Big Sugar’s Gordie Johnson can’t wait to play the St. Clair College Capitol Theatre later this month.
He said bandmate Kelly Hoppe, aka Mr. Chill, has been praising the acoustics in the theatre.
Considering Big Sugar’s on tour with an all-acoustic performance, it’s a match made in heaven.
“Mr. Chill lives in Windsor. He’s ranted and raved to us about it,” Johnson said of the Capitol Theatre. “It’s like a music vacation to set up on a stage that is acoustically superior.”
Johnson, reached by The Chatham Voice at his Austin, Tex. home, said he’s had the opportunity over his career to perform at Toronto’s Massey Hall, and Olympia Hall in Paris – “magical places where you open your mouth and you hear the sound throughout the room. These venues are acoustically superior. The PA is not going to save the night if the room doesn’t sound good.”
When Big Sugar takes to the stage Jan. 24 in Chatham, there will be no PA amp, rather “just a few microphones in front of the group. It will be more like folk music,” Johnson said.
That’s a long way from the days of Johnson, with a double-necked Gibson guitar strapped over his shoulder, leading the way as the band powerfully delivered such hits as “Diggin’ a Hole,” and “Better Get Used to It.”
Johnson said the tour this year is essentially a portal into how the band works when it’s not on a big stage.
“When we rehearse for a show, we don’t rent a sound stage and turn on all the equipment and lights,” he said. “Whenever we prepare or write, it’s in that format – whatever you can just carry with you. It’s pretty organic. We just add electricity to it at the last minute.”
The frontman said the band members opted to take their grab ’n’ go approach with them when they did interviews for radio stations.
“We started doing radio station visits like that a few years ago. We’d grab what we could and just go. It really sounded good,” Johnson said. “Imagine if that was the whole tour – you’d carry your instrument in your bunk on the bus.”
Well, that’s pretty much what happened. The public’s large-scale exposure to the informal gatherings of the band started with the release of Big Sugar’s latest album, Yardstyle last year.
The album has a strong reggae influence as Big Sugar revisits some of their previous tunes and delivers new ones to your ears. “Turn the Lights On,” from the band’s 1998 release “Heated,” is on of their classics stripped down and laid bare on the album.
“It was so beautiful to set up with no electricity, no monitors, no headphones; everyone just in a circle playing,” Johnson said. “You can even hear us talking on the album between songs.”
That you can. You can also hear the distant chirping of tree frogs in the background throughout. It’s that organic.
“It just gave us this great feeling of musical fellowship. I felt we should share that with people,” Johnson said.
Yardstyle is one way of sharing, but the Jan. 24 show at the Capitol is much more.
“I can think of a lot of nights on tour when acoustic guitars and hand drums came out. We might as well do it in front of people,” Johnson said. “It does let the audience get a lot closer to the musicians. You can hear so much detail in the music.”
He said to expect anywhere from eight to 15 musicians to take to the stage, sitting in the circle, enjoying their craft and sharing it with the audience.
“Everywhere we go, we have musician friends show up. We put them in the circle and they play along with us,” Johnson, who was raised in Windsor, said. “We’re pretty close to Windsor, so I have a feeling there will be some added assistance.”
Johnson said the band has partnered with World Vision, after the band’s booking agent recently adopted a little boy from Ethiopia.
“It’s really close to us. When you know someone who has helped in that regard, it resonates deeply with us,” he said of World Vision.