What do you do with a membership in Phi Beta Kappa? Start a band of course.
Josh Olmstead Band will be joining us for Art for the Cash Poor 15 on Saturday, but Josh took a few minutes to talk with us about everything from Ben Franklin to the importance of a good cup of tea.
Can you start out by telling me a little bit about yourself?
I’m a Libra. Need I say more?
What made you decide to delve into music?
It’s a little bit like the original Superman 2. You can try to retire the cape, pursue other interests, and live life as Clark Kent, but sooner or later duty calls.
Can you give me a bit of background on yourself – your training, your musical career, etc.?
One of my most influential guitar teachers started off every lesson by preparing a cup of tea. The process was very serious and meticulous, but funky and whimsical at the same time. He would boil a pot of water, select a loose leaf tea from an elegant wooden tea chest, scoop and insert the tea into the spoon-style infuser, and patiently steep. Of course there was the sound of the electric kettle, the tea aroma, the pattern of it all. Eventually you ask yourself what does steeping tea have to do with anything, or you realize it has everything to do with it.
Reading your bio on your website is a little like stumbling on a Wikipedia page for Ben Franklin – you’ve got some impressive creds, like graduating Phi Beta Kappa. What’s been your proudest accomplishment so far?
It’s funny you say that. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin is mandatory reading for any Philadelphian, and was definitely one of those before-and-after books for me. Pride is similar. The things I’m proud of in any given moment, are probably not the things I’m proud of ten or twenty years later, and then they are again. At the time, my advisor had to practically beg me to attend my Phi Beta Kappa initiation ceremony – I just didn’t get it. Now, it’s in my bio. Maybe next year, I’ll be like “okay now, enough of that.”
You’ve traveled quite a bit for performances. What’s been your favorite venue so far?
Paradiso in Amsterdam, and Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace near Joshua Tree National Park in California.
Do you have any upcoming performances?
Josh Olmstead Band is performing at Old Swedes Church in Philadelphia on Memorial Day, and Super Sunday in West Chester, June 1st. We’re also supposed to do a short tour of the Pennsylvania Wine Trail later this summer.
You requested to play next to North Lawrence Midnight Singers. From what I understand, you’re putting together a neighborhood series of performances. Can you tell me more about that?
NLMS are kindred spirits. I love their band and music, their whole message. And they’ve been very supportive of me. For instance, I mentioned Donovan recently, and Jamie, the singer, promptly lent me his favorite Donovan vinyl “Open Road” the next time I saw him, and told me he has more for me when I’m done with that one. Todd the lead guitarist is brimming with positive energy. We always end up harmonizing on stage, whether it’s guitar or vocals. Andrew, the bassist, is so chill, and cool. He lent me his 1995 black Les Paul for our recent Exile on Main St tribute at Old Swedes Church – which is exactly the guitar you need to play Exile. Their drummer Neil is simply among the best there is, and belongs in any All-Star band of any time, any place. He was at the same Jimi Hendrix, Grateful Dead, Steve Miller, and Cactus concert at Temple University in 1970 as my dad. Can you imagine being there for all those bands on the same bill? Neil, I think, was just sixteen years old, and my dad had just gotten back from Vietnam. They didn’t know each other back in the day, but recently met at a holiday jam of ours, and reminisced about the show. So, in a way, now it seems like they knew each other all along, you know? When NLMS and my band talk about Rockin the Neighborhood, I think we’re talking about getting out there and making similar connections. It’s about taking our spot alongside the billions of musicians since the beginning of time on the planet that have said, “hey, let’s get together Saturday night, and make something beautiful.” Is it beautiful because there will never be a Saturday of music quite like that again, or because of its place in a long line of Saturday music, or both?
What are you looking forward to most about playing Art for the Cash Poor?
It’s like Donovan says: “Go where you’ve never been, get on your bike and do what you like.”