Some folks sit on the river bank and watch life roll right on by.
Five years ago, Todd Day Wait ditched most everything he owned on a curbside in Missouri. With guitar in hand, clothes on his back and a head full of music and dreams, he dived in.
Many miles and songs later, Todd Day Wait’s Pigpen disembarks in Bristol for Border Bash on June 6. Wait leads Pigpen, a trio of New Orleans-based musicians whose music hails from American parts far and wide and many decades deep.
“There’s only so much you can do halfway,” said Wait by phone from Missouri. “I put all my stuff on the curb. If I didn’t own anything, I had no reason to stay. Jumped in. Something was going to happen.”
Indeed. Most telling, the minstrel man owns an ever-changing sound.
“We’re a traveling, full country blues group,” Wait said. “We do our own material and pay homage to people from the 1920s to the 1950s. It’s music to show appreciation to those influences.”
Wait’s influences, like America’s highways and byways, stretch in all sorts of unpredictable directions. He as apt to summon names of old-time string band figures including Charlie Poole to 1950s honky-tonk king Webb Pierce. Love attaches equally.
“I love string band music from the ’20s and ’30s,” Wait said. “Jug bands, string bands, gospel bands. It was all melding a bunch. I’m a big fan of Lefty Frizzell. George Jones. Wynn Stewart. It makes me happy when I can play that stuff.”
With tunes including Pierce’s “Love, Love, Love” in mind, the guitar-toting troubadour has traveled the country and seen sights that he never would have had he stayed on the river bank. Get this. Within days of his appearance at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion in September, Wait will travel to perform in Italy, his first trip abroad.
“When I travel, I get to pick stuff up,” Wait said.
By stuff, he means music. As if it’s a crayon in a kid’s hand, he then adds a few more shades to his already patchwork sound.
“It might be from Milwaukee or Los Angeles or the deep south,” Wait said. “You can pick up influences that you might not have if you stay in one spot. Now, some states are big on fiddle or banjo or electric guitar.”
For instance, that which ignites a crowd in the buckle of the bluegrass belt may resound with a thud on the west coast.
“We can play Tom T. Hall’s ‘Who’s Gonna Feed Them Hogs’ in New Orleans and they love it,” Wait said. “We can play it in California and they don’t get it. In Tennessee, you better play banjo well because everyone from four-year-olds to 80-year-olds can. In California, if you can play five notes on the banjo they love you.”
Music. Thereby stands the one mark on the map in Wait’s life that makes sense of everything. With music, he’s Todd Day Wait and as American as the flag. Without music, he would be akin to the flag without the stars, and that just doesn’t fly.
“I can accomplish anything in life with this guitar in my hand,” Wait said. “This world can shake, but I’m gonna be stable. That’s the feeling I get from music.”