"I've always been traveling in my life and I actually started traveling before I started playing music," Ian Thomas, leader of Band of Drifters says. "The two have always been really integrated in my lifestyle."
As cliché as it may sound, Thomas takes the road less traveled when it comes to touring. He generally avoids large cities and spends a lot of time on backroads, exploring national forests. Touring gives him the opportunity to get out in nature, which is something he says he needs when he's on the road for an extended period of time.
"I try to enjoy not only the show and the touring, but the traveling as well. If you're going to drive all over this country going to play shows, why would you not take advantage of all the varied natural beauty that's out here?"
Not only does Thomas take a different direction in touring than the typical musician, he also had a less than average start in the pursuit of his passion for music. He always felt connected to early roots, blues and country music, which still influences his music today. Thomas, who grew up in New England, took several trips hitchhiking around the country shortly after turning 18 to check out the world he lived in.
"I always wanted to play music but didn't know how," Thomas recalls. "I started out in some of those hitchhiking trips literally playing the banjo on the side of the street in San Francisco without even really knowing how to play the banjo."
Years later, Thomas went to New Orleans with a guitar in hand. He hung out on the streets busking and playing music. He loved the city because he says he could play on the street, make a little bit of money and meet lots of musicians who were generous about taking the time to teach him things — something he'd never experienced in any other city at that point.
"I learned a lot from that and then when I ended up in New York, that was kind of what I was doing for money and for practice," Thomas says. "Some days I was out on the street for 12 hours, playing and taking breaks and playing and taking breaks, just trying to learn how to play and make a few bucks in the process."
Thomas started recording all of his shows from a very young age, both on a tape deck and through digital methods. He made tapes and CDs so he had something to sell on the street. With his background in recording live music, releasing live albums comes naturally for Thomas. His latest release, "Live in 2016" features songs recorded over the course of five dates in his current home state of Montana.
"I like it because it's honest," Thomas says of releasing live albums. "That's the band. That's how we sound. In a room, playing to a live audience. It's not a creative masterpiece that we've taken into a studio and done in isolation, though I love that, too. It's what we do on a nightly basis. I'm mostly a performer so the live albums capture what we sound like any given night of the week."
When it comes to the album itself, the songs span a period of close to 16 years. The influences draw from early roots, blues and country music, as well as the sort of lyrically driven writing popular in the '60s and '70s. His songs are honest, stemming from his actual life experiences; no fantasy, he says.
"I've always been interested in music. I've always been moved by it. And at different times in my life, different things have moved me," Thomas says. "I appreciate the rawness of a lot of early American music. You can really hear the men and women behind it. I'm most moved by music when I can hear the human or humans behind it."
Band of Drifters
Thurs., June 8, 6-8pm
745 NW Columbia St., Bend