Chuck Folds Fives’ Week Night Bar/ Band Gig
The Saints are battling the Patriots on two monitors, while two separate baseball games and a tennis match air on the remainder of the screens and the patrons of Keegan’s Pub discuss the World Cup prospects for Northern Ireland, Wales and Denmark’s soccer teams.
On the short platform that constitutes the bar’s stage, Chuck Folds and Steve Williard quietly position amplifiers and arrange effects pedals. Steve’s dad, Jim, retired after 33 years of service to RJ Reynolds, is right up there with them, unrolling cords in workmanlike fashion.
This is Chuck Folds Five’s fifth gig ‘— their fourth at Keegan’s ‘— and during the performance Folds will implore the patrons to buy expensive drinks (‘“Jager bombs, not PBRs!’”) so the bartender will let them come back.
Folds and Williard, who are respectively 37 and 34 years old, have played in a lot of bands, brushed with fame and narrowly missed out on some lucrative deals in the music business. The two also play together in Rubberband, an outfit that almost exclusively plays weddings and other private parties, a more lucrative and often more personally rewarding market. Williard also plays in To the Nines, a band he founded that mostly plays frat parties. Williard has written more than 200 songs and is currently talking them up with one of the members of Diamond Rio to try to land a publishing deal in Nashville. So this band basically exists to fill out weeknights between more remunerative engagements.
Chuck Folds Five’s newly hired drummer, Tim Poole, has been burning up the road helping his other band Suckerpunch establish a reputation across the Carolinas. At 40, he’s also been doing this for a long time. The son of a big band and swing drummer, he played his first gig at the age of 14 and left home right out of high school with a band called the Diamonds. He loved the New York Dolls, Kiss and Iggy Pop, but soaked up everything he could from his family as well.
‘“My dad brought me up with a good dose of funk: Earth, Wind & Fire and the Commodores,’” he says. ‘“My mom’s family was really into bluegrass.’”
Jim Williard has played a different kind of parental role in his son’s musical growth. He bought the boy a used guitar and let him teach himself how to play.
‘“I can’t play nothing but static on the radio,’” he says. He might as well still be the father of the enthusiastic teenager bubbling over with musical ideas and a desire to entertain as he reveals, ‘“I’m pulling the trailer for To the Nines this weekend.’”
Sitting at the front table with his son and his band mates at Keegan’s on Aug. 18 as they wait for the Thursday night drinkers to fill the room, he reminisces about the joys of being a rock-and-roll parent.
‘“Steven and the boys was playing at the house and I looked over the fence and there was a sheriff’s deputy standing there,’” he says. ‘“He says, ‘We got a complaint about the noise.’ I said: ‘What do you want me to do about it?’ ‘Turn it up,’ he says. ‘I can’t do nothing about it until eleven o’clock when the ordinance kicks in.””
Family relationships have also shaped Chuck Folds’ music career. Namely, his famous, critically acclaimed older brother Ben, who is playing the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles with Rufus Wainwright this very night, with appearances on ‘“Austin City Limits’” and Japan in the offing.
Living in the shadow of Ben has created some difficulty for Chuck.
‘“It’s a total unadulterated rip-off,’” Folds says of his band’s name, which borrows from his brother’s outfit Ben Folds Five. ‘“Unless you’ve been in my shoes, you can’t relate to having a brother that’s a force of nature like Ben Folds. I think he was playing piano in the womb.’”
He has some ideas about how to get some mileage out of the relationship.
‘“Maybe I could get [Ben’s] manager to sue me,’” he says. ‘“Maybe we could have a WWW cage match like the Andy Kaufman movie.’”
‘“That’d be good,’” says Jim, cackling with hilarity.
Chuck Folds Five plays covers ‘— which is at the same time more fun and more demeaning than playing originals, and drastically different from what Ben Folds does as an acclaimed singer-songwriter-pianist. At the end of the night, cover songs help drinkers lose their inhibitions, get the ladies up front shaking their booties, and keep the alcohol flowing. Thus the bartender gets paid, and so do the musicians. Like a couple other acts in town ‘— namely Walrus and Evan Olson, with whom Chuck has shared more than a handful of stages ‘— the Five have cover songs down to a science. They move effortlessly from Wild Cherry’s ‘“Play That Funky Music’” to ‘“Sweet Home Alabama,’” making up dirty lyrics, rapping here, and inserting an odd snippet of some other song there.
On ‘“Play That Funky Music’” they play such furious funk that they evoke those other ‘white boys,’ the Red Hot Chili Peppers in taking the music to a level of heavy-metal intensity.
It’s easy to get the sense that Williard feels a little degraded by the cover band gig.
‘“There’s no original scene here; it’s so disheartening,’” he says. ‘“I’m to blame for it, but to change it everybody with any talent would have to say, ‘I’m not playing covers anymore.””
And yet, this group of journeymen musicians probably has better stories to tell than their indie rock peers who are more precious about their integrity.
‘“In To the Nines we would play Princeton once a semester,’” Williard says. ‘“They have ‘no regrets weekend’ where they drive BMWs into the walls at fifty miles per hour. Then they go in with pick axes and knock out all the drywall. Their parents get the bill and they have a redecorated house for the next year.
From Chuck Folds there are no apologies about playing cover songs. Especially at weddings the gig pays better and the gratitude from a newlywed bride is way more rewarding than hearing a drunk guy rave about how much his band rocked.
‘“We’re like, f*ck it, people want to party,’” he says. ‘“We play too loud and play too fast, but grandma’s out there getting down just like everybody else. It’s almost surreal to see a seventy-year-old woman dancing to Outkast.’”
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