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Black Stone Cherry Guitarist Ben Wells on Touring Post-COVID; “This is the Current Norm, Not the New Norm”

Ahead of their UK headline tour, we spoke to Ben Wells, guitarist in Black Stone Cherry about touring post-COVID.



Black Stone Cherry

One of the things we’ve all be craving for the last 18 months is the return of live music. In the past few months, lockdown restrictions have been lifted and groups have started touring again. For fans of live music, this is great news but, what does it mean for bands?

Kentucky rockers Black Stone Cherry are about to land in the UK next week for a full UK headline tour so, before they headed off, we jumped onto the phone for a quick chat with guitarist Ben Wells to find out what life is now like for a touring band post-lockdown.

Thanks for your time, Ben. As you’ve got the UK tour coming up, I wanted to chat with you about touring, the future and your thoughts on the way things are going to be. Firstly, though, the UK headline tour is just around the corner. How exciting is it to be back on tour?

Ben Wells: “We have been looking forward to this well, since last year when we’re supposed to do it. Last October. Then, of course, it got pushed back. Even this year, you know, it’s like, it was like touch and go for a minute. Is it going to happen? Is it not going to happen? Do we do it? What kind of loopholes do we have to go through? Collectively we wanted this tour to go to happen. Normally, around time on a normal touring year before going overseas, I would have this pre-anxiety when we’re getting ready to leave because I’m going to be gone for a long time. Right now, though, I told my wife last night that I was going to miss her but I cannot wait to get out of here and go on this tour. We just missed people over there and playing those shows.”

On this run, the European leg of the tour got postponed although the UK dates are still going ahead. Can you talk us through the reasoning behind that?

“Certain countries and cities still have their own different rules from each other so, logistically, it was going to be really hard to do a tour when you’re playing twelve different countries in 30 days. Germany is different from France, and France is different from Italy, and so on, and so on. You can’t do a tour like that. Whereas coming into the UK, you’re in and out, and we can kind of keep it together. We wanted to do the Europe shows, and we were really bummed they got get postponed but at least we were able to get them rescheduled and announced already for next year.”

In terms of the UK until then it’s probably one of the first proper post lockdown tours. There’s obviously a process you go through getting a tour together when you’re booking a tour in normal times but what is different this time? You mentioned loopholes, rules and regulations?

Well, right before this Zoom call, we were just getting group texts from everybody, because we all have to test negative for the fly over, right. So everybody’s texting in a group, you know, so thankfully, everybody’s negative, which is awesome. So, we had to get that before we could get on the plane then when we land we go to Bristol where we have a pre-production day, then we have to test again on the second day that we’re there. So it’s little stuff that is also new stuff that we have had to arrange ahead of time that we’ve normally would never have to arrange like testing and all this kind of stuff.

“Then there was other stuff that needed to be worked out. All our gear is stored in Germany so, normally, for a tour like this, we would fly into Germany and do our pre-production day there and go through all of our equipment, set up, rehearse and then go to the first show. Well, we can’t do that this time. So we’re having to arrange for all of our gear in Germany to be loaded onto a truck, take it to the UK border, take it from that truck onto another truck. Our tour manager is working his ass off but it’s all good. It’s all worth it even though we have to get paperwork done and the stress of getting the equipment. That being said, the fact that we’re going to go and play these shows outweighs any kind of stuff like that, you know?”

Artwork for “The Human Condition” by Black Stone Cherry

Yeah, definitely. Aside from COVID, what about Brexit? Has that changed the touring landscape at all for bands like Black Stone Cherry when coming over to Europe and the UK?

“I think the only thing it’s affected on this particular run is the fact that we had to have some kind of Carnet turned in in advance for all our gear. Normally, we just have the truck come from Germany, and meet us in the UK, but it has to be a UK truck now versus the truck from you know, the EU. So we had to get different trucks just to get our gear over there. It’s kind of crazy but, you know, it is what it is.”

The Wildhearts, who are doing a UK tour around about the same time, have announced that they won’t be able to stop and pose for photos with fans or sign autographs. What’s your take on that aspect of touring?

“Yeah, we’ve unfortunately had to come to that decision and say we won’t be able to do meet and greets this time. Normally, we would hang out behind the bus and talk to fans for hours after shows but we won’t be able to do that. Not that we want our fans to think that we’re scared of them but because we just have to keep our quote-unquote, bubble so that the tour goes ahead without any kind of cancellations or stuff like that. Also, vice versa, if one of us had something, we wouldn’t want to give it to a fan.

