Summerville native Sadler Vaden has been a touring guitarist with Grammy award-winning Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit since 2013. But long before that, he was a music-loving kid soaking up the Charleston experience like any teenager.
"I remember my friends and I used to go to Folly Beach and then we'd go over to this old abandoned storage shed on James Island where we would practice and play," says Vaden. "It was very warm, especially in the summer. But I miss that stuff. And an old beat-up van that we bought from Michael Trent from Shovels & Rope's old band The Films. I miss the innocence. But then who doesn't? As you get older, who doesn't?"
Now 31 years old and far from traveling in an old beat-up van, Vaden tours in style, including two buses, a tractor trailer and an entire road crew.
"I feel fortunate to have seen this sort of upward trajectory in real time," he says. "That's been a wild experience. Not many people get to see it all the way."
However, there is still a part of him that misses the days long before record deals and world tours.
"I miss being 18 and having a band and getting together for no reason," says Vaden, reminiscing. "No one cares about getting paid. All you’re trying to do is make some music together and hopefully book a show. It’s really just nostalgic."
Yet the thrill that comes with being on the road with an international act and visiting cities across the globe puts a twinkle in Vaden's eye. On the most recent "The Nashville Sound" tour with Jason Isbell, which will be finishing up in Charleston on July 23 at the North Charleston Coliseum before restarting at the end of August, Vaden has gotten to play with some of his heroes. Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson and Sheryl Crow make the list — those were just acts at the Outlaw Music Festival. He's also gotten to see some amazing places, from Europe to Australia.
However, finding inspiration for his solo project on the road can be challenging.
"I think when I get home is when I get inspired the most," says Vaden. "On the road, it’s very monotonous, even though you are in a different place every day. It can feel like the same a lot. When I get home, I’m out of the road routine. I can wake up and be alone. I think when I get home and my mind can cool down and rest is when I’m comfortable. And when I’m comfortable is when I can write the best."
Home for Vaden is now Nashville, Tennessee, where he's met good friends and fellow artists such as Margo Price and Aaron Lee Tasjan, who both played at Charleston's High Water Festival in April. It's also where he produces up-and-coming artists such as Hilton Head rock 'n' roll group Hannah Wicklund and The Steppin' Stones. He'll be working with them during a short break from touring with Jason Isbell in August.
Though Nashville has been an ideal city for advancing his music career — as a producer, member of Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, member of Drivin' N Cryin' and a solo artist— Vaden still misses the sound of waves lapping against the shoreline.
"When I moved there, I was 25 years old and I wanted to do something else with my musical career," he says. "Nashville seemed the obvious place to go for that. But there are other places I’d like to live ... somewhere with an ocean."