Playing for family
Fans keep coming for Stateline's special flavor
By Jan-Mikael Patterson
WINDOW ROCK, Jan. 29, 2009
(Times photo - Paul Natonabah)
C ountry music band Stateline's front man Travis Friday sums up the last six years with one word - "phenomenal."
"I can only think of that word, it keeps coming to mind," Friday said.
Stateline is based in White Cone, Ariz., where the band began its journey in 2003.
Band members are Friday (lead guitar and vocals), Pat Lewis (drums and vocals), Sean Taylor (rhythm guitar) and Fernando Begay (bass). Merlinda Friday, Travis's wife, is the manager.
The band has persevered through lineup changes and even a short hiatus while Friday renewed his religious faith.
Early in 2007, Friday announced that he was stepping away from secular music so that he could concentrate on performing and composing gospel music.
However, his wife noted, "He was sort of depressed from not playing with the band. He was healed with playing the music he loves."
Travis Friday loves gospel music but Stateline had become much more than a weekend hobby. It was a way of life.
The band's comeback performance took place at the 2008 Party in the Park, the annual Fourth of July celebration hosted by KGAK radio at the Sports Complex in Gallup.
The Stateline band got back together and began hitting the local scene with a reenergized state of mind.
"I just felt that I couldn't go to heaven by myself," Friday said. "The people that come out to our shows are like family, and it felt like I was turning my back on my family. Like I left them behind. Playing again was a healing experience."
Not everyone is happy with his decision. The praise he won for turning his life to God has, in some instances, turned to criticism despite the long tradition of expressing the Christian faith in country music.
"I'm not turning my back on my faith," he said. "We still play gospel music at our shows."
Stateline has expanded the usual circuit of reservation venues to nearby cities like Flagstaff, where the band played at the Museum Club, better known as "the Zoo." The band also performed at Club Red in the Phoenix area and in Cibecue and San Carlos, Ariz.
"Our fans follow us wherever we go" Lewis said. "During Thanksgiving, one lady followed us all the way down to San Carlos and made it back home in time to fix her family turkey for their Thanksgiving dinner."
Band members agree that since 2003, Stateline's popularity has grown steadily, helped by the film "Turquoise Rose" and comedians James and Ernie.
"James and Ernie make them one-liners about us in their show," Lewis said. "We all know their lines by heart, too."
"Sometimes we'll copy them during our shows," Friday said.
Currently they play four times a week, generating enough income so all but the youngest member - who is still in high school - can forego day jobs.
Last year, band members guess, they did more than 170 performances. So far this year, they are on track to exceed that rate with 13 shows so far.
"It's phenomenal," Friday said. "It's starting to seem that there are loyal fans and they're coming almost every weekend. I mean some of these dances are like $10 per person and the loyal fans still come out. It's very surprising."
Asked what keeps the fans coming back, the musicians agree that it must be something in the air, as in the atmosphere they manage to create.
"It's the music and the entertainment," Lewis said.
"What we try to do is when they come to the dances - it's like $10 to $15 each - we try to give their money's worth," Friday said. "That's our main goal as a band."
Stateline is also known for hosting an annual battle of the bands to recognize other reservation bands.
The 6th Annual Stateline Battle of the Bands will take place Saturday, Jan. 31, from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. at Nakai Hall in Window Rock. Admission is $12 per person.
Bands planning to participate are the AZ Dreamers, Badlandz, Bordertown Natives, Desert West, Lightning Rock, Lower Deck, Native Country, Re-Coil, Silver Country and Stillwater.
They will perform one at a time on the main stage, where a professional lighting and staging company will operate the sound system and stage lights.
First place is $1,000, second place is $500, third place is $300 and fourth place is $100.
Information: Merlinda Friday, 505-406-7910, or www.stateline-band.com or www.myspace.com/statelinetribute.