Red Clay Strays Cant Songs of Faith, Struggle, and Southern Life at 19th Annual Gulf Coast Balloon Festival

The Red Clay Strays are a unique sort of band in a very strange musical context. It seems that, as far are many upcoming artists are concerned, hard rock and hip-hop are the paths to success along the Gulf Coast. Of course, there’s also the prominent tourist industry which fosters a perpetual slew of cover bands. Now and then, a notable touring act will roll through. But the local scene for original music is perplexing to say the least. 

The Strays have somehow found a formula that works without being derivative. They’re a band for all ages, which makes them perfect for all kinds of events and venues. It goes without saying that a lot of rock and rap artists might not meet this qualification – or, at the very least, they’re playing late-night shows in bars that require attendants to be of legal drinking age. The Red Clay Strays’ sets tend to be more manageable to attend for the typical working adult, and their songs are family-friendly, even if the subjects tend to be fairly serious.

The band’s mix of classic, smokey vocals, Southern rock and blues-flavored instrumental arrangements, as well as lyrical themes of suffering, failure, love, and redemption, certainly give the group a certain universal appeal. That’s not to say they’re overly-commercial by any stretch. Rather, they’ve managed to fill a space that not many other artists in the area occupy. They’ve graduated from the local bars and are being booked for larger events.

We’ve covered The Red Clay Strays before. Beyond being a local staple, the band has an indomitable work ethic, their debut album verges on 50 minutes, and group seems to actually carry conviction behind what they’re singing about. This is a certainly a lyrically-minded effort, and while their high-energy live performance is enough to sell things, there’s a lot to think about as well. And concerning topics of faith, many bands tend to either water things down or get confrontational. Instead, The Strays embody a sort of Johnny Cash approach to the matter – contemplating the mystery of the matter without ever being oblique.

The band’s most recent set on 5/6 took place at OWA, a Gulf Coast amusement and waterpark center located in Foley, AL. This was in tandem with a much larger event – the 19th annual Gulf Coast hot air balloon festival. And while the balloons served as the main attractions, music and vendor tents were aplenty as well. The balloons offered tethered rides, and each balloon would light up intermittently. Apparently, the balloons were higher in the air around the time of sunrise, but I wasn’t able to witness this myself. Even so, this didn’t appear to deter the multitudes – and even with initial hints of rain, things dried out and the festivities continued as planned.

The Red Clay Strays’ set ran just about two hours – quite impressive for a young band with only one album out so far. If you’re doing the math, this would suggest the band has about another album’s worth of material, and they weren’t shy to admit they’re considering recording another one when they can find the time. Moment of Truth was released only last year, so another album of a similar magnitude would be very impressive in terms of turnaround time.

Many of the unreleased songs continue the band’s legacy of poetic wordplay, ballads-and-bangers instrumental arrangements, and a certain stage presence that only comes from incredible chemistry between the members. The tracks fit right at home in terms of the lyrical themes: wondering how much you have to do to be worthy of love, being so exhausted and confused that you go numb, patterns of self-destructive decisions, and so on. On the surface, this seems to paint The Strays as a dark sort of band, but most assuredly they do not dwell in the mire too long. They are a band with a sort of purpose behind what they’re doing. They’re not shy in what they have to say. While an increasing number of artists lean heavy into abstract concepts, it’s never a struggle to get the gist of what The Strays are saying in a particular song.

Of course, the band didn’t skimp on fan favorites during their performance. “Good Godly Woman”, “Wondering Why”, “Ghosts”, and plenty more were in the set. The audience sang along, and even first-time listeners were up front dancing. The second third of the set or so consisted of piano-heavy tracks, but don’t let that make you think it was any weaker. In fact, “Sunshine” is arguably one of the group’s most powerful songs.

The Red Clay Strays are currently wrapping up their spring tour and will be making their way through Georgia to Greenville, SC over the next week. You may not be able to see them with hot air balloons in the background, but they’re definitely worth catching if you get the opportunity. Listen to their debut album here.

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