“I don’t wanna grow up to be another angry old white guy,” Larry Keel proclaims. The title cut to his 2020 studio record cracks open with this puncturing lyric, priming the listener for what’s to come. Across 10 songs, the musical innovator combs the hotbed of current socio-political debates as a way to be honest with himself but to extend a warm, happy hand.
American Dream is nothing if not a refreshing homegrown bluegrass record. Released nearly two years ago, so much has changed, and Keel has emerged a very different person. “I really do feel more at peace, more empathetic, and more tolerant,” he says. “I’m very focused on trying to practice this kind of attitude, and it feels better to go through life this way.”
Even more, the record itself seems to have shifted a bit within the context of his own personal journey. “I definitely feel different than I did when I wrote and recorded the songs. The music stays the same, and documents the feelings and vibes that were happening at that time,” he notes.
If there’s anything he’s learned in these experiences, it’s never to take a moment of his life for granted.
As with most musicians, he stopped traveling or working for almost two years while the world worked through the pandemic. It may not have necessarily felt like it in the moment, but now, he admits the hiatus “gave me time to ponder and process loads of restless energy and intense social and cultural issues. These days I feel much more at peace, and I’m not so ‘pandemic worn-out’ and frustrated. I had to get clear on realizing my limitations on what I can and can’t control. I had to really work on myself to stop wasting time on the things I can’t change and work on the way I react to things that bother me. I’m going for being as positive as I can be – every day, every moment.”
Cracker Soul & Keel Revival at The Farm at Glen Haven on Saturday, May 28
The good news in all this is the clouds have seemingly parted, and Keel is currently amidst a nationwide tour. Upcoming dates include stops in Clifton Forge, Virginia as part of the Cracker Soul & Keel Revival at The Farm at Glen Haven on Saturday, May 28 with special guests If Birds Could Fly, Revelator Hill, and Chad Nickell & the Loose Change. (Get TIX at thefarmatglenhaven.com.)
More than anything, Keel has dearly “missed hearing the sound of live music being created in the moment and watching the effect it has on people right there with you,” he offers. “It was fine to take a break from intense road travel, just to regroup and get centered and relaxed after so many years of constant touring. But I do love traveling and taking in a variety of fantastic landscapes and seeing how folks do what they do in every corner of the country – and the world, when I can go and check more of that out.”
Keel started playing music on a serious basis when he was just 8 years old.
Through the years, Keel has traversed all across the country and gathered, among many other things, conversations and interactions that’ll last him a lifetime. “One of the absolute best perks of being part of this industry is the big extended family I feel a part of and that I get to ‘reunite’ with all over the country and all throughout the year,” he says. “It’s so special to catch up with old friends and learn more about what they’ve been up to since the last time we were together, and I get to do that pretty regularly because of travel and because music brings us all together for events and shows.”
Keel started playing music on a serious basis when he was just 8 years old. Originally from Manassas, Virginia, he was immersed in the songwriting craft and playing – thanks to his father and older brother. He later co-founded Magraw Gap in 1990, alongside Danny Knicely and Will Lee. With his wife and accomplished musician Jenny Keel, the duo frequently performs together as The Larry Keel Experience, but Keel knows no constraints. He can often be found touring with and sharing stages with countless fellow musicians. He’s generous with his gifts that way.
If there’s anything he’s learned in these experiences, it’s never to take a moment of his life for granted. Maybe “when I was young and wild and full of self-importance,” he may have forgotten to bask in the world around him. But not so much these days. “I don’t take any of the blessings in life for granted any more. I just try to live an honest, principled life and do the best I can.”
Keel has more than a dozen studio records under his belt, and the next one… will come when it comes, he teases.
Keel has more than a dozen studio records under his belt, and the next one… will come when it comes, he teases. “The way I see it: my music is its own being. I wait for it to let me know when it wants to ‘talk’ to me and tell me where it wants to go. I’m not great at sitting down and forcing a song to be written, or rehearsing a piece to perfection – not my style,” he says. “But once it comes to me, and I’m sure it will at some spontaneous point in the future, I’m receptive to this new musical expression that’s ready to be born. I do have some recording concept ideas that I’d like to see come to fruition. Too vague to specify, but they’re brewing!”
Check out a full rundown of upcoming tour dates over on LarryKeel.com| On the cover features Larry Keel and his wife Jenny.
A West Virginia native, Jason Scott has covered a wide range of topics, from music and horror films to gender identity and healthy living. Scott's work has appeared in American Songwriter, Billboard, Grammy.com, Audiofemme, Consequence of Sound, Popdust, and more. With a background in theatre and entertainment business, Scott is also the founder and editor in chief of indie-music and horror blog, B-Sides & Badlands.