Dispatch back on the road; playing Britt Festival
Sightings of the band Dispatch have been about as frequent as full eclipses of the sun for about a decade.
After forming in 1996, the three members of Dispatch — multi-instrumentalists Chad Stokes, Brad Corrigan and Peter Francis — made Dispatch a regular on the national music scene, self-releasing four albums and touring.
Then, in 2002, Dispatch disbanded. What happened next is an interesting story in rock music. Feeling they hadn’t given fans a proper goodbye, Dispatch scheduled a farewell show in 2004 at Hatch Shell in Boston. It drew 100,000 fans, shocking many in the music industry that were unaware of the grass roots following the trio had built during its initial six-year run.
The event, though, didn’t prompt a permanent reunion — and neither did the three soldout shows in 2007 at New York City’s Madison Square Garden that raised money to fight disease, famine and social injustices in Zimbabwe.
Things stayed silent until late 2010, when Dispatch’s website hinted at a reunion for 2011. Now, seven years later, the three are talking about a renewed commitment to their band. A new studio album, “America, Location 12,” was released last summer, and Corrigan says it’s likely that when all is said and done, Dispatch will have toured more than at any time since 2002.
Americana and roots band Dispatch and world music group Nahko and Medicine for the People share the bill Thursday, Aug. 23, at the Britt Pavilion, 350 S. First St., Jacksonville. Scatter Their Own will open the show. Music starts at 6:15 p.m. Tickets are $46 for reserved seating, $39 for standing room only, $39 for lawn seating, and $29 for ages 12 and younger. Tickets can be purchased at brittfest.org, at the box office, 216 W. Main St., Medford, or by calling 800-882-7488. No outside alcohol will be permitted at this performance.
The three got back together due to several factors, including growing older and maturing, gaining confidence in their individual musical identities and realizing they truly enjoy making music together.
“We’ve spent more than half of our lives with each other,” Corrigan says. “We know the good and the bad. I think we’ve been through so much over the 20 years that we’re at a place where we have a much better sense of humor, and I think all three of us are trying to confront our egos consistently. When that pops up, just, ‘Hey, let’s focus back on what’s the best for us as one.’ Kind of like brothers, literally we were together for seven years nonstop, and none of us knew who we were and felt like we had too much of a shared identity. We left each other for a good seven or eight years to figure that out.”
The band members were plenty active after the 2002 split.
Francis released his first solo album, “So They Say,” in 2001. He’s gone on to release six others.
Stokes formed the group State Radio, which released four full-length studio CDs and five EPs between 2006 and 2012, then he went on to release three solo albums under the name Chadwick Stokes.
Corrigan formed a band as well, called Braddigan, releasing three studio albums and a trio of EPs that dipped into reggae and other musical styles of Central and South America — places Corrigan visited after Dispatch went on the shelf in 2002.
More outside projects figure to happen between Dispatch activities, but Corrigan feels they will benefit the longer-term future of Dispatch.
“It takes the pressure off the recording experience, because as songwriters we each would resent when songs got left behind and we didn’t have any other outlets,” Corrigan says. “But now if something doesn’t land squarely in the Dispatch camp, we at least have a way to still capture those songs in our solo work.”
The return of Dispatch began to take shape in fall 2010, when the trio plotted a recording session for early 2011.
It was a fruitful session, producing a six-song self-titled EP that was released in May 2011. Two songs were saved for a full-length album, “Circles Around the Sun,” which followed that fall. The band then released a live album, “Ain’t No Trip To Cleveland: Vol. 1,” in 2013.
Corrigan said making “Circles Around the Sun” was a good experience, and he, Stokes and Francis enjoyed the shows they played in support of the album. Going into the “America, Location 12” project, the trio put forward a game plan to take adequate time to write and demo songs. So when they were ready to record with producer John Dragonetti, they had narrowed the list of 35 songs for the album to about 15 and had those songs well-rehearsed.
Just as importantly, Corrigan says, he, Stokes and Francis brought a new level of trust, honesty and candor to the writing and demoing process.
“I think the collaboration was uninhibited this time,” he says. “If you have something critical and don’t say it, that’s not actually furthering the band and that’s not honoring the person who is wanting everything to be as strong and tight and good as it can be. So I actually want Chad and Pete to tell me if they don’t like a lyric or don’t like a melody or think we should rearrange X, Y and Z.
“It’s not easy, but we’re trying to remind ourselves that honesty is the best foundation for creativity and for our friendship,” Corrigan says. “That allows for an unbridled sense that every idea can be in the room, and you’re not so concerned about an idea winning or losing.”
Like other Dispatch albums, the songs are socially aware, have graceful melodies and blend folk, rock and pop with touches of various world-beat styles. There’s a bit of early solo Paul Simon in the skittering folk, pop, world-beat sound of the lead single “Only the Wild Ones.” “Curse + Crush” gets a bit of edge in its folky sound with tribal beats. “Painted Yellow Lines” is a catchy bit of rambling folk-pop. “Begin Again” expands from a delicate opening to full-bodied finish, complete with horn flourishes. On “Skin the Rabbit,” Dispatch rocks out a bit, with a stinging lead guitar line and thumping beat giving the song some heft.
The band’s efforts are now focused on touring, with the group out on a full-on summer tour. Corrigan says upward of a half-dozen songs from “America, Location 12” figure to be included in the set. Dispatch is bringing three additional musicians on this tour: Matt Embree of RX Bandits on guitar and vocals; J.R., who has toured with Stokes on his Chadwick Stokes shows, on vocals and drums; and Mike Sawitzki on vocals and a variety of instruments.
The one musician who will not be on stage is Francis.
“Pete is not going to be able to tour with us. He’s being super brave and courageous to confront his depression,” Corrigan says. Francis wrote about the situation in his March 2017 post to fans. “He just wanted to share his struggle and his journey. He’s just gotten an incredible amount of positive response, where a lot of our fans are saying, ‘Hey, thank you so much for being vulnerable. Now I don’t feel so alone.’ So he won’t be on tour with us, but he’ll be with us in spirit.”