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5 questions with Josh Erwin of Packway Handle Band
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Packway Handle members (from left) Andrew Heaton, Michael Paynter, Tom Baker, Josh Erwin and Zach McCoy will play The Crimson Moon in Dahlonega on Friday.
Packway Handle Band
When: 8:30 p.m. Friday
Where: The Crimson Moon, 24 N. Park St., Dahlonega
How much: $16 advance, $18 at the door
More info: 706-864-3982

The members of the Packway Handle Band are great at straddling two worlds.

On the one hand, their performances harken back to days of yesteryear, when groups would harmonize around one microphone, playing off each others’ voices and drumming up melodies that made you get up and dance.

On the other hand, the band fully embraces modern thinking in both record producing and in promoting the band as a whole. The group’s most recent album, “What Are We Gonna Do Now?,” was recorded laying down one track at a time, allowing the band to hear the song as it formed and adjust their harmonies in the process. And when they’re out touring the country, the band is quick to enter as many bluegrass and folk contests they can find. The results can be pretty rewarding — or, if nothing else, get you a lot of beer — as we found out in a recent conversation with guitarist and vocalist Josh Erwin.

Erwin, along with Michael Paynter on mandolin and vocals, Andrew Heaton on fiddle and vocals, Zach McCoy on bass and Tom Baker on banjo and vocals, will bring their “newgrass” sound to The Crimson Moon in Dahlonega on Friday night.

Question: Have you been touring a lot recently to support your new album, “What Are We Gonna Do Now?”

Answer: We released it in the very beginning of February ... but all our shows now are based on that regional release — wherever the city is is the particular release. The first one was at New Earth (Music Hall); that’s a venue in Athens.

We’ve done Atlanta — Eddie’s Attic — we went to Columbus, we were in Auburn (Ala., two weekends ago) and just south of Birmingham (Ala.). (Last) weekend we’ll be in Charleston, S.C. and Savannah.

Q: When you get into the studio, you must know the songs pretty well at that point?

A: Before we start (recording), it’s not a free-form situation. It’s very much worked out and arranged. It’s a whole other aspect of getting into the studio and laying it down, because then you realize how bad the mistakes you’ve been making in front of people.

... It’s funny because it happens over and over. We’ll get a song down and we’re playing it and people are liking it, and we’re realizing we’re not harmonizing at all. I think we’re all appreciative of listening to it in the studio because we know we’re going to have some mistakes. Usually we’re pretty happy with a song in the first place; we kind of expect to make some mistakes.

Q: Do you learn a lot about the songs when you’re in the studio?

A: The fun thing about this album is we decided we were going to do true-to-life. If you think about a recording studio, they’ll lay down a track and the next day lay down a track. We did a lot of that. That was how we recorded the entire album.

For this album, we added some other instruments, like a snare drum with some brushes in the back. We have some sax, some layered fiddle, almost some halfway synthesizer. This one was a fun album to kind of experiment more.

Q: Do you have a lot of festivals planned for this summer?

A: We have a few ... We’re going up to New England in late July. In June we do AthFest, then Owensboro, Ky., in July, to FloydFest in Virginia, then up to Cornish, Maine, to the Ossipee Valley Music Festival. Then a couple weeks after that we’ll be at the Podunk (Conn.) Bluegrass festival. We won last year and part of the prize is to be invited back.

Q: Is is beneficial to enter in these bluegrass competitions at festivals?

A: One competition we won Miller Lite for a year. We got 10 cases a month. They cut us off after nine months.

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