Lanco: The Vineyard Conversation

By now you’ve probably already heard the Lanco legend. That a few years ago, while frontman Brandon Lancaster was trying to get his band off the ground but also trying to pay his bills, he was working concessions at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena. And up walks prolific producer Jay Joyce.

“I feel like I’ve gotten more credit for that scenario than I should because, man, we were just playing at bars and we were just young guys trying to make music,” Lancaster told me when I caught up with the band right before they took the stage at this week’s Live in the Vineyard Goes Country stage on the grounds of the Regusci Winery. “This was a huge producer whose worked on some of our favorite records: Eric Church, Little Big Town, Zac Brown Band, and even Cage the Elephant. We were all fans of him as a producer, so I saw that night as an opportunity to tell him that I loved his work. And that turned into him asking about myself and the band, and then the next thing you know he actually threw out, ’I’d love to hear your music sometime.’

“We called him a few weeks later and went over there to the studio and played him some stuff,” he added, “and he liked it enough to actually start working on it. We didn’t have a record deal. We had literally nothing. He offered to record us for free.”

Which seems like one of those too-good-to-be-true tales out of Music City. Until you hear Lanco live. Then it’s obvious what Joyce — and country fans everywhere — see in the band.

The band — Lancaster, Chandler Baldwin, Tripp Howell, Eric Steedly and Jared Hampton — and I also talked about the idea of playing a stage in an actual working winery, going on tour with Luke Combs and everything that’s happened to the hard-working, hit-making machine. Here are some highlights from our conversation in the vineyard. When your goal was simple “make music,” did you ever imagine that that music would bring you somewhere like this?

Lancaster: The places that music has taken us — even just in the last two weeks — has been insane. Much less the last three or four years. Before, we were just guys with jobs that played music. We all had these odd jobs just trying to do anything we could to pay the bills but also have time to try and figure out how to play music. It’s tough to even imagine that you can get to a place like this when you’re just in that stage of starting up a band.

I’m guessing that this show tonight wasn’t even on your original bucket list, right?

Lancaster: Not at all. When we were starting, I dreamed of playing at the Exit/In in Nashville. We played across the street at The End, which holds about 100 people. I was like, “Man, if we can ever play the Exit/In that’d be so cool because we’d get like 400 people.” And I remember the first time we were going in the studio with Jay, my big thing was like, “We’re about to make music that our families will hear one day, and we’ll get to show this to our kids someday.” So this is so cool. And now we’ve even sold out shows in London.

And not to mention all the Luke Combs fans who’ve been able to see your show while you were on the road with him. That has to feel pretty good. And it must’ve been such a lesson in how to capture a crowd that big for that long.

Hampton: The thing I’ll say about Luke is that I’ve always really loved how he’s like the definition of “what you see is what you get.” He’s like one of the most authentic dudes. Just like he was when we met him back in those early days, and even now, he’s just trying to keep it real and keep doing what we’re doing for more and more people. And being around him as a person, he’s the most genuine, authentic person. I think that’s what captivates people. And the songs do not suck.

How long have you know him?

Lancaster: The first time we met him was in Memphis. We’d just played a show. And a friend of our was like “Hey there’s another guy playing down the street at a bar. You want to go check it out?” So we walk in, and there’s about 30 people there. That was maybe in 2014 or 2015? He hadn’t signed a deal yet. And we had just signed ours, but the ink was not even dry. There was so much we hadn’t done yet. It was very, very early.

After the show, we just hung out in the kitchen of the bar and then in his passenger van. We drank beers and became fast friends with him that night. So then this year, on his tour, I remember the first weekend walking out and seeing 10,000 seats that are going to be full. Like they’re entrusting us for the whole night. We’re very proud of Luke, and very proud of ourselves. It’s just wild that he is our friend, and all of this is happening for him and for us. It’s just so cool.

Lanco’s next stop is on May 30 at the Riverbend Festival in Chattanooga, Tenn.

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Alison makes her living loving country music. She’s based in Chicago, but she’s always leaving her heart in Nashville.