Playing D.C.’s The Anthem on a Friday night is a big deal. CAAMP, tomorrow night’s headliner, knows how high the stakes are for a gig of this magnitude and while some bands might not even acknowledge the venue’s regional notoriety, this country-folk outfit is keeping it real in the lead up.
“We know it’s a big one in the back of our minds,” says Evan Westfall, CAAMP’s seemingly do-it-all member who dabbles in electric guitar, banjo, harmony vocals, drums and percussion.
Despite the bigger marquee and audience, Westfall also acknowledges the importance of sticking with rituals: following along with the minutiae responsible for getting them here. Luckily, the music part is a cinch as the group’s renowned brand of country soul is easily absorbed, distilled and enjoyed in any arena big or small, open-air or smokey, saturated with lawn chairs or standing room only.
Before the group takes the stage at their biggest arena to date, we sat down with CAAMP’s Westfall about the band’s quarantine, returning to 2019’s “By and By” and his Spotify Wrapped 2021.
District Fray: I guess the only place to start is what did your Spotify Wrapped look like yesterday? Top artist, top song?
Evan Westfall: I had Tex Crick at the top; he just put out an album last spring called “Live From New York,” and that was my number one. All my top songs were from that album. It’s a really warm album and just sounds so good. I’ve been trying to get whatever he’s getting out of that record as I’ve been working on stuff. It’s so cozy and warm and great.
How has it felt to return to touring again this year?
It’s been fantastic. Obviously, with a year off we didn’t really know what to expect getting back out there. We didn’t know if we’d be playing half-filled venues, but people are hungrier more than ever for live music and music in general. Since our first show, we realized that the crowds were going to be into it and rowdy and louder than they’ve ever been — singing along and cheering at the same exact moments. They’ve all been fantastic and respectful, and there’s just a newfound appreciation for live shows; they don’t take it for granted. You never know when your last show is going to be. We’re trying to put on the best show we can every night and we feed off the audience and vice versa.
Are there any differences you’ve noticed with previous years and this year, whether it be the audience or anything else? Aside from masks, I guess.
Honestly not really, besides the crowds’ energy. It’s all just bumped up a notch, really. We just kinda go about it the same way, and we have our little rituals before shows. Just yeah, the crowds are really into it and it gives us a boost to keep going. Touring can get stale sometimes playing the same songs every night, but it hasn’t been at all. We know each crowd is probably seeing us for the first time in two years and it keeps it fresh for us.
Rituals? Anything wild?
[Laughs] No, it’s nothing crazy, we all have…I’ll just speak for mine. I get a nice coffee and I take a walk or something. Before the shows, I have two sipper cups of whiskey (Four Roses Bourbon) and I like to eat three hours before the show. Then, I’ll come back to the green room and sit around. I like to feel the nerves a little bit, I think I like that feeling, the butterflies. I like to listen to the crowd filling in and I just like to bask in that.
You guys have played a lot of different kinds of venues, from smaller, intimate ones to outdoor ones to The Anthem in D.C. tomorrow. Is there any difference in approach to playing or performing when the venue changes? Is there a kind of venue that you prefer to play in?
I don’t know, The Anthem is the biggest headline show to date. We won’t approach it any differently, but we know it’s a big one in the back of our minds. I think we’ll be sharper. Same songs and same rituals for the most part. We know what we gotta do.
What was 2020 like for the band? How much did the pandemic impact you guys — not only on an artistic level, but on a personal level? How are you now discovering that through music?
You know, it’s definitely tough. It was tough knowing so many were out there going through some shit and it sucked to pull up headlines about people in the hospital. We were fortunate to be in Columbus, Ohio, and were able to make really great music on our own and as a band. It was a great creative time for all of us as individuals and as CAAMP. I do feel bad saying that sometimes because I know how tough of a year it was for so many. We all had Covid and it sucked. We got a little taste of that, but we really just got to sit back and appreciate our jobs more.
Do you think you were taking some things for granted?
Sometimes when you’re out on the road — we’d been touring for four years up to 2020 — and you get out there and it’s cold and you’re sick, and all you want to do is throw in the towel and go home and hang out, but you’ll have a few months left. But when we were stuck at home with Covid, all we wanted to do was go out and tour and perform. We appreciated our careers more and that was big for all of us. We kind of realized people need live music as much as we need it. There’s actually a reason to play. We feel like we can actually help people, to a point that it’s bigger than us as individuals. This is everyone’s band. We went back to playing shows with that mindset. This is for you guys.
How often did you play? Did you write and collaborate still? What was the process and did it change from how the band did things before?
Yeah, we would get together. We started after a few months off. We started getting into the same rhythm last year around this time, November, when we all got Covid together. We were quarantine buddies. We started working on this new album and Taylor [Meier] had a nice crop of songs he started during the summer, so that was a good starting point. We all just sort of got our parts down and went from there.
Releasing a record in 2019 must’ve been just the worst timing. How has it been reconnecting with that record?
Yeah, we ended up being kind of lucky in a way. “By and By” came out in July 2019, so we had a couple more festivals for the rest of the summer before we finished up our fall tour where we ended it in Columbus for New Year’s Eve. So, we got the whole tour pretty much finished. From there, we were done until March when we started a mini spring tour, but we had to come home like a week later. As for the music part, I don’t really know. We definitely took off for a while and pretty much didn’t play those songs for a full year. There was a second sense of appreciation for the words and the arrangements when we came back to them. This feeling of, “I get why people like these songs.”
I know a lot of bands use performances in D.C. as an opportunity to use the platform to speak on things they care about in the larger, outside world. CAAMP has been a huge proponent of the outdoors. Are there any plans to talk about that?
We don’t really go into planning out those things. Taylor is a great spokesperson for those sort of things for us and it’s usually whatever he’ll say in the moment. Every once in a while — and it always depends on how he’s feeling — he might say something into the mic, maybe a couple of sentences. Once again, big crowd tomorrow, biggest headline show, I wouldn’t be surprised if he says something. Whatever he says, we have his back and support it.
What’s next for CAAMP after the tour — are there plans to release a new record in the near future? Are you trying out new songs as the tour goes along?
Every once in a while we’ll throw in a new song, but we’re trying to keep it out. We’re still touring off the 2019 record and we’re playing the hits essentially. We’re trying to have fun and we want that from people as well, so we want them to be familiar and to sing along. And for the future, we hope to come out swinging early next year and do it all again.
Aside from Columbus, where is your favorite place to play?
[Laughs] Really, you’re sticking to that?
Well, that’s a tough question. I will say we’ve always had amazing shows here, like at the 9:30 Club. Before that, we started out at DC9. We’ve hit D.C. every year and it just blows me away because every year it’s like we bump up venues. Everyone has always been so gracious to us in D.C. and we’re grateful for it.
Editor’s Note: This interview was edited for length and clarity.
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