How St. Pat’s Two Veteran Headliners Are Enjoying Middle Age


Drivin’ N Cryin’ | photo by Shawn Evans

Three Decades On, Drivin’ N Cryin’ Might Finally Fit In

Vincent Harris

A couple years ago, Drivin’ N Cryin’ bassist Tim Nielsen noticed the change. Suddenly, after two years of flat ticket sales, the band was selling out shows. Suddenly, he was running into guys in their 20s with long hair and Les Paul guitars who were flying the Southern rock flag.

“I’m not sure what’s happening,” Nielsen says. “But I just know that at every little town or city across the South, there are Southern rock bands. I don’t know if it ever went away, but there’s a younger version of that that’s kind of stirring right now. I run into these people all the time, and they’re just rockin’. They’re keeping it alive.”

 It makes sense that guys who love loud and proud Southern rock want to talk to Nielsen. His band’s best-selling albums, 1991’s Fly Me Courageous and 1993’s Smoke, are heavy on cranked guitars and roaring riffs, accented by singer/guitarist Kevn Kinney’s puckered, straight-outta-Georgia drawl. Songs like the chugging “Build A Fire,” the anthemic “Fly Me Courageous” and the defiant, middle finger-flipping “Turn It Up Or Turn It Off” were mainstays of rock radio stations south of the Mason-Dixon.

And for the last few years, the band has augmented its lineup with one of the greatest guitarists and showmen in the land, former Jason & the Scorchers member Warner Hodges. His guitar-flipping, amps-on-eleven style has seriously bolstered the “rock” quotient of Drivin’ N Cryin’s sound.

On the regional scene, bands like South Carolina’s own Atlas Road Crew have been walking much the same path as ’90s groups like DnC and The Black Crowes, and nationally, acts like Drive-By Truckers and Blackberry Smoke are as big as they’ve ever been.

But when Nielsen talks about his band’s possible influence on this new crop of Southern rockers, he sounds a little bewildered. That might be because he never considered Drivin’ N Cryin’ to be a Southern rock band. In fact, he doesn’t think the band ever really fit in anywhere.

“Our first couple of records were like the college-music indie thing,” he says. “Then we kind of got slung around as we were coming up because MTV came along and everybody started doing hair band stuff, so we and the Crowes got drawn into that real quick. Then grunge came along and we were like, ‘Oh s#!t, we were kind of like that before. We were grunge before there was grunge. We need to turn back the clock about two years, then we’d fit in! “It’s kind of comical because it always ended up that way for us. But at the end of the day, Drivin’ N Cryin’ has always been Drivin’ N Cryin’.”

He has a point. A closer listen to Fly Me Courageous reveals that it has as many delicate acoustic songs as it does hard-rock tunes. And the band’s most critically adored album, 1989’s Mystery Road, is all over the map, ranging from folk ballads (“With The People”) to punk (“Syllables”) to country-rock (“Honeysuckle Blue”) to perhaps the band’s most beloved song, the largely acoustic misfit anthem “Straight to Hell.”

“We do rock songs, but we have a folk singer and a poet as our lead singer,” Nielsen says. “Kevn makes us who we are. We kind of got lost in the genre shuffle, but we’re trying to get people to understand that we’re a folk-rock band. We’re not a metal band, we’re not a hair band, we’re not a country band. We’re folk-rock. We’re like Son Volt or Steve Earle. We have guitars, we’re loud and we rock. But we’re led by a folk singer.”

Drivin’ N Cryin’ play the Saluda & Blossom Street stage at 5 p.m.