As the sixth edition of the Revival tour launches works its way across the country, this hootenanny-styled event has become an established brand in the touring industry.
But talk to Chuck Ragan, the founder and organizer of the tour, and it’s clear that Revival is much more a labor of love than a business endeavor.
“It’s been far from easy,” Ragan said. “We’ve had a lot of tours fall through. We’ve tried to bring it to Canada, and it fell through. We tried to bring it back to Australia, and it’s fallen through. We’ve tried to bring it to a few different places where we couldn’t literally get the artists involved in time enough, we couldn’t get the press right, or my wife and I simply didn’t have enough money to get the tour back out there.
“We’re happy to have kept it alive as long as we have, but at the same time, we’re still living tour to tour,” he said. “We do our best to just get through each one and make it work, because we do very much believe in the artists. We believe in the ethic, and we believe that all of these artists that are on these tours need to be heard. And we just love it.”
The Revival tour brings together an eclectic group of artists to perform acoustically in a show in which they collaborate and jam with different combinations of the musicians on the bill. The shows tend to change from night to night as the artists get to know one another and come up with new ideas for their performances
This year’s lineup features a typically diverse roster of artists that includes Ragan (a solo artist and member of the punk band Hot Water Music), Tim McIlrath (frontman of Rise Against), Dave Hause (of Loved Ones), Toh Kay (singer-guitarist of Streetlight Manifesto) and singer-songwriters Jenny O, Rocky Votolato and Jenny Owen Youngs.
Because of its song-swapping format, the Revival tour provides a unique opportunity to see the artists perform in unusual settings. McIlrath, for instance, will be playing in a markedly different format from his usual plugged-in, high energy shows with Rise Against. And even the singer-songwriters get to put a new spin on their songs on the Revival tour.
“The special thing about it is (the audience) is seeing them in a completely different light than they normally would see them otherwise,” Ragan said. “If they go see Cory Branan often or Nathanial Rateliff or any of these guys (who have done past Revival tours), they may see them most of the time playing completely by themselves. And they come out on the Revival tour, and they’ll see them showcase some of their songs with an upright bass behind them, or a fiddle or a mandolin or pedal steel, or three backing vocals backing them up.”
Each artist on the tour gets time to play several songs — alone or in various combinations with the other artists on the tour.
For Ragan, he plans to use his spotlight time to focus on material from his latest solo album, “Covering Ground.” Released in fall 2011, it was his fourth studio album, all of which came after Hot Water Music went on hiatus in 2005.
All four albums have found Ragan stripping back the sound from the energetic and catchy punk rock of Hot Water Music to an acoustic-centered, more folk-flavored style. “Covering Ground” — with a consistently strong collection of songs — was arguably his most spare album yet, as he was joined primarily only by his bassist, Joe Ginsberg, and violinist Jon Gaunt.
“I wanted to do a record that would translate easier live and would be more precise as to what people are going to hear when they come to see me live, which for the most part is just myself, Joe Ginsberg and Jon Gaunt,” Ragan said.
As Ragan was building his solo career, Hot Water Music also reconvened in 2008, gradually returning to touring before deciding to make its eighth album, “Exister,” which was released last year.
Ragan said it was one of the most enjoyable recording projects of the band’s career, which began in Gainesville, Fla., in 1993. Working on a limited time schedule with producers Bill Stevenson and Jason Livermore, the group worked efficiently and emerged with one of its best albums
“What was cool about doing it that way was nobody was getting hung up on anything,” Ragan said. “Everybody was willing to try anything, just try it out. Nobody was completely married to their own ideas in the sense that nobody was being stubborn. In the past, that had been the case here and there. We all write and we’re all strong-willed individuals as it is. So it just seemed like all of us went into this simply with a more open mind, a limited time frame and a little more knowledge and know-how within our own abilities.”