To hear Huey Lewis talk about life in Montana, where he’s lived for 27 years, you wonder how he can force himself onto the road for 100 dates a year.
The singer with the charming sandpaper voice and dimpled chin jokes that since he bolts awake at 5:30 a.m. to use the facilities — “At my age …,” he said wryly — he might as well stay up. But then he’ll open the French doors of the house wide, hear the cranes calling and see the snow-capped mountains in the distance.
It all sounds very sigh-worthy.
At 65, and with a stash of multiplatinum albums and a minor acting career on his resume, Lewis already lives a comfortable life. But he has a band — the News — and a payroll of 25 employees who have livings to earn. And besides, he still loves music, so much so that he and the News have an EP of fresh, contemporary material ready to roll and a pair of videos in the works.
He might sneak in one of those new songs during Saturday’s 6:45 p.m. performance at the Shaky Knees Festival at Centennial Olympic Park.
But for fans who grew up with Lewis’ genial blend of blue-eyed pop-soul and fondly remember videos of him plunging his handsome face into a sink full of ice (“I Want a New Drug”) and strolling through the sand on a California beach (“If This Is It”), the highlight of the band’s set will be a front-to-back performance of their benchmark 1983 album, “Sports.”
The recording is a scant nine songs, but an impressive four of them landed in the Top 10 (the aforementioned pair as well as “Heart and Soul” and “The Heart of Rock & Roll”) and a fifth (“Walking on a Thin Line”) in the Top 20 of the Billboard charts in the early ‘80s.
Lewis and the band celebrated the 30th anniversary of the album — which is now approaching 10 million in sales — in May 2013 with a special edition of “Sports” and a tour to commemorate the milestone. But an Atlanta date wasn’t part of that run, so, well, this is it.
While Lewis acknowledges that most of the hits on “Sports” are set staples anyway — not playing “The Heart of Rock & Roll” would be tantamount to Springsteen skipping “Born to Run” — a few, such as “Bad Is Bad” and “Honky Tonk Blues,” will require the dust blown off before this weekend.
As Lewis points out, “Sports” was the band’s biggest album, but the follow-up, 1986’s “Fore!,” had the bigger hits (“Hip to Be Square,” “Stuck With You,” “Doing It All For My Baby”).
Still, he retains an affinity for that landmark collection of nine songs, and even though he’s “not a backward-looking guy,” he happily reminisced for a few minutes about the importance of the album in the News’ career.
“If you think about it, we were writing and making that album in 1981-‘82. It was our third record. The first one (self-titled) died, the second one (‘Picture This’) did OK with ‘Workin’ for a Livin’.’ That record sold 200,000 copies, which was break even. We had to produce ‘Sports’ ourselves. It was a radio world in the early ‘80s — I cannot emphasize that enough. MTV was playing videos of the exact playlist that radio was playing,” Lewis said. “There was no Internet, no jam band scene, no festivals. It you wanted to exist as a band, you needed a Top 40 record. We produced ‘Sports’ ourselves because we needed a hit record. We wanted it to be commercial, but not cringe-worthy. We aimed every track at radio. ‘Sports’ is an album of its time. It’s a collection of singles. The notion that it holds together as an album is a joke! The subsequent albums hold together waaay better.”
The longevity of the career of Lewis and the News — original members Sean Hopper on keyboards, Bill Gibson on drums, Johnny Colla on saxophone, longtime players Stef Burns on guitar, John Pierce on bass and a trio of brass players — shows in the multigeneration crowds they now attract.
“I know nothing about Shaky Knees,” Lewis said, “but people tell me how impressed they are that we’re playing there. Apparently, it’s a younger crowd and I love that, I’m all over that.”
Lewis laments that the one valuable aspect of the tight radio and MTV playlists of the ’80s meant that if your song was fortunate enough to squeeze into one of the allotted slots, it was a guaranteed hit.
“The closest thing (the industry) has today is a Progressive (insurance) ad,” he said. “Will there ever be an Eagles with a ‘Hotel California’ again? No.”
But he can guarantee that the old guard will deliver something that isn’t always true of today’s radio champions when he and the News are on stage.
“You won’t hear anyone singing that isn’t there.”
