What started as an experimental project quickly evolved into a full-fledged, world-touring band. The group was started by past vocalist and frontman of the Black Crowes Chris Robinson while his old band was on hiatus. The Chris Robinson Brotherhood was never intended to become a full-time gig. According to Robinson, the plan was to "have a local L.A. band, just play in California, see where the music takes us and have a good time."
That idea didn’t last long. Soon after the group began playing local shows, they embarked on a full North America tour with 118 stops in 2011. Since their inception, the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, who will be playing the Belly Up Aspen Saturday night, Feb. 9, have produced six full-length studio albums and four live albums. The group has strong ties to the Black Crowes, as keyboardist Adam MacDougall was also a former member. MacDougall, Neal Casal, Jeff Hill and Tony Leone were brought together by Robinson to create a band free from the past and nostalgic hits.
Robinson described the group as an opportunity for complete freedom of expression since they are not restrained by audience desires for their top five hits. Expect a different performance each night from this group of professionals, yet don’t be surprised to hear a couple of classic Black Crowes tunes. As the headman puts it, “I have this spaceship that I've been flying around in called the CRB, but I don't want to forget about the old Model T in the garage – we can take it out for a spring drive, you know?"
Robinson and his group of psychedelic rock veterans are living proof that age has little to do with energy and the drive to produce new work. At 52, he is pumping out albums quicker than he and his actual blood brother did in the Black Crowes days, almost 30 years ago. This new group has been known to create and record an entire album in nearly the same days as the album has tracks.
One piece they attribute to completing their creative puzzle is a little studio tucked away in the Northern California hills. The self-coined Brotherhood Arts Laboratory lies on the side of a mountain, overlooking the Pacific Ocean in a place they have christened “Unicorn, California.” It’s here that the group now returns to explore their musical possibilities in the form of psychedelic soul, blues and rock ’n’ roll.
Uncut Magazine said the Chris Robinson Brotherhood is "a celebration of how American musical traditions can be at once honored and psychedelically expanded.” Listening to or watching the group, you’ll instantly catch elements of classic rock, yet the guys follow none of those classic guidelines. Their only rule is that songs must be written with ink and paper, never typed.
For Robinson, who grew up dyslexic, creating and writing music has been an anchor throughout life. When the writer wasn’t performing well in other areas of life, writing was a space he could rely on. Robinson explains, “I'm a writer because I don't have much control over my environment. Life is a series of random and chaotic events. The only constant for me is the writing.”
That miniature escape is exactly what music provides for its listener. It’s a place to retreat, whether that may be in the mind or dancing in a crowded venue.
"The music that we make, the concerts that we play, it's this world we've created for ourselves and our people," explains Robinson. "We want everybody to understand that no matter where you are in your life that you can always be barefoot in your head. There’s always this other place you can go that’s real. Or is it real? That’s your decision to make, what you're going to let be real to you."