It’s been more than a decade since Brian Henneman first broke onto the national scene with the Bottle Rockets, his alt-country band from Festus, Mo. Through the years the group has survived record-label shuffles, band-member switches, and many other pitfalls of the music business. “We’re the last ones standing of those roots-rock bands from back then,” Henneman says. “Compared to others, we’ve stayed together.”
Last year, right around the 10-year mark, the Rockets made some major changes. “We redid everything,” Henneman says, “new manager, agent, label. Then, right in the middle of changing everything, Robert [Kearns, the long-time bass player for the band] left.”
Enter our local hero, Springfield resident Keith Voegele. “We tried a bass player and just figured it would take a while to get someone to fit,” Henneman says. “Then Keith came in like a frigging miracle. He was exactly what we thought we’d never find.” That was back in April; by July, the Rockets were flying across the Atlantic, headed for London, Amsterdam, Barcelona, and other European sites. “We played our first show in London a few blocks from where the bus [the double-decker destroyed in the recent bombings] was,” Voegele says.
“The security was a tighter and it had an effect on the crowd size, but they were all awesome, good shows.” No great time would be complete without some mishap, though, and Voegele supplied it himself. “I fell off the stage before we ever played a note and hurt my knee,” he says. “It was dark and I couldn’t see. I hobbled around the whole tour.” Apart from the knee-wrenching experience, Voegele was delighted and says he was taken by the European music scene. “Over the last 50 years, the church attendance is way down in Amsterdam,” he explains, “but they kept the churches and turned a lot of them into concert halls.” He was also impressed with the setup of the facilities and the European thought process of enjoying entertainment. “Every club had a great PA and lights and elevators and dressing rooms,” he says. “The governments support entertainment by helping the venues.” Voegele reports that the audiences are also supportive of live music. “We had at least a hundred people at each show and over 6,000 at a festival in Belgium headlined by Los Lobos,” he says.
For the Bottle Rockets, who had not been to Europe since 2000 and only have two CDs available there, the reception was a pleasant surprise. “Now everything is as good as it can be,” Henneman says. “Our biggest problem is, our older recordings are scattered around so much on different labels. Eventually we’ll wrangle them all into one place.” In the meantime, the Bottle Rockets keep moving, playing shows, and gearing up to record a new CD in the fall.
“Yeah,” says Henneman in a not-at-all-world-weary voice, “yeah, we’ve got lots of stuff to cram in before we’re done.”
The Bottle Rockets perform at the Underground City Tavern,in the Hilton Springfield (700 E. Adams St., 217-789-1530), on Saturday, Aug. 6. Mike Ireland and Holler open the show at 10 p.m.