SHAKY KNEES FESTIVAL SCHEDULE
Friday, May 13
Songs for Kids (noon); David Ramirez (12:30 p.m.); Beach Slang (12:30 p.m.); Foxing (1 p.m.); Saintseneca (1 p.m.); the Japanese House (1 p.m.); Kaleo (1:45 p.m.); Craig Finn (1:45 p.m.); Brian Fallon (2:30 p.m.); the Front Bottoms (2:30 p.m.); Matt Vasquez (of Delta Spirit) (2:30 p.m.); Baroness (3:15 p.m.); Wolf Alice (3:15 p.m.); Crystal Fighters (4:15 p.m.); the Sword (4:15 p.m.); July Talk (4:15 p.m.); Cold War Kids (5:15 p.m.); Against Me (5:15 p.m.); Savages (6:15 p.m.); the Struts (6:15 p.m.); Alex G. (6:15 p.m.); Bloc Party (7:15 p.m.); Ghost (7:15 p.m.); the Kills (8:15 p.m.); Slowdive (8:15 p.m.); All Them Witches (8:15 p.m.); Jane’s Addiction (9:30 p.m.); the 1975 (9:30 p.m.).
Saturday, May 14
Songs for Kids (11:45 a.m.); Polyenso (12:30 p.m.); Son Little (12:30 p.m.); Barns Courtney (1 p.m.); Strand of Oaks (1:15 p.m.); Hop Along (1:45 p.m.); Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors (2 p.m.); the Hip Abduction (2 p.m.); Day Wave (2:30 p.m.); JJ Grey & Mofro (2:45 p.m.); Noah Gunderson (3:15 p.m.); Shakey Graves (3:45 p.m.); Baskery (3:45 p.m.); the Dear Hunter (4:15 p.m.); Deer Tick (4:45 p.m.); Wild Nothing (5:15 p.m.); Phosphorescent (5:45 p.m.); Twin Limb (5:45 p.m.); the Vaccines (6:15 p.m.); Huey Lewis & the News (6:45 p.m.); Silversun Pickups (7:15 p.m.); Lany (7:45 p.m.); the Decemberists (7:45 p.m.); Foals (8:15 p.m.); My Morning Jacket (9 p.m.); Walk the Moon (9:30 p.m.).
Sunday, May 15
Songs for Kids (noon); Julien Baker (noon); Caveman (noon); Ought (12:45 p.m.); Coin (12:45 p.m.); Atlas Genius (1:30 p.m.); Murder by Death (1:30 p.m.); Adia Victoria (1:30 p.m.); Frightened Rabbit (2:15 p.m.); the Orwells (2:15 p.m.); Unknown Mortal Orchestra (3:15 p.m.); Parquet Courts (3:15 p.m.); Diet Cig (3:15 p.m.); St. Paul and the Broken Bones (4:15 p.m.); Eagles of Death Metal (4:15 p.m.); Houndmouth (5:15 p.m.); the Black Angels (5:15 p.m.); Nothing (5:15 p.m.); the Head and the Heart (6:15 p.m.); Deftones (6:15 p.m.); Young the Giant (7:15 p.m.); Explosions in the Sky (7:15 p.m.); the Shelters (7:15 p.m.); Florence + the Machine (8:30 p.m.); At the Drive-In (8:30 p.m.).
ABOUT SHAKY KNEES
When to go: Shaky Knees takes place May 13-15. Festival gates open at 11:30 a.m. each day. Centennial Olympic Park and International Plaza are located at 265 Park Ave. W. N.W., Atlanta.
Tickets: $97 (general admission single-day ticket); $215 (advance three-day general admission; price increases to $236 once advance tickets sell out); $250 (VIP single-day ticket); $614 (advance three-day VIP; price increases to $692 once advance tickets sell out). Children 8 years old and younger are free with a ticketed adult. All ticketholders are allowed to enter and exit the festival as needed up to three times per day. You must be scanned upon exit at the gate in order to re-enter that same day.
A note of advice: Only tickets sold through www.frontgatetickets.com and via the www.shakykneesfestival.com tickets page are 100 percent guaranteed. Be wary of buying tickets from any other outlet. In the event of a festival cancellation, only those purchased through official measures will be refunded.
Wristbands: If you remove it, you void it. Security will check wristbands each day to ensure they have not been removed or replaced. If such an action is determined, you will be removed from the festival grounds.
Getting there: Take MARTA Red Line to Peachtree Center (follow signs to Centennial Olympic Park) or Blue Line to Dome/GWCC/Philips Arena/CNN station. A three-day parking pass for the Red Lot at Georgia World Congress Center is available for $40. Single-day advance parking at the same lot is available for $14.