Nate Waggoner hasn’t been to DeKalb County since attending Sycamore Middle School, but his time spent growing up here and his memory of his best friend are immortalized in two songs he wrote for his band, Grizzly Goat.
Waggoner plays the guitar and banjo and is the lead singer of the band.
Grizzly Goat will perform at 6:30 p.m. June 28 at The House Cafe, 263 E. Lincoln Highway in DeKalb. Doors open at 6 p.m. and tickets cost $8. Additional performers include Trace Jory, Crystal Killers, The Duke and Josh LaSota.
For more information about Grizzly Goat or to purchase tickets, visit www.grizzlygoatmusic.com.
Waggoner spoke to MidWeek reporter Katrina Milton over the telephone while traveling on tour.
Milton: What’s your tie to DeKalb County?
Waggoner: I lived in Sycamore in the early 2000s and went to middle school here. I had a really good friend in Sycamore, Jake, and we called and talked to each other all the time. I always said I’d love to come out and see him, but it never happened. He passed away in 2015. His death greatly affected me, and it made its way into Grizzly Goat’s music. Losing Jake definitely affected the music.
Milton: What’s your reaction to returning?
Waggoner: Coming back to the area is a long, overdue return. We have the performance at The House Cafe and Jake’s parents will take me to see his grave. We’re planning on playing some music for him there, the music we wrote about him to him.
Milton: Do you have songs about him?
Waggoner: Yes, we have two different songs that directly mention him. One is a 50-second song, a ditty really, called “Sycamore, Illinois.” It’s a song I wrote thinking about him. The second song, “As My Brother,” I wrote one verse about him when he was still alive. Then after his death, I had to change and tweak the song.
Milton: Do you think other people can relate the lyrics?
Waggoner: There’s not anybody on earth that hasn’t lost somebody they were close to. I think it’s human nature to struggle with the concept of them being there and now they’re not. It’s a universally relatable topic.
Milton: How would you describe the sound of the band?
Waggoner: That’s the $1 million question. In simple terms, we play folk rock music. We play traditional American instruments blended with rock and roll. We have a huge spectrum of genres, from Gospel to all electric. I’d say 99 percent of the songs we perform are original.
Milton: What are some of your other songs about?
Waggoner: Very few songs are written solely for entertainment. We have a lot of nature songs and songs about environmental conservation. I studied wildlife and wildlands conservation at school. We’re all outdoorsy people, we go camping and fishing. We recently had a day off on our summer tour and we spent the day kayaking. Our mandolin player Ben loves rock climbing. We travel to see national parks, our love of nature is hard-wired into us. We like to joke that if John Denver were alive today, we’d be his favorite band.
Milton: Do you write songs while camping or out in nature?
Waggoner: Yeah, we’ve written songs around the campfire. We’d all pull out our instruments and start playing. Where you’re at when working on music seeps into the process of writing. We sing a lot about geography and we travel and move around a lot. We are trying to write a song for every state, and we have about 15 songs now. We have Illinois, Indiana, southern Indiana and maybe eight about Kentucky.
Milton: Where does the band perform?
Waggoner: We play anywhere that will pay. We travel from California to South Carolina and perform at a wide mix of events. We play at music festivals, coffee houses, dive bars, community picnics, barbecue joints. A large percentage of our venues are barbecue joints.
Milton: How did the band get its name?
Waggoner: That’s another question that I don’t have a great answer to. During the early days of the band, we were more punk rock with some bluegrass influences. A grizzly goat is a wild animal, and it just made sense. It was a little bit funny, and it stuck.
Milton: What are your goals for the future?
Waggoner: Definitely just growing the band. It’s been a grassroots movement since the band formed January 2013. We like to tour places and then come back, build a crowd and audience. We’re just trying to make it happen and catch our big break.