“That being said, I’ll look forward to the day that we can go back out there and meet and take pictures and hug and stuff. But, yeah, unfortunately, this tour, we’re going to have to kind of keep it somewhat, pretty tight. But, I mean, if I’m walking around outside and somebody comes up, I’m going to give them a fist bump and I’m going to talk from a distance.”

What are your thoughts on it going “back to normal” where you can hang out with fans?

“I hope it happens. I’ve been refusing to say new normal. I’ve been saying current normal. Nobody wants this to be the new normal. Honestly, you know, I’m sure some things will always be different and slightly changed because of all this, but I do hope, once we get this thing under control, we can start to learn how to live with it. Then you can start feeling better, shaking hands and giving hugs to people that you wouldn’t normally do that with because we’re all huggers. Before we would meet a stranger in a grocery store somewhere and give them a hug, that’s just what we are. It’s a part of your life. You can’t just stop doing that.”

Recently, Devin Townsend headlined Bloodstock and used an entirely British band, and I believe, crew. Has this changed things in terms of your road crew?

“No, this is going to be the whole camp that we always tour with. The only way that we would have had to get somebody else was if one of our guys wasn’t able to fly or travel then we would have had to find somebody and outsource from the UK, but anywhere we go, we try to all go as one big family, we all depend on each other. It feels good to put on these shows because we have the confidence in our guys that are constantly with us.”

In terms of the last 18 months, have you guys been able to hang out and see each other or have you kind of kept apart?

“We’ve actually done several shows in the U.S. We started in April and it was really great. It felt really good. We were very anxious to get back out there. It felt really, really good to be back on the bus and just everybody see each other and hang out.”

How did those shows in the U.S. go?

“They were really good. Between indoor clubs, shows, and festivals, and outdoor headline shows. So it was really great we got to do them. When we first started out in April and May, it was just mostly, like, two shows then back home, two shows on a weekend. This past August, we got to go out for about eleven days so it’s really good to feel like we were back on an official tour. We had ten days and it felt normal. Of course, we had to be smart and not do the meet and greets but the shows themselves they were pretty rockin’.”

In terms of the process in America to get a bunch of shows together, what was that like? Was it different to putting this one together in the UK?

“Yeah, it was a little different. It was just easier because we didn’t have to have tests and we didn’t have to go through different things and get different permissions so it was pretty chilled. It was just go to the show and play. I mean, certain venues have had some different rules and required vaccinations but, most of the shows we did, were free and wide open.”

What about the last 18 months then, have you been writing new material at all?

“Not really, for this tour, we’re just going to concentrate on playing songs off the new album. Other than that, we hadn’t really thought about the next record, we just kind of now feel like we’re out promoting this one, just because we released this album back in October last year but weren’t able to do much as far as supporting it. So, now, we finally are so that’s what we’re focusing on at the moment.”

What about 2022? What’s in the pipeline for Black Stone Cherry?

“We plan on touring as much as possible, you know, and I’m sure towards the end of 2022, we’ll start looking at the next record. Right now, I think we’re just trying to make up for lost time and take new opportunities and tours. And we already know, we’re coming back over to mainland Europe next year, to make up for those shows. That being said, you never know what will happen as we get show offers all the time. So, I could be thinking we’re doing one thing and all sudden, we’re in somewhere completely different.”

Well, we’ll never turn down the opportunity to see you guys in the UK. On that note, thank you for your time. Is there any message for fans that are coming up to the shows next week?

“I hope they’re ready as we are and I’m sure they are just reading the comments. We just absolutely cannot wait. I mean, the UK, it’s like an extended family to us and holds a very special place in our hearts. So we can’t wait.”

Upcoming UK Tour Dates:

09/10 – Birmingham – O2 Academy
09/11 – Lincoln – Engine Shed
09/13 – Nottingham – Rock City
09/14 – Leeds – O2 Academy
09/16 – Manchester – O2 Apollo
09/17 – Glasgow – Barrowland
09/18 – Edinburgh – Usher Hall
09/20 – Newcastle – O2 Academy
09/21 – Liverpool – O2 Academy
09/23 – Folkestone – Leas Cliff Hall
09/24 – Cardiff – St David’s Hall
09/25 – Exeter – Great Hall
09/27 – Southampton – O2 Guildhall
09/28 – Cambridge – Corn Exchange

I have an unhealthy obsession with bad horror movies, the song Wanted Dead Or Alive and crap British game shows. I do this not because of the sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll lifestyle it affords me but more because it gives me an excuse to listen to bands that sound like hippos mating.