For Billings musician Steve Brown, there’s no place like home. After a stint in California, Brown returned to Billings in July 2009 with a renewed sense of hometown pride.
“(Billings) is unlike anywhere else,” Brown said in a recent interview. “California is a fun place to visit, but life is so much more enriching when you can see people that you know all the time, rather than ignore the people next to you in the checkout line.”
While Brown did strum his guitar a few times in California, his music took a backseat. “The scene there is a little different. You pay to play,” Brown said, explaining that musicians are responsible for selling a certain percentage of tickets to their performances in order to make money. “I feel good about coming back, and it just felt really good to play again.”
Brown has been performing with a powerhouse of musical talents, including blues/bluegrass fusion band The Peach Pickers and rock guitarist Matt Rogers. “You look out and you see everyone you know; it’s not just faceless crowds that you don’t care about,” Brown said. “It’s smiling faces that you see, and it’s your best friends and even your enemies in the crowd. We all get together for this short amount of time and lay our weapons down and unite and have a good time. I believe there is something inherently powerful in people gathering in unity.”
Keeping it in the family, the Peach Pickers feature brothers (and former Longtime Lonesome Dogs) Ed and John Kemmick on guitars, as well as Steve’s father Bob Brown on bass. Steve plays guitar with the band and says he loves the camaraderie.
“What I missed most was playing with my friends—the spiritual aspects of music. I enjoy the connection I have with my dad, and Pat Rogers, the Kemmick brothers, and now playing with Matt Rogers and Pat Epley.”
In addition to a regular spot with the Peach Pickers, Brown has been gigging on bass with his former Tyler Burnett band mate Pat Epley on drums and Billings guitarist Matt Rogers. Brown takes the stage with Rogers and Epley on Saturday at the Garage Pub for a performance under the moniker S.O.B.s (Sons of Billings).
“I enjoy the freedom that I have in the Peach Pickers, because I don’t have to be the person in front always. We get to trade off, and the strength of our vocals combined with the personalities and the presence—it’s just fun. For the same reason I really enjoy playing with Matt and Pat. We all sing now, and it feels much more cooperative and dynamic that way.”
To round out his night job, Brown performs solo and has opened a slew of local concerts in the past year. “I enjoy playing solo, but it’s a lot more work,” Brown said. “You have to be present at all times, and that is sometimes hard to do. I am trying to learn how to focus but keep my eyes open at the same time. It stretches you, because you don’t have anyone to rely on.”
After returning to Billings, Brown landed a weekly solo gig at the steakhouse Cactus Creek on Billings west end.
“It’s fun to have both the serenity of friends and the insecurity of yourself. The more you do it the more secure you become. Six weeks at Cactus Creek performing to my girlfriend and a handful of people that might somehow show up—it gave me an opportunity to grow. I feel more comfortable playing by myself in front of large crowds because I’ve eased into it.”
Brown has a masterful list of covers in his toolbox, but he also performs original tunes. “A couple months ago I had a brief creative song explosion,” Brown said, but mentioned he’s more comfortable playing other people’s songs.
“When you’re singing someone else’s pain you can detach from it, but when you’re writing you own stuff every time you sing it you have to relive it,” Brown said. “I’ve been able to express emotions through songwriting, but it’s not always how everybody feels, and not everyone can relate to it.”
For all the years Brown has spent creating music, it’s surprising that he doesn’t consider himself a singer/songwriter. “I’ve always seen myself as support or a piece to the puzzle,” he said.
When asked if he misses his former band Tyler Burnett, a popular Billings blues/rock band that parted ways in January 2008, Brown said, “I absolutely miss it. There was a lot of anticipation and expectation that was happening. We were young, and it was fun, and it was fresh, and lot of people came together and had a great time. To be a part of that is a blessing that I have yet to really process.”
Brown is realistic about the prospects of moving forward. “I think we’ve all done a lot of growing, and the people who listen to us have grown. I would like the future to build on the past and not be a shadow of past magic. I would rather create future magic.”
The S.O.B.s, Brown’s newest foray into the Billings music scene, will give him a chance to reunite with former Tyler Burnett drummer Pat Epley. Former Tyler Burnett bassist Parker Brown, who has also been playing with Rogers and Epley, has been extended an invite to perform with the band.
“The desire for the four of us to play together is strong,” Brown said. “Part of it is that we’ve grown in our musical interests, and our abilities have also grown.”
Brown is not focused on old glory days, but instead on “future good times.”
“I want things to go back better than we were before,” he said. Even the band name was picked to represent camaraderie.
“The idea of the name of the Sons of Billings—it’s not about us, the guys in the band. We’re all born here, but the idea is that we’re all so close to each other. We’re all sons and daughters of Billings. Whether you’re in the crowd or on the stage, we’re all facilitating the same great moment.”
Catch the S.O.B.s Saturday, March 13 at the Garage Pub. Music begins at 5 p.m. with the Alex Nauman Organ Trio opening. The cover is $5.