Nine questions with The Walking Guys

The Walking Guys, photo by Megan Haley

The Walking Guys is a collaboration of four Nashville-based musicians — Benjamin Butler, Christopher Kessenich aka Arts Fishing Club, Riley Moore and Will Stevens. While each has a musical project independent of the others, they’ve pooled their talents for a tour that takes them from Portland, Me. back to Nashville. And they’re walking every step of that 1,600 mile journey.

The Walking Guys will perform at The Root Bar Saturday, Oct. 3, 7 p.m., and at The Town Pump Monday, Oct. 5, 7 p.m., before heading to South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and finally home to Tennessee. In advance of those local shows, the band shared a bit about their unique tour and their experience so far.

Mountain Xpress: How did the idea for the walking tour originate?

Christopher Kessenich: Benjamin Butler came up with the idea two years ago. He was inspired by his older cousin who walked the Appalachian Trail.  He thought about how to fuse his thirst for adventure with a infantile music career and he came up with the idea for a walking tour. After two years of searching for companions, he posted on the Nashville YEP music group on Facebook and found me. After a couple “man dates” to make sure [neither was] an axe murderer, Ben called up Will [Stevens] (whose place he crashed at one time in Boston) to play lead guitar. Will consulted with his wife and joined up. Riley [Moore] was with us when Will called and let us know he was in.  Ben and I were extremely excited to have Will, and Riley said to us that he couldn’t pass up an opportunity like this. He was in. After two years of searching, Benny-boy found four committed guys in just one week.

The Walking Guys with their carts. Photo from the band's Instagram account
The Walking Guys with their carts. Photo from the band’s Instagram account

You’re recording an album with musicians you meet along the way. With limited time at each stop how do you make that happen?

The goal with the live album was to feature musicians we met/meet along the way. However, that has proved much more difficult than we originally expected.  Luckily, we’ve met and featured a good number of artists in our shows. We’ve recorded all of our shows with a digital recording device (Zoom H6) and plan to use a number of those tunes for the album. Additionally, we’ve been recording  “side of the road” versions of our tunes that we’re going to put on the album. As we currently stand, we’re not sure whether the live album will feature other artists on every song, but we’re not too worried about it. We went into this thing with ambitious goals and we’re doing our best to hit them. We knew from the start we’d have to adapt a little. The features may be one aspect that doesn’t work out quite as well as we would have liked.

What are you carrying with you? What do you wish you’d brought, and what’s something you could have left behind?

We are pushing “dad strollers” as we like to call them. They are big Chariot Cheetahs made by Thule. Inside, we have camping gear for four people (sleeping pads, bags, and tents). For electronics, we have a laptop, two cameras and a Zoom H6 digital recorder. Finally, we have a couple changes of clothing for each of us: two pairs of shorts, a pair of jeans, three to four shirts, underwear and a light jacket. Each of us has a journal and a book to read as well.

The third guitar actually gets used a lot less than we thought we would be using it.  We’ve had hardly enough time to practice so when we do have time, two guitars have been sufficient. We also brought a camping stove but sent it home because we were not using it enough. Cooking dinner on a tiny single-man stove is impractical for four hungry guys.

We wish we brought a mandolin, though none of us have much experience playing. We think it would be a fun instrument to add another layer to our tunes.  Some high-quality walking sticks would be nice for us, but they are awfully expensive so we opted to go without.

How long did it take you to get used to walking long distances, or are you still getting sore?

The first couple weeks were pretty rough. Our bodies just weren’t ready for it.  Most of us didn’t do too much in terms of training. Our feet got blistered and some of us dealt with plantar fasciitis symptoms. When we got to Newport, RI we had to take an extra rest day to let me rest my feet.

Now that we’ve hit the South, we’ve hit a lot larger stretches of walking without rest days. Surprisingly, the longer the stretches have been easier on our bodies in a sense. Our bodies get accustomed to the routine. We’ve definitely adapted and have found our “walking legs.”

The Walking Guys at Chop Shop Pub in New Hampshire. Photo from the band's Instagram
The Walking Guys at Chop Shop Pub in New Hampshire. Photo from the band’s Instagram

Are you writing any music as you travel?

Yes.  Some.  But not nearly the amount that we were anticipating. We grossly underestimated the workload of walking everyday and then finding a place to sleep. The hours we didn’t account for are those spent on packing up our carts, looking for places to sleep and setting up camp. I’ve been keeping a pretty detailed journal on a daily basis. I’m happy with that and hope to convert those experiences into songs once I have more time to think and craft.

Why does the blog only include a couple of July entries?

Honestly, it is a combination between the difficulty of getting to a computer with internet and a lack of discipline. More so the lack of discipline.

What has been the biggest surprise of the tour so far?

The generosity we’ve experienced from complete strangers. People have gone completely out of their way to come help us out. We get taken into people’s homes on a very regular basis, and are allowed to sleep on their couches [and] floors. The media constantly preaches the idea of how “evil” society is turning.  Stories of murders, ISIS, rapes and all other tragedies dominate our news. The truth is that the vast majority of people are good. Really good. They want to see others succeed and they want to help others realize their goals. The “evil” ones are the anomalies. Good people far outnumber them.

Have you had to make any major changes from your original plan?

Honestly, not much.  The live album featuring artists we meet has been a lot more difficult than we thought. We also add on shows and pop into random places to play, but we were planning on doing things like that. Otherwise, nothing too major.

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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