We The People’s
5 Things I’ve Learned From People’s Blues of Richmond
Down the Rabbit Hole Series by Jonny Walker
*This list was compiled over a number of performances, multiple cities and states, countless shots of whiskey, a couple of sunrises, and a few questionable decisions. A special thanks to Matt, Tim, and Neko for the memories, the music, and their friendship.
The powerhouse trio of Tim Beavers II, Matthew Volkes, and Nekoro “Neko” Williams combine to create the perfect storm that is the People’s Blues of Richmond (PBR for short). If there is one thing that I have come to know for certain about these guys, it’s that they are always growing; growing in popularity; growing closer together; growing into the band they want to be. The band we want to hear. With a new album, Quit or Die about to drop on June 10, a summer filled with festivals and venues from coast to coast, and a fierce passion for the music there is no ceiling in sight for them. Further, if that ceiling ever did present itself I imagine they would revel in the thrill of shattering it to pieces. Joyfully passing a sledgehammer and a bottle amongst themselves, exchanging swigs for swings.
If you are reading this list and have never heard their music, keep reading. Then go listen to their music, buy their album, see a show, get on board with The Blues, but for Pete’s sake don’t stop reading. For anyone reading who has never seen them perform, this is a list of reasons why you should have bought tickets to their nearest show yesterday. For those of us who have been to a show, it is an invitation to reminisce on all the fire and adrenaline they sparked within the deepest, darkest corners of your soul. For me…it’s just a few things I learned on one wild and crazy ride.
- It’s always worth the trip.
I’ve seen the People’s Blues of Richmond in Maryland, North Carolina, West Virginia, and the place we call home: The Commonwealth of Virginia. I’ve seen them inside of cramped, sweaty bars and on stages surrounded by trees and mountains. I’ve seen them on hot summer nights and on chilly Halloween eves. I’ve seen them all over and intend to see them everywhere else. The only thing I haven’t seen is a bad performance out of them.
Standing outside of the 8×10 in Baltimore waiting for PBR’s set to begin, a gentleman asked me for a lighter. As is often the case, cigarettes and small talk go hand in hand and a conversation ensued. Upon noticing my southern drawl, he asked where I was from and I told him that we drove 5 ½ hours up from SW Virginia. He was shocked that we had travelled that far…on a Wednesday…for nothing other than the show.
When I asked the same of him he proceeded to tell me that he lived thirty minutes away and had been to every show of their residency at the 8×10. I pointed out to him that with four round trips and a $17 cover each time, he only beat me by about an hour and twenty bucks worth of gas money. I asked him why he had been there week after week, all the way up to last call, dragging himself into work the next day (the morning after a PBR show is a rough one). He responded by saying that it “Started out as the best thing to do in town on a Wednesday and turned into the only thing I would do on a Wednesday if they were playing in town. Hell, any night of the week!”
Don’t pay any mind to the miles; don’t count the hours; don’t listen to the voice in your head. Take the trip. See the Blues.
- If it walks like rock n’ roll, and sounds like rock n’ roll, it may still be the blues.
Finding a way to describe the sound that these guys blast through the speakers is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to put into words. Let this stand as a testament to their music. I dare anyone on the face of the planet to make it longer than one song into a PBR show without, for lack of a better phrase, losing their shit. They elicit emotions that encompass everything that great rock n’ roll used to be, everything it was meant to be, and everything that we could ever hope for it to become. They do not, however, sound like what comes to mind when one thinks of the blues.
A few years back I had the pleasure of seeing the late, great B.B. King perform. To see, and hear, and experience a performance by an artist that introduced you to an entire genre is like nothing else in this world (I suggest that everyone still reading try and accomplish this feat once in your life. I’ve done it twice.). If I didn’t know what the blues sounded like before that show, I most certainly did by the time I left. But I spent half of that show just how he did…seated. My hind quarters haven’t seen anything but the dance floor at a PBR show. There were no mosh pits; No crowd surfing; No groupies. How can these two shows, on opposite sides of the rage-o-meter, both be considered the blues?
