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The WDVX Blue Plate Special – 5/10 – The Bootstrap Boys / Thunder Lily

May 10, 2023 @ 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm

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The Bootstrap Boys are no strangers to hard living. Hailing from Grand Rapids, Michigan, the group has been on the road for seven years and counting, bringing their hard-charging sound to honky tonks and bars in every corner of the country.
Made up of lead singer and songwriter Jake Stilson (“Big Jake Bootstrap”), guitarist Nick Alexander (“Nicky Bootstrap”), bassist Jonny Bruha (“Jonny ‘Bubba’ Bootstrap”) and drummer Jeff Knol (“Jeff Bootstrap”), the Bootstrap Boys aren’t your average outlaw country band — they marry muscular guitar riffs and raw twang with leftist politics and a defiantly “y’allternative” outlook.

“We are a socially conscious outfit,” explains Big Jake. “We have died more ego deaths on shrooms than most other bands.”

The first iteration of the group came together in 2015, quickly attracting a fanbase in the Grand Rapids area who was eager to hear new country music in the area. The group began touring relentlessly (their Chevy Coachman RV is practically the band’s fifth member), expanding their reach and drawing acclaim in the process.

For their newest LP, the plainly titled Hungry & SOBER, the group decamped to WimberlEy, Texas, and teamed up with producer David Percefull (Mike and the Moonpies, Jason Boland & The Stragglers) to craft their most authentic, intentional work yet. Across 10 self-penned tracks, Jake’s lyrics run the gamut from cheerily nihilistic road tunes to sincere ruminations on family and queer identity.

“This album has more honest poetry to accompany the storytelling that’s always a part of my work,” says Jake. “I edited myself a lot less.”

That sense of honesty also permeates the music, which is raw and off-the-cuff in a way befitting the rural Texas setting where the record came together. The Bootstrap Boys count Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Bob Wills among their biggest influences, along with technical masters such as Tony Rice, Kenny VaughAn and Clint Strong.

On album opener “As a Rule,” down-home picking gives way to a wall of distorted guitar and drums, announcing right off the bat that the group’s music is not for the faint of heart. In a similar vein, lead single “Call My Bluff” lays out the realities of life on the road in no uncertain terms:

“Only four days a week but it’s nine to nine / You gotta do what you gotta do to get by / and I’d need a miracle to survive this week,” Jake sings.

Elsewhere, on the rollicking “You Got That Right,” Jake winks at his sexuality with characteristic irreverence: “Been living on hand-me-downs / Rebrewing old coffee grounds / Line dancing in a zig zag / With Sally and an old f*g,” he sings.

There are tender moments on Hungry & SOBER as well, including the pleasantly offbeat love songs “Carhartt Cowboy and “Tire Tracks.” Jake wrote the latter track using what he calls “The Dolly Method,” which involves waking up in the early hours of the morning and writing lyrics while half-asleep.

The album takes a turn for the metaphysical with “The Last Roundup,” envisioning the afterlife as a cowboy’s paradise. Then there’s album closer “Even Though,” a love letter to Jake’s late father that culminates with the boys repeating the a capella mantra, “What would you give in exchange for your soul?”

It’s a stunning ending, signaling an artistic leap for a band that’s rapidly becoming a major presence on the outlaw country scene. With a SXSW debut and gigs opening for Morgan Wade, Shooter Jennings and Sarah Shook & the Disarmers under their belts, it’s clear these boys are only getting started.

Born in Toledo, OH, Steven Mullan created Thunder Lily in 2015 and released his first album, Volume 1, in 2020 at the age of thirty-three. Synth driven dance singles followed, along with another album, Volume 2 — a study of sound and color frequency. Thunder Lily’s recent tours include opening for Delta Rae and Pip The Pansy. Volume 3 is slated for release later this year.



May 10, 2023
12:00 pm - 1:00 pm
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301 S. Gay Street
Knoxville, TN 37902 United States
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