Hot and breezy summers at the live music venue The Windjammer on the Isle of Palms are always packed with popular local and touring acts and special events. This weekend, one of the liveliest annual get-togethers of the season will kick up as Charleston-based groove-rock band Sol Driven Train, an ever-evolving troupe of skillful players who dabble in reggae, soul, and funk styles, leads the fifth consecutive, two-day Sol Slam back at the club.
Sol Driven Train is currently comprised of guitarist/vocalist Joel Timmons, sax player/singer Russell Clarke, singer/guitarist/trombonist Ward Buckheister, bassist Matt Thompson, drummer Wes Powers and keyboardist Ross Bogan, all of whom sing and swap duties around quite a bit. Their Sol Slam series has become a bona fide Charleston summer tradition, especially for friends, family and longtime colleagues in the East Cooper area.
“We wanted to showcase the diverse array of talent here in the Lowcountry, as well as bring in a few out-of-town guests that we feel will shine for the hometown crowd,” Timmons says of the evolution of “Sol Slam.”
Sol Driven Train will headline both Friday and Saturday night at The Windjammer. The band initially formed as a gang of musically inclined, like-minded Wando High School pals in the early 2000s. As young students at the College of Charleston, they became more serious and focused about performing and recording original material. By the late 2000s, after much touring, collaborating, and gigging, the group had established itself as a solid jam band in the Charleston scene.
In the summer of 2012, the band released a quirky, groove-filled EP titled “Watermelon.” They tapped the Mount Pleasant-based Charleston Sound recording studio with engineers Joey Cox and Jeff Hodges for the 2013 full-length studio album “Underdog,” a slick collection with a heavy emphasis on their soul and R&B leanings. After another successful session at Charleston Sound, Sol Driven Train released a dynamic 11-song collection titled “Dance!” in March on their own label, Sol Driven Train Records.
“When you’re touring behind a new album, you tend to want to play all of those songs at the shows, even if they don’t really fit with the night,” Buckheister says of the band’s recent nationwide road trips. “It’s a musical itch that you have to scratch, while on the other hand, you want to please the crowd and have a party. Fortunately, with ‘Dance!’ most of the tunes can appease most of the audiences right away with a dance-party A-game, you know?”
Co-frontman Timmons recently relocated to Nashville, but the rest of the band is still solidly based in the Lowcountry, and things have continued to roll and bounce as usual for the bandmates.
“Joel has been up in Nashville this year, but the only thing that really changed for the band is that we’re getting better at preparing for rehearsals and road trips and making better use of our time together,” Buckheister says. “The logistics haven’t been too different ... although Joel might argue otherwise, having to travel more.”
Over the last few years, Sol Driven Train has traveled regularly to the British and U.S. Virgin Islands for annual residencies involving a variety of live performances along with bits of hiking, surfing, and exploring. The band hits Key West and south Florida several times a year, as well.
The oceanic flavors and sounds of those tropical/Caribbean outings definitely make their way into the lyrics and music on “Dance,” from the calypso-and-reggae-tinged rockers “Sleeping People” and “Coconut Tree” to the brassy ska of “Lobstamandaughta” (featuring Buckheister’s finest trombone solo of the set).
Additionally, the album touches on elements of vintage ’70s disco/funk (as on the album opener “Crazy Dancer”) and authentic New Orleans grooves (“Big Easy Walk” and the sophisticatedly syncopated “Greyhound Station”). Plus, there’s the ultimate classic rock cover: a horn-peppered rendition of Led Zeppelin’s tricky late-era hit “Fool in the Rain.”
“There’s a lot of music that was influenced by those trips on the new album, but like always, there’s a weird mix of other things, too,” Buckheister says. “I mean, there’s some jazzy stuff, some funk, and an a cappella song (“Altitude”) at the very end. It’s as schizophrenic as we usually are, I think. We try to stick to a theme, but it’s always hilariously all over the place.”
For this year’s Sol Slam, Friday is billed as “An Evening with Sol Driven Train,” with the band playing until late in the night. Saturday’s live music will kick off early in the afternoon with an all-ages jam session on the roomy Windjammer deck from 1-4 p.m. Members of Sol Driven Train will welcome a group of youngsters to the deck stage for the Sol Driven Train Kids Show at 1 p.m.
Folksy acoustic trio Sunflowers & Sin, featuring singer Kaitlin Casteel, singer/guitarist Lorra Amos, and ukulele player Makenna Perry, will perform from 2-3 p.m. The Marcus King Band, a Southern-tinged, Greenville based quintet, will follow on the deck from 3-4 p.m.
Sol Slam’s Saturday festivities will include sand-castle building and stand-up paddleboarding demonstrations along the beach across from The Windjammer.
Late Saturday afternoon will feature four veteran Lowcountry acts on the deck stage as well.
The riffy, soulful Gaslight Street, led by singer/guitarist/keyboardist Campbell Brown alongside core drummer Stratton Moore, keyboardist Whitt Algar and guests, will start jamming at 4 p.m. Sol Driven Train’s special guests, the Wo’Se African Drum & Dance ensemble, will offer African rhythms shortly after 5 p.m., followed by acoustic folk/rock/pop singer/guitarists Danielle Howle and Jordan Igoe, both of whom regularly lead their own full bands.
Guitar-driven rock quartet Josh Roberts and The Hinges, made up of singer/guitarist Josh Roberts, rhythm guitarist Leslie Branham Roberts (his wife), drummer Dennis Ware, and bassist Corey Stephens, will close out the deck stage sets from 7-8 p.m.
San Francisco-based cellist/guitarist and vocalist Rushad Eggleston (previously of Crooked Still, Fiddlers 4 and Tornado Rider) will open the show inside on The Windjammer’s main stage at 8 p.m. The full Sol Driven Train lineup is slated to play from 10-11:30 p.m., followed by a midnight set from Asheville’s boisterous jam-rock band The Broadcast, fronted by singer Caitlin Krisko.
As they do every year, the members of Sol Driven Train donate a portions of the proceeds to a different charity. This weekend, the jam will benefit the nonprofit organization Music & Memory. The organization is designed to bring “personalized music into the lives of the elderly or infirm through digital music technology, vastly improving quality of life” at elder care facilities and hospitals.
“Russell brought Music & Memory to the band’s attention after viewing the documentary about their work, ‘Alive Inside,’ ” Timmons says. “I have dealt with Alzheimer’s and dementia in my family, and I’ve witnessed the power of music to reach the victims of these terrible diseases. We are hoping folks will bring their old iPods to donate, or make a cash donation to the organization.”
“I love getting everyone together on the beach: bands, charities and music lovers,” Timmons adds. “Charleston has a great music scene, but so often, all the players are working the same hours and never get to hang out or watch each other play. As a musician, it’s really fun to bring up special guests on stage and let spontaneity and improvisation take over. Call it a ‘cluster-pluck’ or a ‘super jam,’ but it’s a highlight for me.”