June 8 2016 12:15 AM

Cadillac Three rolls a flatcar of Southern rock to Taste of Country festival

Nashville-based trio the Cadillac Three brings its rough-edged country sound to Saturday's Taste of Country festival.
Courtesy Photo
While most fans will file into Cooley Law School Stadium Saturday to catch headliners Billy Currington and the Eli Young Band, a trio of rowdy Nashville natives is hoping to win over some Michiganders with some Southern charm.

The Cadillac Three rolls into the stadium Saturday for the second annual Taste of Country Festival. Last year’s inaugural festival featured headliner Dierks Bentley, who, coincidentally, returns to Lansing next month for Common Ground Music Festival.

Kelby Ray, the Cadillac Three’s bassist and lap steel guitarist, describes the band’s sound as “a bit of old country with some Skynyrd and ZZ Top thrown in the mix.” As country music has exploded in popularity over the last few decades, it has created room for bands like the Cadillac Three, whose rough-edged sound places it just outside the mainstream.

“Country is a broader genre than it ever has been. You’ve got everything from the pop stuff to the rock stuff. I think everybody can fit in there,” Ray said. “Guys like Eric Church helped pave the way for a band like us that has more of a rock side.”

The band is preparing for the release of its latest album, “Bury Me in My Boots,” which will hit record stores Aug. 5. The album is a follow-up the band’s self-titled 2012 debut.

“There’s a bit of growth from our last album,” Ray said. “It’s been almost five years since we’ve put out an album. That was when we were still in a van, before we got the tour bus and everything.”

The bus has its advantages. Having a driver and more space means more opportunities for practicing and writing.

“Most of the songs on the new album were written on the back of the bus,” Ray said. “So there’s a lot of real life touring experience cooked into the songs.”

The bus has its drawbacks, too. Spending hours upon hours with the same people in a confined space can lead to tension. When the band has some down time, “outdoorsy” Ray likes to find a pond or lake and go fishing.

“Sometimes I’ll borrow a motorcycle and go for a ride,” he said. “You have to get away from each other sometimes. It makes things work better when you’re on stage together.”

The Cadillac Three has found success in Europe, especially the UK. Like the bluesmen of the mid-20th century, the band has found an audience hungry for music from across the pond.

“That Southern attitude we take over there, they really appreciate it and want to be part of that,” Ray said.

While American popular music is Balkanized into genres and subgenres and niche markets, bands like the Cadillac Three get lumped in with all the other Americans when they go overseas.

“When we go over there, we’re just a rock ‘n’ roll band,” Ray said. “There’s not as many genres like there is over here. There’s not as much radio — there’s not as many stations. You get a bunch of types of music on BBC2 or something like that. It’s a wide range of music on one station, which is different from the U.S.”

Saturday’s gig reunites the Cadillac Three with the Eli Young Band, one of the first groups they worked with on the touring circuit.

“The first country tour we ever did was with the Eli Young Band,” Ray said. “Dierks (Bentley) took us on the road. It was us, them and Dierks. It will be fun to see those guys.”

While the trio is looking forward to playing in a baseball stadium, Ray stressed that venue size isn’t that big of a deal to the band.

“There’s nothing that beats a small, dirty club. But baseball fields are a lot of fun to play,” Ray said. “We’re at home whether there’s 100 people or 20,000 people. We just get up there and do our thing. As long as we’ve got some friends around and some cold beer, we’re fine.”

Taste of Country Festival

With Billy Currington, the Eli Young Band, Thompson Square, the Cadillac Three and Brett Young 4 p.m. Saturday, June 11 Tickets start at $30 Cooley Law School Stadium 505 E. Michigan Ave., Lansing (517) 485-4500 ext. 251, toclansing.com