This year’s 62nd Water Festival is bringing something special to Beaufort this month with a concert performance by Aaron Lewis at the annual Concert in the Park. Lewis is one of the more popular acts to grace Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park in recent years, with millions of albums sold as the lead singer/rhythm guitarist of the popular rock band Staind since 1995 and a legendary career already under his belt.
Now, he’s enjoying a successful solo country music career. Lewis has been performing solo acoustic shows since he was 17, so being on his own is nothing new. In his newest solo venture, he’s released a few critically acclaimed country music albums with the first coming out in 2011. That album, Town Line, debuted at No.1 on Billboard’s Country Album Chart. The first single from that album, “Country Boy,” featured the late George Jones and Charlie Daniels. It earned Lewis multiple CMA, ACM and CMT Music Award nominations.
Lewis released his first full solo album, The Road, in November 2012. Its debut single, Endless Summer, also made the country charts. His next solo album, Sinner, was released in 2016, with the lead single, “That Ain’t Country”. Willie Nelson is featured on the album’s title track as well.
Considered by many one of the best rock singers of our modern time, along with Chris Cornell and Corey Taylor, we’re in for a special night here in Beaufort.
Lewis took some time out last week to sit and chat on the phone with us during a day off from touring, while sitting at a lake in Iowa, fishing rod in his hand, “and four bass sitting beside me”, he said. “It’s been a good morning.”
Here’s some Q & A from our exclusive interview with Aaron. We talked with him about his music, his storied career, and of course about beautiful Beaufort SC.
Your career has taken you all over the place, have you ever visited the Beaufort, SC area before?
“I have. It’s beautiful. I don’t remember exactly when I was there, but I remember the awesome sunset over Parris Island the most. I’ve literally been everywhere at least once.”
How do you compare your current solo country music career to your previous genre?
“Rock got me here. I absolutely loved it. But I’m getting older now and wanted something different and country allows me to do that. Country music is the soundtrack of my childhood.”
What can fans expect at your upcoming performance at the 62nd Annual Beaufort Water Festival?
“You can expect a heavy country music concert, with plenty of little time warps that happen throughout the show. Yes, there will be plenty of Staind songs too.”
We’ve seen video of you performing cover songs at your shows. What is your favorite song to cover?
“That just depends on my mood. I’ve covered a lot of great songs that I love, and I’ll play them when the mood strikes me. I don;t have a favorite. If I was to pick a favorite then it would be a discredit to the others. They’re all special to me, and that’s why I play them.”
In the past you’ve described your writing as ‘reality based’. Is that still the case in your solo career or has performing country allowed you to open up more and be a bit looser?
“Oh it definitely allows me to be much looser. I’ve spent my career being serious with every performance and every song, and country lets me be looser, but I still write with the same seriousness and feeling. That will never change.”
You’ve collaborated with Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park, Corey Taylor and Willie Nelson. Are there any more collaborations in the works?
“Funny you should ask that question. There’s an album coming out, I’d say within the next year, that I recorded a song with Johnny Cash. It’s a tribute album. Johnny’s son found a recorded book of poems and several artists were invited to record Johnny’s poems. I was lucky to be one of them. It’s really cool.”
Name one artist you would personally enjoy collaborating with?
(laughs) “Johnny Cash”
When it comes to country music, who are your influences?
“I grew up on country music. My grandfather listened to it non stop and it was literally shoved down my throat. I was force fed Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Johny Cash, George Jones and Hank Jr. Those are definitely my influences. Like I said, country music was the soundtrack of my childhood.”
Can you give us a comparison or difference between the Nashville scene to the rock scene?
“The biggest difference is that Nashville artists tend to record songs written for them or choose songs written by other songwriters and rock artists always write their own songs. I’ve always written my own and will always do that.”
Let’s get local. Beaufort is made up of over 60 islands. If you were stranded on an island and could listen to only one artist or band, who would it be?
“Aw man that’s a good one. Hmmm, if I could only listen to one artist or group it would have to be Pink Floyd. And, if I could only have one album with me it would have to be Dark Side of the Moon. It’s just the greatest album ever made. Lots of memories listening to it as well. So yeah, Pink Floyd for sure.”
The Beaufort area is known for a fresh local seafood with hard working families helping to keep the fishing industry alive. What is your favorite seafood?
“All of it. There isn’t a single thing that comes out of the ocean that I would not eat. It’s just that good. I also love to hear that there are still commercial fishermen down there. I have a lot of respect for those hardworking folks.”
What are the first two things that come to mind when you think of South Carolina?
“Beaches and golf.”
We saw you perform in Latrobe, Pennsylvania in 2001 at the Rolling Rock Town Fair with Staind and it was amazing show. Do you prefer more intimate venues or larger arena-sized venues?
“Yeah, that was a lot of fun. I really like both venues. You can’t compare the energy of an arena-sized crowd of over 40,000. It’s just amazing and intense. But, the energy generated through a smaller crowd at an intimate venue can be just as intense and emotional. There’s also more of a chance to connect.”
Beaufort has a strong group of talented local musicians. What advice would you give them?
“I would tell them to keep going. Keep it up. Don’t ever get down and don’t ever let anyone sway you. I started playing bars when I was 17. I played all cover songs as most bar bands do. I had this song that I would play in among the covers. Every time I played it, I would watch people get up and go get more beers, start talking to one another, or even just leave. It got me down a bit. Funny thing….that song went on to be the #1 song on Billboard’s charts and spent 17 weeks there. It was also the most played song on the radio of the entire decade from 2000 through 2010.”
“The song is named It’s Been Awhile.”
“So, yeah, don’t give up. Ever. I’m proof of that and that is the advice I would give to the locals there in Beaufort.”
Ticket sales are doing great and we’ll have a packed waterfront at your show on July 15th. Is there anything that you want to say to your fans here?
“I cant wait to get there and have fun with everybody. It’s going to be a fun performance. Also, I understand that there’s a very strong military presence there. I hope those folks come to the show too. I have a lot of respect for them and enjoy playing for them. I mean, seriously, thank you for selflessly giving yourself to our country. It’s an honor.”
Well said, Aaron.
We enjoyed the long conversation from a really cool guy. So down to Earth, he even called us using his own cell phone.
Each year, the Beaufort Water Festival brings us a national recording artist to the Concert in the Park for our enjoyment and it’s always a fabulous time. This year’s 62nd annual installment is sure to rock downtown’s Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park from the marina to the playground.
We can’t wait.
The concert is Saturday, July 15th at 8pm. Gates open at 7pm and opening acts for Aaron’s headlining performance are Beaufort’s own Steel Rail Express, followed by country singer and YouTube sensation Jordan Rager.
Tickets are on sale now for $30 each and are available by visiting the Beaufort Water Festival online.