BEST BETS: Barham brings ‘Great 48’ tour to Rehoboth Beach

BJ Barham, lead singer and guitarist for the alt-country band American Aquarium, will play Dogfish Head Brewings & Eats Saturday night in Rehoboth Beach. (Submitted photo/Jillian Clark)

BJ Barham yawns frequently throughout a 15-minute phone interview.

It’s not that he’s bored. The guy’s just tired. And who can blame him?

Mr. Barham, the front man for the alt-country band American Aquarium, is on the tail end of a grueling solo concert tour dubbed “The Great 48.”

Performing 53 shows in 59 days, Mr. Barham, his wife Rachel and their dog are hitting all 48 continental United States. Delaware will be state No. 46 when he plays Dogfish Brewings & Eats in Rehoboth Beach Saturday night.

The tour started on May 7 in Charleston, West Virginia and wraps up July 7 in Burlington, Vermont.

“It’s been tiresome. It’s been exhilarating. It’s been one of the best experiences of my life,” he said of the whirlwind grind that has him featuring songs from his debut solo album “Rockingham,” which was released last fall.

He said chiefly among the lessons he’s learned throughout his odyssey is “always take the detour.”

“It’s amazing the things you see by just going a few miles out of your way. We’ve seen things that have been life-changing,” he said.

During the tour, he and his wife have been to 24 national parks. So how did he get her to go along with this idea?

“I told her I would feed her the finest foods and we would stay in the best hotels. She was hooked after that,” Mr. Barham said Tuesday afternoon, shortly after checking into a hotel in Providence, Rhode Island. After he hung up the phone, they planned to go out and do some sightseeing prior to his show that night.

Helping to make things fresh each concert is the fact that it’s just him and the guitar. He doesn’t have to follow a setlist that a whole band would require.

“If I see that the crowd is a little rowdy, I can do some more rowdier stuff. If they seem to be willing to sit and listen, I can do some of the more introspective, singer-songwriter tunes,” said the 33-year-old Mr. Barham.

“The nice thing about being the only songwriter for American Aquarium is that I have all of these songs stored up. If someone comes up to me and says they have seen us 20 times and never heard a certain song, I have the opportunity to make their night. Every night I get into the driver’s seat and go along for the ride.”

Some of the more intimate songs that he’s been performing lately have been off of “Rockingham.”

The impetus of the album occurred on Nov. 13, 2015, when he and the band were in the middle of their fourth European tour.

They were in Belgium, less than two hours from Paris, when a series of terrorist attacks, including one in a rock club, had left more than 100 dead.

Scores of emails, texts and phone calls came pouring in to make sure he was all right.

For the next two days, he reflected on the people and places that had impacted his life growing up in the Piedmont town of Reidsville, N.C., scribbling notes and singing lyrics into his cellphone.

Fictional narrative songs such as “American Tobacco Company,” about a disillusioned blue collar laborer, and “Madeline,” where he gives life advice to a child who he doesn’t have yet, came flowing as a result.

“I never had any inclination to do a solo album in the 12 years the group has been together,” he said.

“But no one grew up where I grew up and no one grew up with the people I grew up with except for me. Thematically it just all came together,” he said.

The album was made at breakneck speed.

“On Monday, we all met. On Tuesday and Wednesday, we rehearsed. On Thursday and Friday, we recorded it. It was mixed over the weekend and then by the following Sunday, I had the master in my hand,” he said of the eight-song album that contains acoustic versions of three previously recorded American Aquarium songs.

“Everything you hear on the album was recorded live. No overdubs. It’s a real testament to the musicians (which includes two members of American Aquarium) that we put together.”

A hard partier in his younger days, Mr. Barham has not had a sip of alcohol since Aug. 31, 2014. He said that “Rockingham” was an album that could only have come with the clarity of sobriety.

“I would never have had the foresight to write something like this back in my 20s when it was all about getting on stage, chasing girls and getting drunk,” he said.

“As I’ve grown up, I think my audience has grown up with me and they are more interested in the sober me, the married me, the grown-up me, which allowed me to write something like this. Thankfully, the majority of American Aquarium fans have been on board with it.”

After getting off the road, Mr. Barham said he’ll take the rest of July and August off until going back on tour with American Aquarium and then recording a new album with them the first of next year.

Those seven weeks off are about the longest vacation he cares to take. He’s relentless about making music, both live and recorded.

“My parents instilled a strong work ethic in me and always said that what’s worth having is worth working for.”

“Plus I’ve always felt that since I’ve worked this hard to get where I am today, if I stop working, it might all go away tomorrow.”

When he does get back with American Aquarium, a group that has played Dogfish Head twice before, he’ll have a different band of guys to work with. This past February, his partners decided to go their own ways.

“All were tired of the road and just were looking to do something else. I can’t fault them for that. When you feel that way, I think it is time to stop and figure out what else you want to do. I couldn’t be happier for them,” he said.

“We’ve never gone two albums with the same lineup anyway. That’s the nature of the business and the way this group has been.”

Mr. Barham doesn’t foresee himself getting tired of the road or music in the near future.

“I just feel so fortunate to be able to do what do for a living and hope to be able to do it for a long time to come,” he said.

Saturday’s show starts at 10 p.m. with Charlie Crockett opening. Dogfish Head is at 320 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach.

Art studio closing

Rosemary Connelly, of Live Cheap and Make Art Studios, in downtown Milford, has decided to close the studio she shared with her late husband, photographer Bob Connelly, by the beginning of September at the latest.

She said this week that since the death of her husband in 2015, her heart has just not been in it and she has spent very little time there, choosing to focus instead on her watercolor journaling/sketchbook practice, teaching and travel.

She says it will be a challenge moving everything from the studio to her home but she plans to take her time and purge as much as possible. The help of friends and family will lighten the load.

If anyone is interested in purchasing work before the studio closes, Ms. Connelly is available by appointment at 302-359-5534 or rosemary@connelly.net. She said she may be willing to negotiate on prices to see her work go to a good home.

Milford parade

Staying in Milford, the 2017 Milford Community Parade has set its sight on outer space with this year’s theme, “To The Stars And Beyond.”

“This is going to be an exciting year with this dynamic theme choice,” Chairman Charles Gray said.

“After much discussion, the committee decided NASA’s 50th anniversary would play a part in this year’s parade theme. We are looking for civic groups, children’s groups, school classes, floats, and marching units that build their entry around outer space themes. Sci-fi movies, cartoons, NASA-related milestones, “Star Trek,” “Star Wars,” “The Jetsons” and “Aliens” are just a few examples.”

The parade is scheduled for Wednesday evening Oct. 18 through the city of Milford along Walnut Street.

Milford Community Parade Committee invites families, businesses, civic groups, fire companies, school groups and Scouts to plan their entry as a decorated vehicle, float, marching unit, or unique entry to enter on their website at www.milfordparade.com. A quick-link to sign up is available, plus a downloadable entry form for one’s convenience. Both have a listing of entry types accepted.

Entering does not cost but business entries are asked to contribute $25. The website also includes parade route information, detour information for the night of the parade, sponsor listing, rules to abide by, and vendor information as well.

Now Showing

New this weekend in theaters is the animated “Despicable Me 3D,” the Will Ferrell comedy “The House” and the action-adventure comedy “Baby Driver.”

On DVD and download starting Tuesday is “The Zookeeper’s Wife.”

Reach features editor Craig Horleman at chorl@newszap.com

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