Something magical is happening Saturday night in Bloomington. Two musicians will present separate sets at WFHB's Acoustic Roots Festival, but also take the stage for a short set together. It doesn't happen often – except, maybe, in their living rooms.
"Getting Bob [Lucas] and Austin [Lucas] together at the top of our festival lineup is a personal dream come true for me, something I've been hoping to put together for a long time," WFHB Music Director Jim Manion says of his station's fest.
Bob, Austin's dad, is a well-known songwriter and player, currently artistic director at Mad River Theater Works in Ohio. Austin, Bob's son, is Bloomington-born, raised and relocated; after stints in Nashville, Prague and Portland, the metal guitarist-turned-folk singer has made his way back to his hometown just in time for a headlining show.
"My first memories are of my dad playing music," Austin says. "Literally, my first memory is of my father rehearsing with Eclectricity [Bob's trio with Bill Schwarz and Miriam Sturm]. That is the foundation that I have built all of my life around, my dad playing music and me playing music with my dad."
"Watching Austin grow musically of course has been a great treat," Bob says. "He has tremendous ears. They say one of the greatest compliments you can give another musician is to say, 'He has great big ears.' What that indicates is that there are very few musical nuances that escape them. And I think I can say that about Austin."
Father and son are both hugely productive. In addition to his own releases, collaborations on more than 30 plays at Mad River, Bob's songs have been recorded by Alison Krauss and Newgrass Revival. Austin's latest Stay Restless boasts a mix of country ballads ("Splinters" will tear your heart right out) and driving rock (some of those, like "So Much More Than Lonely," will tear your heart out, too), backed by Nashville mainstays Glossary. There's another record in the can (release date TBD), and he's working on another record — all acoustic, just him and a guitar, he says — that he's focused on now that he's back in Bloomington. His hometown, it seems, is treating him well.
"I loved [Nashville] for a while, and once I didn't love it, I really didn't love it," he says. "[Once I decided to move, I thought] should I move to Austin [Texas]? Should I move to Portland again? What should I do? I just thought, I should go home, because I miss it there. ... I love this place so much. It's by far and away my favorite place in the whole world.
"You're surrounded by all these forests; you've got all this wonderful food; and the community's just great. That's the thing that I really missed everywhere that I've lived other than here, that community," Austin says. " The fact that everyone is willing to pitch in to help each other out. You go to the farmers' market and you see everybody. You're hugging people, talking about things that are important. ... We have real things to talk about. They know my mom. They know all of my best friends. They know the life that I've lived. That's something that you can only find at home."
His father shares the love. Bob moved to Bloomington in the fall of '68 — the "fall of love," he says.
"The crosscurrents of culture were really flowing," he says, of Bloomington in the late '60s. "I never was enrolled in Indiana University, but I played music with some of the best musicians that were in the school, and the international music scene was flourishing. We were going to change the world, in 1968. I think we might have, too, just a little bit."
He met Jim Manion a few years later.
"I first met Bob in 1974, so I've known Austin since before he was born," Manion says. "I was a big fan of Bob's first album, The Dancer Inside You and saw him perform as often as I could," Manion says. "I worked for Red Bud Records at the time; we released two LPs by Eclectricity."
Manion says he admires the purity both Lucases' music share.
"Their music is very roots-based in folk and country, but is totally original," he says. "Both Bob and Austin follow no trends, they set them. I also admire the amazing vocal range they both have, and the unique structure of their songs. To my ears, there are some 'Lucas chords' that no one else uses. They will do separate sets, but will be doing a few songs together. That will be magic."
Besides the Lucases, the Acoustic Roots Festival boasts seven more acts, a mix of regional and local performers.
"My experience with Bloomington and Indianapolis acoustic scenes is that they embrace the community as much as is the music," says Jesse Lacy, who will perform with his trio on Saturday. "It is about seeing a friendly face and trading time for stories. I mean, that is the real root of it all."
The Jesse Lacy Trio will open the fest at 3 p.m., followed by Chris Dollar, Rikki Jean & The DWB, Mark & Misty and The Midnight Munchers, Rusted String Swindlers, Tim Grimm & Jan Lucas, Hogwire String Band, and then the Lucases.
Those that can't make Saturday's show will have a chance to hear Austin and Bob make music together again in the near future. There's a family band album coming!
"The family band record is a slow-moving process. It's a thing that we are meeting sporadically and tracking. It'll get done when it gets done," Austin says. "We're just taking it slow and steady."
Players include Bob, Austin and his sister Chloe Manor, Chloe's husband Chris and Bob's wife Laura.
"We've been collecting songs for a very long time. We're all avid collectors of songs, as well as writers of songs," Bob says. "It's kind of heavenly, actually. Family music is remarkable, the way it sounds. [Family members] sing well together, usually. And not only that, but they know how each other breathe, and get ready to go; everybody's super careful to make sure that there's room for everybody else. It's kind of a blissful experience, really."
Like Jim said. Magic.