Ben Eppard. Do you know him? Because you should. He’ll be coming to the area twice this weekend, performing at The Hill Chapel on Saturday and at Linganore Winecellars on Sunday. He’s got a bit of an interesting story: Dude likes to hitchhike between tour stops. He then blogs about it and, if all goes well, there will eventually be a book about the whole ordeal as well. We recently caught up with the Charlottesville, Virginia, songwriter to talk about his hitchhiking project, his upcoming area shows this weekend, and, of course, if he’s ever been in danger throughout his travels. For those interested in knowing more about Eppard, click here.
So, can you tell us a little about this hitchhiking project? What were your goals when you first set out and how did they change during the experience?
You know, love is a risky thing. When you love someone, you could be lied to, betrayed, have your heart broken. That’s especially true when we talk about loving or helping those on the margins of society. And yet, people do it. I think that’s powerful, and I’m interested in why. So in March of last year I started hitchhiking between my shows. I traveled more than 4,400 miles from Virginia to Nashville to Key West to Maine. Most of the drivers who stopped asked why I was doing something so dangerous. In response, I asked what motivated them to stop, given the risk. Essentially, I was documenting the motivations of what ended up being 143 different Good Samaritans.
Do you think you accomplished what you set out to do? Why or why not?
Well, in the sense that the project had a profound impact on me, I think so, but ultimately I’m hoping to condense the driver’s answers into a book I’m still working on. I kept the blog to entertain friends and those I met along the way.
I read the post about a guy you met named Steve at the Lizard Lounge. The end of the post was a bit biting — a sort of shot at someone who you also admitted to liking on some level. Was that same cynical (ish) worldview a view that you took with you throughout your travels? Kind of world-wary and not easily impressed? If so, how long has that been instilled in you and what impact does it have on your artistic output?
No, generally I think I’m friendly and upbeat. We all come into contact with people we like, but whose ideas we can’t condone. A long distance drive spent listening to the rants of someone to whom you’re also very grateful — (that) would be a good example, and I don’t think liking someone and disagreeing with them are mutually exclusive. Am I world-wary? I don’t think so, but you can’t cover that much ground in that fashion without being road-tired at some point.
Did you ever feel legitimately threatened during any one of your hitchhiking travels? Any scary stories you might be willing to share?
Not really. Maybe I should have been! Once there was a driver who acted afraid of me and his nervousness made me nervous. I should pause to say that I’m not trying to bring back hitchhiking. For me, it was very much a means to an end, to ask this question about empathy.
What’s next for you as a writer? I saw you released a record in January, but would you like to write another book at some point?
I’m still focused on finishing “The Hitchhike Interviews.” The trip has ended, but the discipline of writing is still under way. I’m not sure when the book will be released. It’s a very different process from songwriting. It requires more resolve. It’s not the kind of thing you churn out in a weekend of inspiration. My last musical release was an EP called “Work” in January.
Who were some of your major influences and why?
Well, I’d like to say Mississippi John Hurt, Glen Hansard, or someone like Malcolm Holcombe, but the truth is I only discovered these guys relatively recently. I spent most of my youth listening to Pearl Jam and Nirvana. My songs probably don’t sound like either.
Can you give us the names of a few lesser-known artists we might not know, who we should keep an eye on?
Rebekah Pulley of Tampa — I’m very impressed by her songwriting. I’m a huge fan! George and Heather Woods’ band Proper Company in Boston has great energy. I met both of them on the hitchhike tour. From the Charlottesville scene, my favorite artist has been James Harris Moore — another great songwriter. He just released a new album called “Get Gone,” which I highly recommend. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Tom Conlon (I thought about listing him as an influence). Tom has been touring for years, but I don’t know any solo artist that can take an audience on a journey like him. I love how dynamic he is with just an acoustic guitar.
You seem to tour a lot — where are some of your favorite places to play (cities/venues) and why?
It’s all about the people. Within a day of arriving in Boston, I’d met George, Heather, Aaron Shadwell, and a bunch of great musicians. It’s hard not to love a city like that. Frederick has been very welcoming as well. This will be my third time playing here. Of course, good food also helps. I’d go to Asheville, North Carolina, or Burlington, Vermont, just to eat.
Todd Walker is the guy who set the show up — how do you know Todd?
I wish I knew him better. I met Todd at a Brewer’s Alley Songwriter Showcase. He’s a very genuine guy, and you can tell he does a lot for local music here in Frederick.
And finally, what can we expect from your show at The Hill Chapel?
I’ll be playing new material, some songs from “Work.” I won’t be hitchhiking.