I began diving deeper into their music, really listening to their lyrics. Talking to fans I heard rumours and tales about the band before I met them. I later heard it straight from the horse’s mouth. All of the stories of affliction, addiction, and eviction woven throughout their lyrics are first-hand accounts of true life experiences. Every intoxicant-fueled night spent shooting dice with the Devil till sunrise actually happened. You can’t write the blues; you have to live them. Fortunately for music lovers worldwide, People’s Blues of Richmond has been kind enough to share their highs and lows with us.
Somewhere along the way they’ve been in our shoes or we’ve been in theirs. So when you hear the words, “Forward march!!” screamed from the stage, realize that it’s not just a song; It’s a command.
- It’s not just anybody’s blues; It’s the People’s Blues.
Never left my home/ Always tried my hardest/ Couldn’t pay my bills/ Always looking for thrills/ But it was never enough/ It was never enough/ It was never enough/ I couldn’t pay my bills, No!
These are lyrics from their song “Never Enough”, which is on their new album. The first time I heard this song performed live I was behind on my rent. Months later I saw them perform the song again, and although I was living in a new house I was now behind on that rent as well. When I noticed this trend I pondered as to whether or not it was wise to, on multiple occasions, spend the last few dollars I had to my name on a People’s Blues show instead of putting it towards bills. Simply put…you’re Goddamn right it was and I’d do it again.
At every show I’ve ever been to I’ve met multiple people with stories of hanging out with the guys after a show. You can find them at their merch table talking to fans or stepping outside having a smoke with the stragglers that lingered around well after last call. They are not a band full of divas that consider themselves rock gods too good to mingle with the peasants they call fans. They understand the struggle. They’ve been there and done that. More importantly, they understand that we are all going through the struggle in one capacity or another. If only for the few hours we spend at one of their shows, the thought of that struggle disappears and my gut tells me that the band is just as thankful for that as the fans are.
Standing on the curb waiting for our taxi to arrive after one of their shows, I watched the guys have to tell the remaining crowd that they had to finish packing up. Neko and Matt walked back in the front door, but Tim snuck around the building to enter through the side. With his hand on the door, a man sitting in the alleyway caught his eye and he went to speak with him. He was a homeless man that had been wandering around the sidewalk all night, picking up the stomped out ashes left behind in order to scrounge up just enough tobacco to roll a single cigarette. Nobody hardly paid him any attention, myself included. Not once did I see someone speak to him, but in a dark alley in Baltimore, Tim did. A man who didn’t even see the show and was worse off than everyone that did, got the most personal conversation out of the most popular man in the building.
We’re all just people with the blues and the People’s Blues of Richmond are here to help us through it.
- Caution: People’s Blues of Richmond may cause chronic head-banging, heightened adrenaline, and a possible disregard for one’s own safety.
Most people that know me would tell you that I’m a pretty laid back kinda guy. I talk slow and walk even slower. I’m more like a lazy river than a class 5 whitewater rapid trail. All of that goes out the window at a People’s Blues show. I jump into the middle of the mosh pit without hesitation. Knowing good and well how much my neck will hurt the next day, I thrash my head back and forth with reckless abandonment. I scream every lyric I know at the top of my lungs because as Neko once told me over a late night piano session, “You can’t sing shy.” The moment they start playing I’m more amped up than the Tasmanian Devil after an 8 ball of coke and a case of Red Bull. The following instances show this in detail:
This year I got to celebrate with the band for Tim’s birthday. I may spend a few more with them in the future because what begins as a Halloween party turns into a birthday celebration at midnight, but why wait till then to begin the festivities? I had brought Tim a birthday gift that came straight from Tennessee and was wrapped in a brown paper bag. Tim, Neko, Matt and myself all piled into Jean Claude Band Van (R.I.P.), shut the doors, and proceeded to pass that gift around amongst ourselves whilst sharing a “memory” or two. I’ll let you use your imagination to figure out what I mean by that.
A few hours later I’m in the thick of the crowd with an extreme range of motion in my head banging radius. Standing next to me is a dear friend of mine, doing her best to rival my intensity. In the most tragic of trajectory paths, the top of her skull got awful acquainted with the front of my face as the savage ascension of her head met with the ferocious descent of mine. After all these years, I finally understood why it’s called “head banging.” The gnarliest shiner I’ve ever had and one hell of a concussion later, there’s never been a black eye and a blurry night that I ever enjoyed more.
