Interview: Strand of Oaks’ Tim Showalter

In anticipation of the series, dubbed the Winter Classic, SPR chatted with Showalter about playing solo sets, moving from Indiana to Philly and the efficacy of rock and roll’s ability to bridge the age gap.

For Tim Showalter, playing in Strand of Oaks isn’t always about playing loud rock and roll music. For the fourth year in a row, he’s bringing a stripped down version of a Strand Of Oaks concert to South Broad Street’s Boot & Saddle for a three-night stand of solo performances from Dec. 6–8. In anticipation of the series, dubbed the Winter Classic, SPR chatted with Showalter about playing solo sets, moving from Indiana to Philly and the efficacy of rock and roll’s ability to bridge the age gap.

What’s the appeal to doing these stripped down solo sets as opposed to the bigger shows with the full band?

It started pretty casual. I think this is the fourth year, so it was kind of in the middle of when I’d been touring forever on my record Heal and the Strand of Oaks band — when it’s the full band — is very loud, and it’s a big rock and roll show. I just had this idea that I just want to play quiet for just a little bit. Just to take a breather. It really had no other motives but that. Then we just kind of did it and it went so well that we’re like “oh let’s do it again next year.” And then I think that’s kind of how traditions start where I kind of — I played Boot & Saddle really early on with the full band and it’s just this kind of perfect venue — especially in Philadelphia — where it’s intimate and it’s a great sounding room and there’s also, like, for a solo performer, it’s cool when there’s — you know how the doors are there?

So you can have the bar area and people having, you know, whatever they need to do there, and then when they come into a room it turns into a listening room. I think that helps the idea of more quiet stripped down shows like the Winter Classic does. Mostly the first year I was a little nervous because I’m like “you know, I love my fans, but these are rowdy shows and I like people being energetic and participating and involved” and I was like “man, I I don’t think they’re going to want to hear me play these songs quiet.” And then it turned out that, of course, they did!

And my fans are awesome. I say a lot of things — and I mean everything I say — it’s easy to say that this is the best thing ever or that I have the best time ever, but genuinely I walk away from these winter classic shows every year and just say “man, I love playing music.” They just always set the year right, no matter what happens. I look forward to it all year.

And you’re originally from Indiana right?

Yeah, I grew up in Northern Indiana, but I moved to Philadelphia in 2001. And I went to school for a quick second, and then I moved up to Wilkes-Barre in the Poconos for a few years, met my wife, taught school, and then my wife got accepted to Drexel for her master’s program in like 2009. So then we moved back to Philly and we’ve been here ever since. It’s been like a back and forth thing for a long time now in Philly.

Is there any part of you that misses living in a small town?

I just miss my family. That’s all. I like the town. I don’t remember much of it. I love going home to visit because my mom and dad are there so it’s just good to see them, but it was just different. I don’t really remember living there at this point. I go back home and nothing looks the same anyways. It was a good place to grow up though. It’s nice for being a kid and everybody thinks city kids get into a lot of trouble, but I think kids who grow up in the country get in a lot more trouble just because there’s nothing to do that’s fun.

I’ve probably seen you perform live at least five or six times by now, and I’m always amazed at the age diversity of your audience. There’s usually a healthy amount of Baby Boomers, Gen X’ers and Millennials at any Strand of Oaks show. What is it about your music that’s so effective at bridging that age gap?

Man, that’s awesome you noticed. It always fills my heart with pride when I look out and it’s diverse and it’s anywhere from college kids to people bringing their kids even. And it’s kind of like a dream come true for me.

I think the music I make or at least I try to make is not trend oriented. If I could chase trends, I could be a lot more popular. I just don’t know how and don’t care to. People my parents’ age loved Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd and stuff and they hear stuff they want to hear and then younger kids are finding it on Spotify or something. It’s kind of an open door. I think people like to see people onstage playing music and having a good time and not a lot of backing tracks and computers and things. At least that’s what I like to see a show for. I focus a lot on just giving people their money’s worth.

Yeah, but as far as the ages go, I think it’s great. And I think Philly in particular as a city is incredibly lucky and should feel indebted to WXPN because it’s such a broad reaching station and I think that’s where a lot of people who — you know there’s some kids who find stuff on the internet and then there’s some people who might listen to the radio station. There’s just a lot of ways to discover music in this town.

I’m not positive, but I think the first time I ever say you play was at a Free at Noon.

Yeah, sure. Those are great. Those are such a neat thing. I wish I lived closer, I’d go to a lot more. My wife goes to them because she works kind of close to XPN so she can kind of skip on over so she can catch something some time.

Hah, nice. So this is my last question, is there any new Strand of Oaks music on the way?

There’s always new music. When I’m not touring, I’m just making records and writing. It’s kind of like for every one Strand of Oaks song you hear on a record, there’s a hundred others that I wrote that I don’t know what to do with so I always have stuff happening. But as it stands right now — especially for these Winter Classic shows — I just like to play. I don’t know if you’re familiar with My Morning Jacket, but we’ve got Carl Broemel and he’s going to play pedal steel with us and all that so that’s the kinds of jams I’m focusing on right now.

Strand of Oaks performs at Boot & Saddle every night from Dec. 6–8. Tickets are $22.50. For more information visit