West Coast Folk-Rock Band Dawes Returns to Amphitheater


When the members of folk rock group Dawes set out on their current tour, “An Evening With Dawes: Passwords Tour,” they had the perfect opening act in mind: themselves.

It’s not an exaggeration — the band performs two complete sets a night with no opening act for a maximum-Dawes evening. Chautauquans can catch “An Evening with Dawes” at 8:15 p.m. Friday, August 16 in the Amphitheater.

The band currently consists of singer and guitarist Taylor Goldsmith; his brother, drummer Griffin Goldsmith; bassist Wylie Gelber; and keyboardist Lee Pardini.

Gelber said the decision to tour solo had a lot to do with a desire to do the group’s extensive six-album discography justice.

“Just for the sake of keeping it interesting for us and people at the show, we like to play weirder, deep cuts off each record,” Gelber said. “As we added records (to) our own catalog, it became harder and harder to represent all the songs we wanted to play and be able to mix it up every night and still play the songs we knew people definitely wanted to hear. … You don’t want to extend (the set) too long if people have to sit through an opening band, … so we decided to try it without an opener and just do a two-set thing where we can really stretch out.”

Gelber has enjoyed the opportunity to perform new sets every night featuring songs from all of the band’s eras.

“It always kind of keeps me on my toes,” he said. “I can breathe new life into songs that otherwise I might get sick of playing. When we sprinkle them in randomly, they get fun again.”

Dawes formed in Southern California, and its West Coast roots are evident in the group’s sound. In a 2018 NPR Music review of its most recent album, Passwords, writer Stephen Thompson described Dawes as specializing in “smooth and ingratiating California folk-rock that never bothers to hide its big, beating, bleeding heart.”

Passwords, which came out in June 2018, explores the national political and social divisions of the last few years.

“We’re living in such a unique moment in history,” Taylor Goldsmith, the group’s songwriter, said in a recent press release from Dawes’ management, Q Prime. “Many of these songs are an attempt to come to terms with the modern world, while always trying to consider both sides of the story.”

Looking back at the 10 years that have passed since the band formed and released its debut album, North Hills, Gelber said that although their sound has progressed, the first record still holds up.

“We played a set at Newport (Folk Festival) a couple weeks ago and it was just that record only and … we were like, ‘Wow, that record made an OK set,’ and we realized, that was our set for a couple years — those were the only songs we had,” he said. “So, it was fun to do that again and realize, ‘Oh yeah, that still sounds pretty good.’ ”

Gelber is excited for Dawes to return to the Amp for the first time since 2011, when the band opened for Alison Krauss.

“The space will definitely determine the setlist,” he said. “We try to treat each show like its own thing.”

Life on the road is far from glamorous, so Gelber said he and the rest of the band spend most of their time looking forward to their shows.

“The time we get on stage every night is our most enjoyable time of the day,” he said. “Most of your life on tour is just kind of sitting around in different rooms or on the tour bus. … You’re just sitting in a parking lot in Cincinnati being like, ‘What am I doing with my life?’ But every show day is a good day.”
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The author Eleanor Bishop

Eleanor Bishop is a Cincinnati native and rising senior studying journalism at Ohio University’s Honors Tutorial College. She is excited to (virtually) return to the Daily for her second year, where she is covering visual arts, opera and dance. When she’s not writing, Eleanor enjoys comedy, pop music and staring wistfully out windows, thinking about how she should probably be writing.