From subway station to stage, Rhode Island musician Dan Blakeslee sings about true life and travels in his newest album.
Not many professional musicians can say they got their start playing subway stations, but Dan Blakeslee has never been typical. His artistic journey started at his family’s farmhouse in South Berwick, Maine, where he unknowingly turned down his art instructor’s invitation to meet Andrew Wyeth and instead opting to ride his bike—a typical 7-year old there, at least. From a BFA at Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, to stints around Boston (where a friend urged him to play the subway in 1995), Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Newburyport, back to Somerville, and finally relocating to Providence this spring, Blakeslee has rambled across New England and beyond. Road life suits him: he averages 150-200 shows a year, including a performance at Newport Folk Festival in 2015.
About a decade prior, while drawing a tour poster art at a cafe in Burlington, Vermont, Blakeslee noticed someone peeking over his shoulder. That person was John Kimmich, owner of The Alchemist in Waterbury, who then asked Dan if he could do some artwork for the brewery. He was working on a new beer he thought might be something special.
Craft IPA lovers already know where this is headed: Blakeslee’s drawing of a man‘s head exploding with hops is on every label of Heady Topper, the legendary double/imperial IPA that scored 100 on www.beeradvocate.com, as well as its sister beer Focal Banger. But despite his iconic artwork in the beer world, Blakeslee has never had a drink in his life.
Instead, he gets his kicks from doing scratch board, silk screening, full color pencil drawing, and recently mural painting, as well as from natural wonders like the Grand Canyon, which he finally saw up close on a 70-day cross-country solo tour in 2016. “I was electrified, illuminated and floating,” he says. “Letting it sink into my soul was so important. There were thousands of people lining the banks, but no one was speaking. They were either speechless or whispering.”
Blakeslee has another outlet to blow off steam; in 7th grade, his older brother showed him punk rock music, which “took my soul,” he says, although his own songwriting is more folk-Americana. But each year around Halloween, Dan performs as Doctor Gasp, the fez-wearing, maniacal alter ego who sings spooky songs, jumps and kicks onstage, and throws candy corn at the audience. “It gets all that pent-up art kid energy out,” he laughs.
Blakeslee’s new album, The Alley Walker, debuts August 18th; it’s his seventh but the second with his band, the Calabash Club, recorded at 1130 ft studios in New Hampshire. In his lyrical, easygoing tenor, he sings true life stories: “the good, the bad, the weird, and everything in-between,” mixing in some rock elements and folk finger picking, fiddle, and pedal steel.
A friends-turned-family of musicians welcomed Blakeslee to Providence, and he loves being a New Englander: “We have it so good [here]. There’s interesting architecture, beautiful spots to visit, towns, nature, food, nightlife… It’s really amazing and diverse.” Although he could easily book an entire year of shows within a three-hour radius, Blakeslee makes sure to visit the far reaches and points, taking back roads whenever possible. “Even if it takes an extra hour or more,” he says, “just to get that beautiful country road in—it frees my soul.”
Want to know what’s on Blakeslee’s playlist? Check out our Take a Listen Spotify channel to see. While you’re there check out the other musicians we’ve featured, too.