[Interview] Reuben Bidez Sets Off Alarms at Bonnaroo
Cover Photo: Paste Magazine
Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival provided attendees with several amazing undercard bands this year. One up-and-comer, Reuben Bidez, an Atlanta native, made his debut at the festival on Saturday on the Who Stage. Bidez made the big move to Nashville to focus on his career, and it seems to be paying off. You will notice some major differences between Nashville and Atlanta’s respective scenes, but both have so much to be proud of.
“I mean, Atlanta is a huge city. First of all, I love Atlanta and I still go back. My family and my wife’s family live in Atlanta, in the metro-Atlanta area. So we go back quite a bit. Really the big thing for me making the move here was just the concentration on music here, you can’t really find anywhere else. In Atlanta, there are so many things. It has so many industries there, but Nashville’s focus on music is really what drew me here. What really has happened is I’ve gotten so much more accomplished since moving here in the three years that I’ve been here. I did music in Atlanta kind of in a different format. It was good and I learned a lot in Atlanta, but I think as far as just starting a music career I can’t think of a better place than Nashville to do that. Just because it may seem like a big city, and I know it’s growing, but at the end of the day it still has a small town vibe. You run into people and you meet people pretty easily and quickly. That for me has been the biggest difference. The music industry is so close knit and so concentrated here. Atlanta is so spread out. I can go out in Atlanta with my wife and not run into anyone I knew on any given night. Here? I can’t go anywhere and not see somebody. Oh! There’s the guy I wrote a song with or oh, there’s that guy I play guitar with. Its just…we are everywhere. ”
Reuben Bidez was backed by a full band this time around, which was great to see. I lounged under a tree with a few other bystanders as they all took turns warming up and doing a sound check. It’s always really cool to see a true sound check. He would be the first performance of the day on the Who Stage, and it must be an honor to prep the sound for the artists behind you. During the process of their sound check, people began to choose to stay based on the clips of the songs he was playing. It was a beautiful day for Bonnaroo, and the shade made it easy for us all to make the decision to stay. When he and the band truly began their set around 2 PM. His folksy tunes drew an even larger crowd. New fans hugged the rail swaying along to the music. They played a rendition of “I Want You,” and I couldn’t help but sing along.
Bidez wasn’t always into folk music, but I will say it suits him well. In college, Reuben was in a rock band, which has influenced what he does now.
“What I learned from that was the power of performance. I’ve really tried to bring that into being a singer/songwriter. Not to hate on singer/songwriters but a lot of times we can be really boring. Sometimes we just rely on the song, which if you have great songs and you can just stand up there and play your songs and people are captivated, that’s awesome. For me, I think that performance of the song is sometimes just as important. If the song isn’t good I don’t care how great your performance is it’s not going to win me over. There are some people that their song is three of the same words over and over and over for five minutes long, but they’re a great performer than you’re totally into it. Despite the fact that it’s only three words and maybe kind of silly. For me, I pulled the art of performance out of being in a rock band because it really is about energy and trying to captivate a crowd. So I try to bring that into what I do as a songwriter, or a folk singer, or whatever you want to call me. Honestly, that kind of backbone of rock ‘n roll has kind of carried over into my music now. Also being able to play a little bar here or a little show there. I kind of miss it sometimes this is like the era and time of Myspace in its hay day. You really had such an amazing platform to promote and to get the word out way before any social media figured out you can monetize and charge people to advertise. It was the like the free Internet, really. I miss that sometimes, but yeah I learned a lot being in a rock band. I like what I’m doing now though.”
Usually, Mr. Bidez finds himself alone on the stage, but this time around there was even a cellist. The band filtered off of the stage for a break from the blazing sun, while a cellist took a seat alongside the singer/songwriter. I’ve always noticed that even standing directly in the sun with it beating down upon them, most male artists will give up comfort for image, and as Reuben stood there while his band was able to get out of the sun he continued playing with the cellist. They played calming tunes as a slight breeze trickled through the now gathered crowd. Coin began to play at Which Stage, which bugged me to no end. Reuben and his cellist were quickly able to draw me back in and silence the background noise. The band came back for “Turning to Wine” from Reuben’s latest album, which he usually performs solo.
“What I’ve been trying to do more is experiment. If I put myself in this situation what kind of outcome am I going to get. Even just recording or writing in different places or working with people that I might not normally work with. What I’ve realized is when I play solo I have a ton of freedom. I can do things like hold notes a little longer like letting a moment happen or switching up the set list. I can say no I need to do this song now where with a band it’s gotta be a little more calculated and a little more rehearsed. I think over time we’ll get a little more spontaneous as a band. I have two guys in the band that sing incredibly well and so having vocal is such an important thing to me in my music. So to have two guys that can sing the harmonies with me is pretty invaluable for me. Completely different feel, but I’m really excited to have them play Bonnaroo. Also just to have some good friends hanging out. I don’t want to experience this all alone. I want other friends to share in the fun times.”
The band graced the stage once again to finish up the calming afternoon performance. They perfectly prepared the rest of our day, which led into the long night that awaited us. The set list led us to Reuben’s latest release, “Too Many Alarms,” which had become available the previous day. The song has such a calming touch for something so complicated.
“I sat down and wrote that song with my bass player, Wyatt. He helped me. I brought the idea of “Too Many Alarms” to the table and I didn’t really have a ton written yet. But I kind of had this over-arching concept feeling like I’m being over stimulated and my attention is being pulled here and there. Just by culture and by a lot of things. We kind of sat down and wrote this song. This song is just almost like a plea to those that set off these alarms. I don’t want to be bothered all of the time. I’m just trying to go home. That’s kind of the chorus is 'I’m just walking home.' I guess it’s just kind of observation of what our culture has become. Just trying to write something to raise awareness about the world that we live in. I wouldn’t say that it’s my first politically charged song, not really political but more culturally charged song. That’s what it’s about. We wrote it and Wyatt and I actually recorded it together. I think this is technically the first song that I’ve self-produced that I’ve put out. It’s a little different sound than some of the other stuff it’s got a little bit more of…a little bit of a country vibe. Kind of in the way George Harrison would have a country kind of song.”
Reuben Bidez and his band moved us into the rest of our Bonnaroo experience with grace. Unfortunately, Reuben doesn’t have a tour planned, but he does plan to sporadically play shows in the southeast. I truly want to see what he would do in a solo setting and I will be going to see him again. Everyone that was at his Bonnaroo performance truly got a folksy treat.
You can keep an eye on Reuben Bidez and any upcoming shows here.