater Gospel” in early June. Thompson explained that it was an obvious choice for the band to be a single, and one that they were confident in being the first sample of an album that’s going back to the “old Eli Young”.
“When we were recording the new album that song always stood out.” Thompson explained. “When you’re in the studio there’s usually always one or two that always stand taller than the rest and really set the tone of what that album is going to be like, and Saltwater Gospel was that song. It was at the top of the list.”
“With the new album in relation to Saltwater is that we’re really going back to what we started from. The last couple records we’ve gone with the country music format of the past couple years where it would allow all different sorts of sounds and techniques that wouldn’t normally be associated with country music.” Thompson stated. “So after being a band for so long we chased that the past few years to try out that new path. Looking back on that this time around we felt like we’ve gone too far off of what we do naturally, and we’ve tried those experiments. This record really comes from the gut, from what we know how to do best and it sounds really cool.”
With new material on the way, and summer in full swing, it makes sense that the band is currently on a lengthy tour. The Eli Young Band is currently playing state to state with a few small breaks in between - which as Thompson explains is enough time to “visit family, clean the house and let the dog out”. Still, at the current rate the band is playing four to five days a week, and touring is a tireless few months on the road. Through the shows and the travel it still doesn’t diminish the experience of being able to play in front of hundreds for nights on end, and living that ever changing life of performing.
“We’ve released a lot of new stuff over our many years on the road, and it always is so amazing to see how people pick the songs up so quickly. You’ll see people sing the words back to you, even if they’ve never heard it, before the song’s over. There’s always that time period where a song will get more and more attention and then the crowd steadily gets louder show after show. That’s a really great experience to have as a band.” Thompson stated. “For Festival of the Lakes, though, it’ll be great to get out near some water. There’s just something about playing a summer night show - the mentality is just so more relaxed and fun. The more laid back and open makes it more fun for us. We can’t wait to play in front of that big open crowd.”
It’s safe to say that a loud, welcoming crowd will greet the band on Thursday night. Many, though, will see the band live for the first time. So, before I ended our conversation I had one last question - what should we expect from an Eli Young Band show?
“We always try to come out with a lot of energy and always try to give the audience everything we have.” Thompson explained. “The set list is really structured to create a multifaceted experience. We’ve got new stuff, requested stuff, and our loudest music. It’s just a really great night.”
To find out more information about Festival of the Lakes, you can find our handy guide here.