R&B singer Anderson East is an Arizona boy at heart.
Backed by Yuma brothers Jon (bass) and Scotty Murray (guitar), East looks forward to Grand Canyon State gigs.
“I feel like Yuma is our second home,” East says. “We have an Arizona flag in our trailer. I just love the food — the best Mexican food ever. I’m starving right now just thinking about it. It feels like family, too. John and Scott are actual brothers, but I feel a kinship to them, too. Arizona’s their home, but their home is my home.”
East is one of a variety of acts playing this year’s McDowell Mountain Music Festival, which takes place Friday, March 2, to Sunday, March 4, at Margaret T. Hance Park in Phoenix. East performs along with O.A.R. and Jay Allan and the Uncommon Good, among others, on Sunday, March 4. His band also features drummer Darren Dodd, keyboardist Philip Towns, saxophonist Ben Clark and trumpeter Nate Heffron.
East recently released the album Encore, which features the songs “King for a Day,” “Girlfriend” and “All on My Mind.” With a bluesy swagger that defies his age, East is bound to be a star.
East, who is dating Miranda Lambert, describes his shows as fluid.
“It depends on the day,” he says with a laugh. “We try to play it fast and loose a lot of times. I think once we start getting comfortable with things, it’s right when we try to scare ourselves.
“I’m a big fan of being quick on your feet and the spontaneity and the improvisation that comes with it. I don’t want to say ‘self-sabotage,’ but it kind of is. I’m a firm believer that if we’re having fun, the audience will have fun.”
He adds he’s witnessed shows during which the performer seems uninspired, and there’s nothing worse.
“Once you play as many shows in a row as we do, you try your best,” East says. “We’re playing a lot of new material that we’ve never played before. I’m trying to push the limits and see where the subtle places can lie. You start to relearn the songs as you go, and sometimes the songs develop into a whole different animal.
“It’s a challenge and it’s fun. I take that improvisation and a lot of that fearlessness to heart.”
Encore was produced by Grammy Award-winning producer Dave Cobb and recorded at Nashville’s historic RCA Studio along with additional production at House of Blues and Farmland Studio. The album features original tracks and renditions of songs by Ted Hawkins and Willie Nelson. He worked with a plethora of talented songwriters, including Chris Stapleton, Ed Sheeran, Snow Patrol’s Johnny McDaid and Aaron Raitiere, who lives in Nashville.
He gives a lot of credit to Cobb.
“I was playing shows mainly to the bartender and the wall when we met,” he says.
“He was the first one who said, ‘You have that thing.’ It was his encouragement. He actually paid the musicians out of his own pocket the first time we recorded. I worked with a lot of people before that, but it was pretty obvious from the start that his and my own ideals about music and about what music is lined up pretty closely. He’s become one of my closest friends and I trust him.”
The Athens, Alabama-born musician is shocked by the things he’s been able to do, especially singing “She’s Gone” with Daryl Hall on Live from Daryl’s Place.
“I’m a big fan of Daryl and John, and them together,” he says. “It was an honor to be asked to do that. I was really just trying to hold it together. Singing ‘She’s Gone’ with Daryl: How do you plan for that in your life? It was incredible, absolutely incredible.”
McDowell Mountain Music Festival, Margaret T. Hance Park, 1200 N. First Street, Phoenix, m3ffest.com, 3 p.m. Friday, March 2, and 2 p.m. Saturday, March 3, and Sunday, March 4, tiered pricing, see website. Anderson East performs on Sunday.