The Tumbleweed Wanderers formed as a group just last Spring and released their self-titled record last November. As a folk, soul, and rock band, they gained traction and a loyal fan base from their local Bay Area music scene in California. The catalyst for going on a national tour with Angus Stone was performing at this summer’s music festival in San Francisco, Outside Lands. Untapped Cities caught up with singer/guitarist/banjo player Rob Fidel from the road to hear about Tumbleweed Wanderers’ new national tour.
Untapped Cities: Just jumping in, what was it like for you guys performing at Outside Lands this year?
Rob Fidel: It was insane. It almost felt like it wasn’t happening for real until it actually happened. Now it doesn’t even feel like it happened. We busk a lot on the street and we do a lot of promotion outside of large concerts. Say the Fleet Foxes are playing at the Greek Theater, we play outside of the theater after the show. You get upwards of 8,000 people who just walk up to listen to you who are already huge music fans. Last year, we are only a year old; we busked outside of Outside Lands. It was cool because this year, we were actually playing inside the festival and we still ended up actually busking outside of Outside Lands. It was awesome. We were stoked to be playing, but it was great to have all access to the other bands at Outside Lands this year.
I heard that playing at the Festival lead to your introduction to Angus Stone. Tell me more about how the opportunity came up to go on tour with him.
Brett Dennen is good friends with Angus. A few years ago a couple of us actually saw Brett Dennen at the Fillmore and Angus and Julius Stone opened. So it is kind of funny being on this tour with him now. We were at Outside Lands on Sunday and there was this tall, long red-haired dude, who is obviously someone; when you see a rock-star or an actor, they have this presence. You look at him once and are like “duh that is Brett Dennen!” We were whispering to each other on stage saying “ahhh that is Brett Dennen” and trying to play the song at the same time. We did a tour up to Colorado right after that weekend. After the last day of tour on the way home, we got an email from Angus Stone saying that Brett Dennen referred us for his national tour, and asking us “do you want to do it?” Which was awesome, since Brett had only seen us for 2 – 2.5 songs and ended up referring us for an international touring act. I think it is all just surreal for me. I think it was just luck that he had happened to stumble on our set this year at Outside Lands.
What have been some of the highlights so far from life on the road?
We’ve done overnight drives because we were originally going to be on the bus, but they miscalculated the number of beds so now we have to do all of the drives. I think we get kind of loony and weird in the van because of lack of sleep. Last night we did a 17 hour drive from Boulder. I think the gas stations are always the most entertaining. You meet the most interesting people in the middle of nowhere at gas stations. Playing out of the country has also been very exciting. We’ve played north of Seattle in Vancouver and have two more Canada dates this week. It is cool to play internationally — we have Montreal and Toronto coming up. I am stoked to go to New York City. We are covering a lot of new territory.
Touching on NYC. What can some of your fans expect from your show at the Bowery Ballroom on the 29th?
We are all really excited, and kind of blown away. The show is definitely packed; we’ve been looking at the pre-sale. We are going to be like little kids in Disneyland; excited to have people want to see us play. The whole tour we’ve been asked to chill out our sets — so we’ve been calming down our sound a little bit. Still full of energy but more of a softer sound. We busk a lot, so we already have acoustic versions of all of our songs. If I play guitar on a song, most likely busking I play banjo on it. If Pat plays keys, piano or organ on a song, when we busk he plays mandolin. We have the option of completely changing the song and making it acoustic. It is fun to do it once in a while to change things on set — the sound that we have recorded on our album is fully electric.
Have you performed in New York before?
None of us have played in New York City before. New York is definitely the highlight for everyone. Daniel’s favorite city in the country is New York, so he has been telling us about all of these spots that we need to go to. Just like random sandwich shops and random nooks and alleys that the locals hang out at. I am stoked for the Bowery Ballroom, just for how many awesome people play there. Another highlight on tour has been performing at places where so many great artists have performed before on that stage. I hear the Bowery Ballroom is a beautiful place.
What do you and the rest of the band miss the most back in California?
I have been really homesick which is weird because normally I’m not. I think it’s because we passed the Mississippi which was a big step. We are big fans of the burritos in the Mission district in San Francisco. My shout out goes to Taqueria Vallarta. We miss coffee out there. I miss family. They are really important to us, they are the only reason we are able to do what we do. They are fans before anybody. We miss them dearly. Family and food — all good things.
In one word describe your fan base and then tell me what they mean to you?
In one word that’s crazy. Loveable.. .err Happy.. err Energetic. Uh let’s go with Loveable. Our fans that we can see in the front rows, always have huge smiles on their faces. Our fans are always dancing. People really get into it. There have been some people that have come to our shows that we are actually friends with now, that have been to 6 of our shows in the last month. It is flattering. We really try to give the love back. So many bands nowadays have their social media run by the label. Daniel and I run our social media. I run the Twitter and Facebook accounts. I think it is good to make a point to respond to fans. We have some big hearts out there and we love them.