The Expedition Show hits MaumeeWritten by Chris Schwarzkopf | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The Expedition Show is the latest chapter in the life and career of Blake Williams, who has written and performed bluegrass music for more than 30 years. It was formed eight years ago by Williams and his wife, Kimberly, mandolin player Bobby Clark and guitarist Wayne Southards.
“We were doing a play off of the Lewis and Clark expedition and we called ourselves The Williams and Clark Expedition,” Williams said.
Late last year, Clark decided to leave the band and scale back his career.
“He wanted to quit traveling as much, but we wanted to keep the name because it really has been an expedition for our band,” Williams said. “So we started calling it The Expedition Show and that’s how we’re going to carry on.”
Clark was replaced by 23-year old Alex Hibbitts from Virginia, already an accomplished musician and songwriter.
Williams said the band tries to appeal to a wide variety of tastes.
“We have original tunes, traditional tunes, gospel and comedy, “he said. “We try to have a little something for everybody.”
The Expedition Show will bring this blend of music and humor to the Maumee Indoor Theater on March 17 for The Glass City Opry, now in its third year.
Williams’ wife also runs her own business, East Public Relations, which provides tour support and publicity of bluegrass performers. The Expedition Show is one of her clients and she promotes other acts while touring.
“I travel with my computer and my phone and am able to have Internet access while traveling down the interstate,” she said. “The business of music is one of my passions and I thrive on it.”
Growing up in Sparta, Tenn. Williams was immersed in the musical culture of the South.
“It was the hometown of Lester Flatt and Jimmy Martin,” he said. “We were in real close proximity to Nashville, so I was educated on country and bluegrass music.”
Lester Flatt is regarded as one of the creators of the bluegrass style.
Fresh out of high school Williams joined another well-known band, Bobby Smith and the Boys from Shiloh.
“Bobby Smith was my first professional road gig and I learned a whole lot about road life and preparing for shows,” Williams said.
It wasn’t long before Williams began to cultivate other prospects.
“Bobby was working at bluegrass festivals where I would see Bill Monroe and Lester Flatt and Carter Stanley and all the other pioneers of bluegrass music on a regular basis,” Williams said. “As job openings became available, I developed relationships with most of these people and so they knew that I would be on time and I’d be dressed sharp and I was reliable.”
Williams accepted a spot with Lester Flatt and his band, the Nashville Grass, and stayed with the group until 1979 when Flatt passed away.
Williams next played banjo for The Bluegrass Boys led by the legendary Bill Monroe, considered another father of bluegrass.
“Bill Monroe was a music-driven man and he let the music speak for itself,” Williams said. “He had a real strong persona on stage.”
In the early 90s, Williams worked with musician-comedian Mike Snider, a regular on the long-running, country-themed TV show Hee Haw.
“With Mike Snider, I started seeing the comedy aspect of things,” Williams said. “It was more than joke-telling. There was a way to endear yourself to the audience, to get them on your side.”
Williams absorbed all he could from these performers.
“All those elements together gave me a real good perspective on what I would like to do if ever given the opportunity.”
Williams said he loves that bluegrass is still small enough that performers can maintain a close relationship with their fans.
“When we play a theater we always come out after our first set and meet with the audience and sell our CDs and sign autographs,” Williams said. “Most places you go, they’re allowed to come back stage, too.”
His wife said she loves this, too.
“I think the bluegrass community is definitely doing its part to keep the music alive,” she said. “And artists who are just outside the realm of bluegrass, such as Alison Kraus, have brought a ton of young fans to the music.”
“That’s an incredible thing about the music,” he said. “It’s still small enough that commercial success hasn’t ruined it.”
On the Web: www.theexpeditionshow.com.