Hot Club of Cowtown

Elana James on fiddle, guitarist Whit Smith, and bassist Jake Erwin.

Hot Club of Cowtown fans from afar will have to wait a few months before they can share in the fruits of the band’s recent labors in the studio.

For people attending their show at the Chatfield Center for the Arts Friday, the payoff will come sooner.

“After being in the studio, you get nicely polished,” said Whit Smith, guitarist and vocalist for the gypsy-jazz trio. “It’s really like an intensive practicing session.”

The trio is coming off three weeks in the studio — the longest the band has ever spent recording for one album.

Smith said it was overdue.

“We haven’t made a recording of all original material in an alarming amount of time,” Smith said. “I don’t know what took so long.”

The trio featuring Smith, Elana James on fiddle and vocals and Jake Erwin on upright bass and vocals, is known for their high-energy live shows. While touring, they rarely try new material on an audience until they’ve had a chance to practice it.

Most of the songs they recorded haven’t been played to a live audience before they started recording them in April. Smith said they’ll be ready to debut those.

“By the time we get to Chatfield, we’ll be playing at least half of them, if not all of them,” he said.

For many fans and the band members, the live shows are where the most energy is at.

“There’s just something that happens when Whit, Jake, and Elana get together,” Smith said.

Smith and James met first when they began playing some fiddle tunes together. Smith then introduced her to Western Swing music and added some 1920s jazz to their repertoire. Erwin stepped in on bass.

“That was it — that’s when it really gelled,” Smith said. “We just wanted to get in a van and start going places.”

The three have been playing together since 2001.

“As adults touring that long, there’s a chemistry that happens when you play together,” Smith said. “It sounds corny, but the music really does fuse us together.”

There are some other things that contribute to their longevity too, Smith added.

“Separate hotel rooms is a good start,” he said.

Touring also offers the opportunity to meet new people every day and play in venues from the world famous O2 Arena in London to living rooms to rundown forgotten 1950s carnival grounds in Appalachia. It doesn’t matter the venue, the group doesn’t phone it in.

“Whenever we start playing, we play for ourselves as well,” Smith said. “We don’t let ourselves off the hook.”

Some shows blend together while other moments are unforgettable. One such moment happened in Rochester years ago while they were on tour with Bob Dylan. Hot Club of Cowtown was starting “Pennies From Heaven” when an afternoon rain shower moved through. The crowd loved it.

“It was a beautiful, spontaneous moment between artists and audience,” Smith said.

The only way to catch those is to be at the show.

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General Assignment Reporter

John joined the Post Bulletin in May 2018. He graduated from the University of Iowa in 2004 with degrees in Journalism and Japanese. Away from the office, John plays banjo, brews beer, bikes and is looking for other hobbies that begin with the letter “b.”