This Saturday and Sunday, it’s time to dust off your Tony Lamas, put your hat on straight and head on down to the Queen Mary in Long Beach for the inaugural ShipKicker Country Music Festival. Dustin Lynch will headline Saturday’s musical events along with top-line country performers such as Eric Paslay, Jukebox Mafia, River Road, jay Hollister, Brian Lynn Jones and Neil Morrow, who will treat the crowd to some real ‘ShipKicking’ music.
On Sunday, one of the best of the new country rock bands, Parmalee, will headline the festivities. Parmalee started in a big way with their debut album Feels Like Carolina and recently had their second consecutive Top 3 hit on country radio, Close Your Eyes. Their latest single, Already Callin’ You Mine, has been released and is already making big inroads on the country music charts. Matt Thomas, Parmalee’s lead guitarist, singer and one of the founders of Parmalee, recently spoke with me about Parmalee’s history, life on the road, the ShipKicker Country Music Festival and more.
Parmalee got their name from their hometown of Parmale, North Carolina, where brothers Matt and Scott Thomas, the band’s drummer, grew up. Their father, who had a popular Southern rock blues band, wound up using the young brothers in his group and changed the name to the Thomas Brothers Band. Soon enough, their father retired, childhood friend Josh McSwain was added on guitar and keyboards, cousin Barry Knox took over on bass and Parmalee started doing their first gigs.
From there, based mainly on the intensity of their live shows, Parmalee earned a devout following in the Southeast. Ultimately, they traveled to New York, Los Angeles and Atlanta, Everyone told them they needed to go to Nashville, where they eventually recorded some demos (in their RV which doubled as a studio) and caught the eye of Stoney Creek Records who signed them to their label. From there, it’s been a steady rise on the country charts and a higher demand for shows across the United States.
Q: Matt, who were your other musical influences besides your dad?
I’ve got to say, the music he brought me up on when we were kids, he was playing us the Allman Brothers Band, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Delbert McClinton and all these soul guys. In North Carolina there was always a lot of soul music going on and R&B, that kind of stuff. Then we got turned onto Travis Tritt, Garth Brooks and those guys when we were kids, it was like ‘wow, this is pretty cool!’. I think I always cared for the southern soul stuff, but as we got older, we started playing guitar, getting the melodies and doing the singing from the Allman Brothers, Led Zeppelin, the Foo Fighters, a lot of pop stuff and then we had the old country swagger, learning guitar picking from everybody.
One of my favorite albums was the Allman Brothers Live at the Fillmore East, Scott’s and my favorite album of all time. I grew up just studying that record and I still listen to it all the time—that’s one I can always go back to. We continue to be influenced by other people—you hear a great melody on the radio, you love it and you begin to dig into that person and their songs. I think for me, it’s always that I just surf through channels looking for songs, whatever format it’s in, if I hear a song that I like I’ll listen to it. We do this thing called ParMAYlee where we’re all doing Spotify playlists and one of the first was from Fillmore East, that’s still the best one to me. There’s licks and there’s a lot of southern blues guitar styles there.
Q: Must of Had a Good Time is an example of a great party tune. How did that song come about?
It’s a funny thing, it’s all based on true events that we’ve been through. We lived in a house near Greenville, North Carolina—Scott, Barry and me—it even had a studio setup and out of there we’d play all weekend. Meantime, whenever we were in town, we’d always have friends over after our shows, there would always be parties; friends of mine would do doughnuts in the front yard; always a crazed person on the couch we’d have to kick out; I was always outside picking up beer cans and cigarette butts first thing in the morning, so from there we got that little idea.
But we were actually in Nashville, we had an RV parked out in the parking lot of the Comfort Inn for about a month and we did a lot of songwriting there. I think it was a Sunday afternoon when I came up with that little lick and and the idea and played it for our buddy David Fanning who we had just met a couple of weeks before that and we just kind of rolled with it. When we were writing it, we were just ‘Let’s tell it like it is, don’t even try to sugarcoat anything’. We’ve been to so many parties, every time we’d go out of time people would have something going on, so it’s like a memoir of all the crazy stuff we’ve seen and been through.
Q: Carolina was a Number One hit on country radio. Do you miss North Carolina a lot?
We do. We actually got to go back last Saturday. We don’t go back quite as much as we’d like since we have the whole rest of the country to tour now so we have to—we love it, but Nashville’s our home now and we have to be here because that’s where everything is going on. You do miss your family and friends and you miss the lifestyle. When you go back after being gone for a few years you realize the difference in that special area, how it influenced you and how it played such a big part in your life and other people’s lives. It’s always home, it’s always going to be home, there’s no way you’re ever going to beat around that, but we miss it, we get back whenever we can. Right now, we’ve got to entertain everybody else that never got the chance to see us the first years we were playing.
We spent a lot of time in North and South Carolina, so we’ve burned those roads up and played every venue across the states that was open for us a few years. When we were living there they supported us. We did a show in Raleigh, North Carolina on Saturday. The Board of Commissioner came up and they presented us with—they named a ‘Music Matters Day’ on May 13th, it was’Parmalee Music Matters Day’ in Raleigh and that’s pretty cool. It’s like getting the keys to the city but it’s a music day. And it’s good to get a taste of North Carolina barbeque too. We had a crowd that was cookin’ for everyone Saturday and they set us up with barbecue sandwiches and a big batch of some North Carolina barbeque sauce.
Q: The energy in country rock seems to come across best live. What do you bring to your live shows?
The main thing that we bring is that it’s 100 percent live. It’s just four guys with two guitars, bass and drums and Josh also plays keyboards, there’s not a whole lot going on behind that. Sometimes I play tambourine, we try to keep it as live as we can. When we were growing up it was all about live shows in front of people. A lot of three-part harmonies—it’s all about the singing and the guitar playing and songs, but the word ‘live’ is definitely it, it’s not exactly like the record; it’s not going to sound like that exactly, it’s got a live feel to it. We’ve got to make it fun, I need to let out the fun inside me.
Q: So what do you think about playing at the Queen Mary?
I can’t wait! Everything out there is awesome, I just love going out there. We’re just excited, it’s always fun when we come out there, it’s always a good time. And we know the weather’s going to be good! Luckily, we’ve had more of a chance to come out to the West Coast than we’ve ever had—-everybody’s always happy when we get to go out there.
Parmalee will be headlining Sunday’s shows and brining their great live performance to the Queen Mary. David Fanning, CJ Simmons, Justin Lee, Pawnshop Kings and the Scotty Mac Band round out the list of performers on Sunday. All in all, there will be over 20 hours of live country music presented at the Queen Mary. In addition to the music, there will also be food vendors, a beer garden, cocktails, yard-games and a wild bucking bull ride.
Tickets for the ShipKicker Country Music Festival in Long Beach start at $35 (online in advance) and $45 day of and at the door. Two-day tickets are available for $65 in advance. VIP upgrades are also available and include access to a private bar and two drink tickets. Festival doors open at 1PM each day and the event welcomes country music fans of all ages. Can’t wait to get the party started? Get your tailgate buzz on sipping’ on suds when you join the parking lot party Saturday and Sunday from 11:30am – 1:30pm. Tickets are just $5 to enjoy food and drink specials, backyard games, compete in a 2-Step Contest and meet Go Country 105 FM’s morning hosts Graham Bunn on Saturday and Christine Martindale on Sunday.
ShipKicker Country Music Festival
The Queen Mary
1126 Queens Highway
Long Beach, CA 90802