Months prior, I got to see PBR at Camp Barefoot. Their show was amazing. This story is not about their show. This story is about what it’s like when they are on the other side of the stage. The night following their show, we all crossed paths in the front row of the last performance of the weekend. Big Something closed out the festival with a bang and played not only the best performance I’ve seen from them, but also one of the wildest shows I have ever witnessed. As I held onto the railing that separated the audience from the stage like it was the reigns on a bull with rabies, I felt the whole fence begin to rock back and forth. To my left was Tim, with a devilish grin upon his face, gripping the railing as if it were the ledge of a cliff, all the while pushing and pulling with the utmost intent. Spotting Neko to his left, bouncing around jovially, and Matt to his right with the most solid head nod seen to man, an uncontrollable wave of spontaneity rushed over me.
I began to shake the railing back and forth with Tim and before we knew it, people caught on. Matt and Neko were soon by our sides and the railing inched closer and closer to the stage. When the stage was within arm’s reach, the excitement was too much to contain and Tim climbed upon it to jump into the crowd. Neko and Matt were quick to follow suit, soaring into the arms of strangers without a care in the world. I climbed up onto the railing and threw my fist into the air. I’ve always wanted to crowd surf and there had never seemed like a better time than now to go for it. Then, out of nowhere, quite possibly the most logical thought I had all weekend crossed my mind. Everybody knows the musicians, nobody knows the people who write about them.
I refrained from taking that leap of faith on that midsummer night, but I never forgot the thought of doing so. The anticipation, the fear, that moment where you decide to sack up or shut up. I have regretted the decision to remain on that rail ever since. Something tells me, when that opportunity presents itself again, two things are certain: I will fly through the air without fear and it will be in the presence of The Blues.
- QUIT OR DIE!!!
“If you’re thinking about tomorrow, you’re working too hard.”- Nekoro Wiliams
“We’re gonna keep doing this till the day we die.”- Tim Beavers II
“You like whiskey, right? Of course you like whiskey. Two shots of whiskey please.”- Matthew Volkes
Remember at the beginning of this article when I told you that the one thing these guys will always do is grow? Well I’m going to tell you the one thing they will never do to finish the article. There is not a force on this planet strong enough to get People’s Blues of Richmond to stop doing what they’re doing. They didn’t choose to be musicians; they didn’t have a choice. To do anything else with their lives would have been suicide. Whether they are screaming it from the stage or living the lyrics that will become their next big hit, the music is always at the core of what drives them.
There’s a reason why the new album for People’s Blues of Richmond is titled Quit or Die. There’s a reason why they have a song, all 96 seconds of it, bearing the same name. I know the reason. If you keep reading this series on PBR I will eventually tell you their reasoning behind that name choice. Throughout the time I spent with the band, these three words came to ring true to me in a completely different context, which is really the most beautiful aspect of music. What meant one thing to the people that wrote and performed it can mean something completely different to the people that hear it in the audience, both yielding the same level of gravity and importance to the lives of those that have experienced those lyrics.
Around the time that I began my three night, three city tour with People’s Blues I was torn between whether or not I should even be doing this. Staying up till sunrise with the band, driving a few hours straight into work, just to turn around and do it all over again. Trying to match their stamina night after night, all for the sake of a good time and an even better article. I am regularly seeing great, live performances and chilling with the people that make it, basically living the dream. But with my bank account running low and the number of hours I had slept being even lower, I wondered is this all worth it?
Then one night as Matt and I had one of those deep, introspective conversations that can only take place at 4 A.M., long after losing count of the beers , he dropped some knowledge on me. He told me that “Often when you’re doing your best in life, that’s the time you’re struggling the most. You have to pour everything you have into what you’re doing just to hold on to it.” Now that’s some true, Jedi wisdom if I ever heard it.
I love everything that I went through to put these words together. Every song played, every stranger that became a friend, every mile traveled, and every dollar spent were all worth it. It’s all worth doing again and again until I can’t do it anymore and then for a few more years after that. Without doing anything more than living their lives the only way they know how, People’s Blues of Richmond taught me one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned in life. It doesn’t matter how much money you make, how many people know your name, whether or not anybody remembers you when you’re gone; if you don’t love what you do right now, you’re doing it wrong. There only way that we can honestly and fully live our lives is to do whatever it takes to make sure that we can do what we love.
Outside of that, there are only two options: Quit or motherfucking die.