Steve Earle and The Dukes will return to Happy Valley on Aug. 5 to play The State Theatre.
Earle fondly remembers previous performances there and said that this time, audiences can expect an even better show.
“Oh, you’ll see the best band I’ve ever had,” Earle said. “This tour’s been really great. It’s probably the best show I’ve had on stage in the whole time I’ve been doing this. For some reason, this whole thing has really come together. It’s the right band for this record. And The State Theatre is one of my favorite venues in the world to play. I don’t know why, but we’ve always done really well there.”
Earle said he has a plaque from the theater on a wall in his studio.
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“It’s one of those deals where it’s been great every time we’ve ever been there,” he said. “And, it’s the first time I’ve been back since football has been back. So, I figure things are in a little better shape than last time I was there. Football does affect the economy in State College or the essence thereof. I don’t really even watch football, but I know people in State College’s livelihoods depend on it, so I was pulling for them.”
Earle released his album “Terraplane” earlier this year, and it shot up the U.S. Blues Album Billboard Chart to No. 1. The album also hit top 10 in the Top Rock, Top Country, Folk and Indie charts. Even during his busy touring schedule, Earle has begun work on a collaboration record with fellow artist, Shawn Colvin. Colvin is best known for her 1990s hit, “Sunny Came Home.”
“We’re working on writing songs for an album we’re going to record in December,” Earle said. “It will be out in the spring. We’re making a Colvin and Earle record.”
Beyond the music realm, Earle has found significant success as a novelist, playwright and as an actor, earning key roles in HBO’s “The Wire” and “Treme.” Though acting is also a creative process, Earle believes it is very different from making music.
“For one thing, when I’m writing songs and making records, it’s not a democracy. Working with Shawn is going to be enlightening. Every time I ever made a record I was the boss,” he said, laughing. “This is the first band I’ve ever been in. (Acting) is a collaborative art form, and it’s been good for me. It’s also kind of like a vacation. I mean, I sit in my trailer and wait for them to tell me to read my lines. Then I go home, I don’t have to think anything up.”
Like many musicians, Earle got his start early on. He credits his uncle with kickstarting his interest in music.
“It was a pretty musical household; my dad played piano and ukulele,” he said. “I always wanted to play. My uncle, who’s just a few years older than me, he was the one who called me and told me to watch the Beatles on Ed Sullivan when I was 9. All my Beatles and Stones albums were hand-me-downs from him. The first album I ever bought on my own was Sgt. Pepper.”
The love for music runs in the family. Justin Townes Earle, Steve’s son, is also a highly accomplished singer/songwriter. Earle likens seeing his son play live to a nervous parent watching their athletic child compete.
“When I see him play, it’s like going to see your kid play soccer; it’s nerve-wracking,” said Earle. “He’s really good, and I’m really proud of him. But, it’s almost not that much fun for me to watch him because I turn into a soccer dad or something.”
Never one to be afraid of speaking his mind, Earle has earned somewhat of a reputation as an “outlaw” country musician due to his strong sociopolitical beliefs. His non-traditional body of work has bolstered him as one of the few artists to successfully cross genre lines, gaining popularity with rock audiences while still connecting with his country fans.
“I haven’t really been in the country music industry in a long time,” Earle said. “Country stations play ‘Copperhead Road’ as a recurrent, which is weird because when it was out they wouldn’t play it. It was played on rock stations. I left Nashville partially because I got tired of ‘judgmental’ folk. I needed to be able to walk out my front door and see a mixed-race same-sex couple holding hands together; it makes feel safer as white and heterosexual as I am.”
Earle’s illustrious music career has earned him three Grammys, and he has played for sold-out crowds all over the world. With the music industry seemingly conquered, Earle has set his sights on a new path.
“Broadway,” Earle said. “That’s what’s next. I’m developing ‘Washington Square Serenade’ into a musical that’s probably going to start off Broadway but it’s targeted for Broadway.”