When an intra-band bout of COVID-19 struck Son Volt in late winter, the critically-acclaimed group lost an entire western states tour run, including a stop in Salt Lake City. That show has reappeared on the local concert calendar with a gig at The Commonwealth Room on Tuesday, August 2. The KRCL-sponsored show will also feature opener Jesse Farrar of the well-regarded, decade-in string band Old Salt Union (who also happens to be the nephew of Son Volt songwriter/bandleader Jay Farrar.)
Throughout Son Volt’s history, the latter Farrar has been the group’s linchpin, with an uncommonly talented group of accompanying players coming and going over the years. Guitarist John Horton’s the latest to join on, after the departure of Chris Frame last year. The dissolution of Horton’s long-standing, nationally-touring act, The Bottle Rockets, allowed Horton to sign on to play with Son Volt.
He was the band’s only target to replace Frame. Like Farrar, Horton lives in St. Louis. There, his talent’s a well-known commodity. Slotting into the group’s well-seasoned roster was relatively-smooth, he says, noting that “there’ve been a lot of really good or great guitar players in this band.” That number includes current guitarist Mark Spencer, once of the Blood Oranges, and someone Horton feels is a “stellar musician. I’m a fan of his playing.”
In addition to that guitar duo and Farrar, the current lineup includes drummer Mark Patterson and bassist Andrew DuPlantis. The mix of new and longtime players neatly ties into the setlist being planned for this summer 2022.
“It’s really kind of a scattershot look at the catalog, without any emphasis on time period or album,” Horton says. “And it’s a big catalog. I never really realized that before joining the band.”
The group’s first album dates all the way back to 1995, when Trace was released. At that time, the band had a completely different lineup, including two members of the famed, recently-deceased alt-country band Uncle Tupelo—Farrar and co-founder/drummer Mike Heidorn. With ever-fluctuating lineups since, alongside several solo and collaborative albums, Son Volt’s now up to 10 full studio albums, including 2021 Electro Melodier.
In crafting each group and album, Farrar, Horton says, has an eye on accomplished players who can hack it on the road.
“It’s a very businesslike way of doing things,” Horton says, before suggesting that “workmanlike might be a better term. I think in situations like this, it’s just assumed that you’re ‘a stepper,’ as they say. Jay’s assembled a band in which everyone has this roots rock pedigree.”
Horton has that pedigree himself with multiple St. Louis projects, including The Bottle Rockets. That group toured the U.S. for years, releasing records on a variety of labels before calling it a day in 2021. Though acclaimed by the press over the years and possessing a hardcore fan base, they never quite broke through to the next level, though not for lack of skill or effort. The western states, Horton suggests, wasn’t home to a large fan base at any point—they did play a gig with Lucinda Williams in Salt Lake City early in the Rockets’ career, the only time that the well-traveled Horton’s played in Salt Lake.
The Bottle Rockets, he says, “didn’t do great on the west coast. And the differences between the two bands… well, Son Volt’s got a much bigger following than The Bottle Rockets did. Exponentially so. It’s definitely a level up from what I was doing.”
For Son Volt’s deepest-cut fans, this tour should provide some fun moments. Horton says that “Drown” and “Route” will always be found at the beginnings of their sets, while Uncle Tupelo’s “Chickamauga” is there for the closer. A cover that varies from tour-to-tour will be peppered in and after that, it’s anyone’s guess, with the setlist changing subtly as the tour rolls along. And for this upcoming date at The Commonwealth, the band will have just kicked off the tour, hitting the stage only a few dates into this delayed tour.
“Seeing different places than I’ve been,” Horton says, “is always exciting and fun.”
- Who: Son Volt with opener Jesse Farrar
- What: Alternative country/Americana
- Where: The Commonwealth Room
195 W. 2100 S., SLC
- When: Aug. 2
- Tickets and info: thestateroompresents.com