Not many musicians these days are touring by bicycle. It’s dangerous, tiring, and doesn’t exactly roll the money in. However, it also allows for a personal, hands-on experience with each city that’s traveled through, and that is what Ben Sollee and his band are after.
“We’ve never done the bike tours to go green, or conserve or anything,” Sollee said. “You’re part of the town when you’re there—you can’t just roll your windows up when you’re in a bad neighborhood.”
Sollee is a composer, singer, and cellist out of Lexington, Ky. and it wouldn’t be surprising if you’d never heard of him. His first EP, “If You’re Going to Lead My Country,” debuted in 2008 and a month later his first full-length album “Learning to Bend,” was released. NPR named Sollee one of the top ten unknown artists of the year in 2007, and then several months later, the NPR show “All Things Considered” did a feature on Sollee, bringing him some recognition.
After that it was right back to recording, collaborating and touring again by bicycle.
“It’s usually just a few of us, one photographer, the manager and also merch seller, carrying all the merchandise on the bike, myself, and our drummer,” Sollee said. “We are pretty dedicated to doing at least a third of our touring by bicycle each year.”
The longest bike tour they’ve done so far has been a little more than 1800 hundred miles.
“We usually do about 40-50 miles a day,” Sollee said.
When he’s not touring by bike, he’s probably collaborating with someone or singing for a good cause.
Sollee’s first recorded collaborative effort was in 2007, when he worked with Abigail Washburn and Bela Fleck for the Album, “Abigail Washburn & The Sparrow Quartet.”
The album is very folksy and whimsical, with a cool and haunting undertone. The cello, guitar, and banjo come together to create a symphonic homage and a nod to the traveling gypsy bands of the past.
“Abigail Washburn & The Sparrow Quartet” is the only album all of the artists have made and recorded together to date.
Sollee also has a newer album, “Dear Companion,” out in 2010 that is collaboration between Sollee, Daniel Martin Moore and Jim James, of My Morning Jacket. Sollee and Martin wrote and performed the songs, while James produced them, and occasionally makes a guest appearance. All three musicians are from Kentucky, and the album focuses on the issues with mountaintop coal removal mining and how it’s affecting the citizens of Kentucky.
“Collaboration is quite good for musical health,” Sollee said.
Immediately following the release of that album, Sollee performed several shows and went on a bike tour to raise money for Kentuckians for the Common Wealth, a small organization that strives to help the needy living in the Appalachians.
“The organization is very effective, even on a national level, and I try to help them as much as I can,” Sollee said.
The latest album for Sollee will be “Half-Made Man,” and is set to come out in a couple weeks. The album is a little different than all the ones before, because it has been recorded completely live, in the studio.
“Quite a few people close to me had expressed how much they loved the live show, how free it feels,” Sollee said. “We recorded everything live to tape, in an attempt to capture our emotion, rather than trying to capture a perfect sound.”
Sollee just ended a bike tour earlier this year, and will be hitting the road by van this fall in support of his latest record.
“We’re going to hit the Northwest, the Midwest, the coast, we’re going to try to hit it all since we aren’t riding our bikes,” Sollee said. “We are trying to get people to ride their bikes to the shows, and if they do, we’re going to give them $5 off whatever they want, a shirt, or a record, anything they like.”
A little incentive never hurt anyone. Ride your bike to DeLuna if you want. You’ll get a discount on merchandise and you’ll leave with the feeling that you got to know your city better. At least for a day.
2:45-3:30 p.m., Sunday, GoPensacola Stage