When you think of Akron, Ohio’s music scene, it’s typically rock that comes to mind. After all, the city is home to the likes of The Black Keys, Devo and The Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde. Not to mention the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and artists like The Raspberries, James Gang and Nine Inch Nails in nearby Cleveland.
However, Akron — perhaps best known as the “Rubber Capital of the World” — also lays claim to outlaw country singer David Allan Coe and, more recently, upstart group The Shootouts, who are set to release the rockabilly and western swing fueled Stampede on Feb. 24.
The swingy soundscapes on the band’s forthcoming third album can be credited to Ray Benson, frontman of the legendary Asleep at the Wheel, who produced the project.
According to lead singer and guitarist Ryan Humbert, the group was put on Benson’s radar by a mutual friend that went on to urge him to collaborate with the. Humbert later got in touch with Asleep at the Wheel’s manager and the album’s eventual co-producer, Sam Seifert, informing him that the band would soon be playing three shows in Northeast Ohio while The Shootouts were in the midst of a four-day stint at home themselves.
Before long, time was booked at Son of Moondog Recording Studios in nearby Kent in September 2021, thus setting Stampede in motion.
“It was dumb luck how it all turned out, but I was blown away — and still am — that we got to work with Ray and Asleep at the Wheel and didn’t even have to leave our own town,” says Humbert. “The studio is somewhere we are comfortable at, having recorded there in the past. Combine that with recording with some of our musical heroes and it truly was a too-good-to-be-true type of situation.”
Despite their heavy involvement in the project, Benson and co are far from the only guest musicians to leave their mark on Stampede. The album also features contributions from Marty Stuart (‘Better Things to Do’), Buddy Miller (‘Anywhere but Here’), The Mavericks’ Raul Malo (‘I’ll Never Need Anyone Anymore’) and Jim Lauderdale (‘Tomorrow’s Knockin’’).
On the four tracks, each respective artist fuses their own distinct musical styles with The Shootouts honky tonk antics to move into previously unchartered territory, further reinforcing the band’s mantra of being “country music for people who don’t like country.”
We sat down with Humbert to discuss the band’s rust belt roots, how he became interested in country music and his favorite spots near home in the latest instalment of ‘Home Sweet Home’.
Given the prevalence of rock bands coming out of Northeast Ohio, how was it that you first got the itch for listening to, and later playing, country music?
My dad was a huge fan of artists like The Eagles and Dan Fogelberg, but he also had a lot of country-leaning stuff in his collection, like Pure Prairie League and Waylon Jennings. While he was at work, I’d be rooting through his record collection and listening to stuff.
My mother was also a big influence. She wasn't a musician, but there’s so many artists I discovered as a kid while riding around with her in the backseat of the car listening to country radio. I wouldn’t have discovered Dwight Yoakam, The Mavericks, George Strait and Patty Loveless if not for that. Then there’s my grandpa, who loved all the classics. When I first learned to play the guitar I’d go over to his house to play old country songs that he’d sing along to.
However, once I got started playing my own music I got away from country. That is until I met [The Shootouts’ lead guitarist] Brian Poston and we bonded over our shared love of country music, leading us to start this band. We were both at a point in our lives where we were finally old enough to not care what other people thought so long as we are happy. This was only meant to be a side project to have fun with, but the first show was so electrifying that we quickly realized it was what we should be focusing the bulk of our attention on.
Where was that first Shootouts show at? Do you remember much from it?
It was on Oct. 10, 2015 at Akron’s Euclid Lounge, a venue that unfortunately is no longer around. At the time of the show we were just starting out and primarily doing cover songs. Given it was our first show together performing country music we had a good turnout of friends, family and other folks who’d been following us through our other musical endeavors. It felt different, it felt fresh, and it felt like this is what I was meant to be doing. We were firing on all cylinders that night.
What’s your favorite place in town to grab a drink?
One of my favorite places to hangout lately has been in Cuyahoga Falls just north of Akron. The downtown area there was recently redone with a bunch of nice restaurants and bars put in. There’s a cool tiki bar called Tiki Underground, a speakeasy by the name of THE WORKZ, the Latin-inspired restaurant and bar Crave Cantina and so much more. They’re also all a quick walk from one another within a few blocks.
I recently celebrated my birthday there in December with around 20 friends, we spent the entire day walking up and down Front Street having a blast. The best part is the area is constantly growing, so chances are there’s always going to be somewhere new and interesting there to check out.
You just briefly mentioned food. Is your favorite restaurant in the area also on that block in Cuyahoga Falls, or somewhere else?
I’ve always been a big advocate of supporting local business so there’s a lot of places that come to mind, but Crave Cantina down on Front Street is definitely near the top of the list. They’re known for their upscale Mexican cuisine, particularly their globally inspired tacos. My go-to dish to order there is chilaquiles, a breakfast nacho dish that comes with beans, queso, pico de gallo, pickled jalapeno, fried egg, avocado and crema. Mexican food is my favorite to eat so I can say with confidence that the folks at Crave Cantina are doing things right.
Do you have any getaways outside of the city limits that you like to escape to from time to time?
I recently got to spend some time a few hours away at Hocking Hills State Park in Southern Ohio, not far from Columbus. I rented a big cabin there with a handful of friends and spent a few days exploring hiking trails, gorgeous views and everything else the park has to offer. I haven’t been back there since, but it's a place I could easily see myself escaping to in the future to unplug from the world with my guitar.
Where is the first place around Akron that you’d tell newcomers to the area they must visit first?
It’s hard to pick just one place, so I’d probably give them a list of locally owned businesses from restaurants to bars, shops and more that give back and contribute heavily to our local economy.
For example, the Akron Civic Theatre is one of my favorite places in the entire city. It seats around 2,500 and is one of the few remaining historic theatres left in a region once bustling with them. I’ve seen everyone from Jerry Seinfeld to Wilco, Bonnie Raitt, Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt perform there.
The architecture there is incredibly ornate too — they just don’t make them like that anymore. It's one of the few remnants of Akron’s hey-day that continues to contribute to the city’s quality of life in a positive way.