Features July 22, 2020

A Change is Gonna Come: Robert Randolph Spreads the Message of Unity

by Valerie Vampola

If you ask Robert Randolph what his 2006 hit “Ain’t Nothing Wrong with That” is about, his answer would be: “It’s about what’s going on today.” Randolph’s songwriting focuses on bringing people together, which is his mantra as an individual and an artist. He continues to uphold that mantra with every album he’s released since then. He believes those messages are more relevant now than ever.

“I write songs to inspire and to love each other, because if you don’t have respect, you don’t have love,” Randolph said in a phone interview for BandWagon.

Randolph is a blues and soul artist, leading Robert Randolph & The Family Band as the singer and pedal steel guitarist. His stunning pedal steel guitar techniques (placing him in Rolling Stone’s top 100 guitarists of all time), matched with gospel, blues and soul musical stylings, attracted artists such as Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana and Dave Matthews to collaborate with Randolph on his albums. In 2011, he headlined the Greeley Blues Jam, also gracing the cover of BandWagon Magazine.

Randolph grew up in the inner city of Orange, New Jersey, where he played pedal steel guitar for his church. He was surrounded by a Jesus-loving community, with a grandmother who always preached loving thy neighbor and uniting through commonalities, but even still, he and his community were always fighting for equality. During said fighting, he found that the recipe for change was listening and understanding one another. Just like “Ain’t Nothing Wrong with That,” Randolph calls for people to put aside their differences throughout his entire discography – to celebrate life and unity as a human race.

“I’m the kind to always listen to people. I want to understand why people think the way they do,” Randolph said.

What Randolph loves about the young generation of Americans is that most of them are listening and ready to make changes for equality to really happen. He remembered hearing about his family protesting and marching 50 years ago, feeling lucky to have had 10 to 20 non-black people join their march. Growing up in the church, Randolph remembered preachers talking about the sins of homosexuality, causing many individuals to supress who they were. He remembers when many viewed hip-hop music as taboo. Now seeing the millions of other Americans step up to join in protests and celebrate each other, he has hope and sees how far society can and will progress.

“I’m thankful we’re going through this. [Injustices] have come to the light, and I’m sad people have to die, but we are seeing change, and the veil of these people [with a prejudiced] mentality are being exposed,” said Randolph.

As a celebration of different communities uniting as one, Randolph assembled an all-star band to headline the High Plains Buffalo Jam hosted at the newly built Chinook Drive-In Theater at Terry Bison Ranch in Cheyenne, Wyoming on Saturday, July 25.

Tickets available at highplainsjam.com

With coronavirus placing touring musicians in quarantine, all it took was a phone call to assemble Randolph’s dream team of members from Lettuce, Blackberry Smoke, and the Allman Betts Band to play a live, socially-distanded gig. There isn’t time for rehearsal and the crowd won’t be in his face like he’s used to, but he knows the communion of making music with real people, a real audience, and allowing the improvisational magic of a new band of musicians is enough to make music in the “new normal.” 

To some people, “new normal” simply means buying masks to match their outfits or maintaining at least six-feet distance, but to Randolph it means much more. For him, “new normal” not only means finding new ways to play live music, but moreover the radical acceptance of people who’s history, culture and lives are different from their own.

Join Robert Randolph and his All Star Super Band at The High Plains Buffalo Jam on Saturday, July 25 in Cheyenne, Wyoming with Allman-Betts Band, Deitch & Shmeeans (Lettuce) Blackberry Smoke and The Burroughs. Tickets per car and reserved table available here.