Pokey LaFarge wsg Caroline Rose
The Pyramid Scheme, Grand Rapids
May 14, 8 p.m. $15, Ages 21+
More than a decade after hitchhiking his way out of small town Illinois, singer-songwriter Pokey LaFarge has come to proudly embrace his Midwestern roots.
Fresh-faced and 17, LaFarge left home in 2001 with little more than a mandolin, an honest appreciation for American history — both musical and otherwise — and the sort of audacious ambition only greats like Hemingway and Kerouac can rouse in a young man.
“For me I feel like I had no choice,” LaFarge said about leaving home. “And it wasn’t so much of a negative desperation as a positive desperation. I think I was just really hungry. I just really knew what I had to do, even if I didn’t know what I had to do.”
Raised on the rich traditions of ragtime, country blues and Western swing, he played everywhere he could, busking on street corners from coast to coast, before briefly playing with free-wheeling string band The Hackensaw Boys and releasing his solo debut Marmalade in 2006.
After releasing his second set, 2008’s Beat, Move, & Shake, LaFarge teamed with St. Louis musicians Ryan Koening, Joey Glynn and Adam Hoskins. The group became his backing band The South City Three. Together they released 2009’s Riverboat Soul and 2011’s Middle of Everywhere, racking up awards and festival appearances before longtime fan Jack White signed them to his Third Man Records and selected them to open his 2012 North American tour.
“The farther you go from where you’re from, the more you will think about that place,” said LaFarge, who has since toured five continents. “Like the farther you travel away from America, the more American you’ll get, and I mean that in a good way.”
His latest album, Something in the Water, released last month on Rounder Records, is something of a departure and a homecoming all in one.
Recorded in Chicago, the set features all Midwestern musicians playing on strongly Midwestern songs like “Knocking the Dust off the Rustbelt Tonight” – while including a full-drum kit and four-part harmonies for the first time in his career.
“I like where I’m at in the creative process,” LaFarge said. “I have things that I want to experiment with in the future, like some different tempos and some different grooves. But definitely the drums and the bass and the harmonies are going to be a big part of my music going forward.”