We spoke to Dan Lebowitz, guitarist and singer in Bay Area bands ALO and Lebo and Friends, who will be doing a special show called Hardly Strictly Lebo and Friends to launch this year's Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival in San Francisco, featuring fellow musicians Jason Crosby, Steve Adams, Ezra Lipp, and Lesley Grant.
ER: The first time I saw you it was as one of the lead singers and the lead guitarist of the phenomenal jam band ALO. How did you guys get your start? And how the heck did you come up with that band name? (My band and I are forever arguing about what to call ourselves).
DL: ALO started way back in the 8th grade, which is when myself, Zach Gill, and Steve Adams all became friends. We loved music, and decided that we wanted to be in a band. We jumped in, and haven't looked back! It's really awesome to still be playing with the people that I first began the journey of music with. Lots of mutual trust, and for good reason!
Our name (ALO) came a bit later. Most people stick with a band name, but switch around members. We kind of went at it backwards in that when we were younger, we'd switch our band name, but keep the members the same. Throughout high school and college (we studied music at UCSB) we changed our name at least a half dozen times!! At some point we became the Animal Liberation Orchestra. The idea being that our music was for liberating your inner animal. The "Animal" represents the "in the moment" side, while the "Orchestra" represents the more "in control / mature" side. Ideally, both sides are present at all times – kind of like yin and yang.
ER: Now I feel blessed to see you all the time and in so many different amalgamations of bands as Lebo and Friends – I just got to party with you all weekend at my favorite music festival, Camp Deep End, but I've also seen you play with Nicki Bluhm at the Music Heals International fundraiser opening for Lukas Nelson last year, as the grand master musical director extraordinaire at the 2018 Summer Solstice concert in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park… there isn't a renowned artist in Northern California that you haven't rocked out with. How did all that come to pass? What are the benefits of creating new collaborations?
DL: I love new collaborations! I love playing with new musicians whom I respect, and I love witnessing other musicians I know playing together for the first time. It's a really inspiring space to be in. Often, when I'm putting these types of things together, I start by sitting back and thinking about each musicians special attributes. That's what the evening will be built around. It's almost like a painter's palette. Then I just go to work, setting everyone up to shine. I feel really fortunate that I've been able to be a part of so many unique collaborations. It's a space I hold near and dear.
ER: This Wednesday, October 3rd, you are playing the official Hardly Strictly Bluegrass kickoff party at Cafe du Nord – can you tell us who the prominent players will be who get to be your "friends" that night? And when and where are you playing for HSBG?
DL: I'm really excited about the lineup I've put together for this show. Jason Crosby will be playing keys and fiddle. He's a phenomenal musician and someone whom I've gotten to know really well over the past few years. First through the scene at Terrapin Crossroads – where we've both played with Phil Lesh a bunch. We're both really busy, but whenever we can play together, we do. Steve Adams, my ALO brother is on bass. We go way back, and have a certain musical telepathy that you can only get from spending so many years playing together. It's a special connection. Ezra Lipp from the band Magic in the Other is on drums. I've know him for a while now too, and love his approach to music. Lesley Grant from Katdelic will be joining on vocals. She's got an amazing voice, and is one of my most favorite people to sing with on the planet. There will be other surprise guest musicians as well!
ER: What do you do in your down time – if you have any?
DL: I love spending time with my family, so aside from music, I make that a big priority in my life. Between those two things my time is for the most part completely taken up – and happily so. I joke that I wish we had a 26 hour day. I could really use a couple extra hours! Besides all of the performing and traveling, I'm a pretty avid practicer. I love practicing my instrument and I love writing. I find those aspects of music to be really grounding, so I spend as much time as I can in that zone as well.
ER: Final question – what advice do you have for guys who really want to rock the 'stache?
DL: Ha! Make sure you have what it takes.
The official kickoff to Hardly Strictly Bluegrass week is Hardly Strictly Lebo and Friends at Cafe Du Nord Wednesday, October 3 Doors 7:00, Show 8:00 Tickets $15, $20 at the door.