Kris Lager Band

From Omaha to AtwoodFest 2018
by Tommy Rage
July 2018

Kris Lager on the cover of Maximum Ink

Kris Lager on the cover of Maximum Ink

A few rules to live by if you are a blues musician: Your happiness is directly linked to the day of the week, the preacher man is frequently of no comfort, and trusting people that you meet at the Crossroads is unwise. Unless you come upon a crossroad that leads you directly to AtwoodFest on Sunday July 29th, on the Madison Heritage Stage at 3:45 pm. The unique heavy soulful guitar workings of the Kris Lager Band bring foot-tapping blues and funky boogie-rhythm to the community festival.

The latest release from the Nebraska foursome Love Songs & Life Lines share the band’s tales from the road on songs like “Where The Green Grass Grows Tall” and “San Francisco Bound.”

“You Know I Love You”, “Aurora Borealis”, and “Sweet Magnolia” share the summer feel of driving down a dirt road with the window rolled down on your truck and your loyal hound dog in the back. These toe-tapping country infused blues songs are woven with a funky saxophone from Lefever and drummer John Fairchild.  Bassist Aaron Underwood rides shotgun to Kris Lager’s guitar skills and folky vocals on “I’ll Be Thinking Of You”, “The Heart Wants What The Heart Wants”, and “That’s What Love Is”.

It’s clear to see that Kris Lager’s blues influence started at an early age. Kris’s father took him to an open mic night when Kris was just 16. That’s where Kris got to play with legendary guitarist/singer Morris ‘Magic Slim’ Holt. “I got into the blues before my old man, and I got my Dad into the blues”, reflects Kris, “my Dad was the guy spinning Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton, and Jimi Hendrix when I was growing up. He loved the classic rock guitar players. From when I was 16 till about 19, I played a lot of blues cover songs, and I was in a blues cover band. Then I started writing my own songs and branching out and got my Dad into the blues.”

With eight previous albums to draw from, it’s not easy to classify the Kris Lager Band. “There are a lot of different ways to classify my music,” shares Lager, “it’s what I call ‘Feel Good Music’. I play it at home because it helps keep my spirits up and express myself, it helps sort out my feelings. When I play on stage it’s with the same intensity. Instead of it just being me, it’s the people who are listening to the music, so it’s ‘Feel Good Music’. The classification is an afterthought to the intention of the music I’m making.” 

It’s clear that all 14 tracks on Love Songs & Life Lines are diverse stories with personal emotions and motivation. “When I hear other musicians, I want to hear their motivation. I don’t want to hear some fluffy song, I want to hear what’s on their mind, what are they dealing with, what are they working through, what are they striving for. Those are all things that happen naturally when I write and create music. It’s just to what degree and intention?”

Songs such as “You and I” and “Guiding Light” are drawn from the deep emotional connection Lager has with his wife and his family. “She’s my guiding light, she keeps me grounded, she keeps my head out of the clouds and she is my constant. I need that in my life. When I wrote “I Wanna Hold You In My Arms” I tried to put myself in my Mom’s shoes after my Dad died about a year ago.”

Traveling from San Francisco to work with producer Jim Gaines (BB King, Santana, Steve Miller Band) to Louisiana to work with modern blues musician Tab Benoit, Lager has learned how to keep his live shows fresh and exciting. “It starts with the band. If I can get the band on their toes and throw them a curve ball, then it helps get the audience on their feet. I do whatever I can. I don’t write set lists and every show is improvisational. We have our standards, we play what people enjoy, but it’s about what’s in the moment. If someone yells out a song and I know it, then I’ll try it. If not, then I’ll just fumble my way through it [laughter]. I do whatever I can to get the crowd on their feet. My whole job is to be free and enjoy the space and time we are there. I’m at my happiest when I see people smile, clap, sing and dance along.” 

The Kris Lager band played last year’s Atwood Fest, and Lager is eager to get back, “Madison lifts my spirit, and puts me in a healthy state of mind. Hopefully people will feel that too when our music hits their ear holes [laughter]. I’ve traveled the whole country building up a group of friends that let me crash on their couch, and I look forward to when I’m back in town. That’s the way I’ve survived as a musician. After 20 years on the road, I make the joke that I’m winning over dozens of fans every night [laughter].

The humble and gifted singer/musician is true to his down-home upbringing. With a father who worked construction and a mother who worked in a grocery store, its no surprise that Lager enjoys the time he spends with his fans. “I love to hit the merch table and meet people, shake their hand and take a photo. Its great to have that interaction with the fans.”

That positive energy and Lager’s songwriting sincerity can easily creep into your heart and put a smile on your face. Calling Love Songs & Life Lines a blues album is selling it short. As blues fans, we all know that we can never trust the levee to function as intended and that your woman & your dog will probably be somewhere without you; but the Kris Lager Band at this years Atwood Fest will cure any case of the blues (with or without corn-stilled whiskey).

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