Tom Graham jokes that it will have taken him 2,101 shows to get to the F.M. Kirby Center stage in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., where he will open for the Steve Miller Band on Sunday, Oct. 30. And that gig will come one day after another high-profile show at the Sherman Theater in Stroudsburg, where the singer-songwriter will be supporting Cabinet.
“I have all of my gig books for each year and how many shows I’ve done,” says Graham, who in 2017 will mark 20 years of performing. “Cabinet will be 2,100 and Steve Miller Band will be 2,101.”
While Graham has been sharing stages with fellow Northeastern Pa.-bred bluegrass act Cabinet for a few years, the Steve Miller gig seemingly came out of the blue.
Kirby Center Executive Director Will Beekman explained how it all came together: “I received an email from his management telling me that Steve likes adding local/regional support acts to his gigs. I get the impression he’s a guy who remembers where he came from, a guy who wants to a give a stage to artists following the same dream that he has long since realized. I thought about the many great artists in our area, but Tom just seemed to be the best fit for this specific show. Before confirming his slot, management asked me to send some audio samples their way, and, not surprisingly, they liked what they heard. I was excited to deliver that news to him, and he was obviously excited to receive it. I was happy to be a part of that moment.”
In advance of Graham’s big weekend, we gave him a call to chat about what he’s been up to since releasing his fifth album, “Underneath A Rusting Roof,” early last year, some of his favorite Kirby Center memories and the magic of house shows.
On the last two years…
It’s been kind of like a full-court press ever since. Last year I had done 138 shows. This year about 100, and that’s also including giving myself a break in January and February and a little recharger in August so I didn’t lose my mind or get burnt out, because that happened in the past. But I feel good, and things are going extremely well.
Next year it will be my 20th year of playing live. So, I think I have it down; luckily I haven’t had too many issues with shows or canceling or anything like that. I can honestly say that every place I play is somewhere I want to play. I want to be in that room that night playing music and being in the moment.
On opening for Cabinet…
Playing with Cabinet, it’s a blessing and it’s always an experience. Their fan base has been so welcoming to me and so warm. It really is a family, and it’s a really fantastic energy to be around. And to have the opportunity to perform at the events that they throw is an absolute blast. And they’re smart. There’s different themes and the production is amazing and everyone treats it with a lot of heart and a lot of soul and with also so much thought between every move; it’s something I have a lot of respect for.
On opening for Steve Miller…
I received a call and an offer to do it, and I was just shocked and amazed, and it was confirmed, and it was announced, and it’s kind of been a whirlwind ever since.
I’m really a big fan of the FM Kirby Center and a big fan of all the shows and the productions they’re bringing to Wilkes-Barre. I think it’s amazing what they’re doing at the Kirby Center. It’s also amazing to share the stage with the Steve Miller Band. I’ve been listening to him all my life. I grew up in Moscow, Pa., listening to the greatest hits record that I think everyone owned at least two copies of.
On memories of shows at the Kirby Center…
The heavily touring act “Sesame Street Live” was a memory I have there, and some film festivals when I was younger. I believe it was “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Temple of Doom”; I believe it was one of those shows. As far as concerts, one of my favorite shows there was Faith No More and Helmet, and I believe the stage collapsed. And a couple years ago, Primus brought their 3-D show there. There are countless, countless shows that I’ve wanted to see that I wasn’t available to go to.
It’s one of the finest places. And to go out there and take a chance on Jason Isbell was great.
On the rest of 2016…
After this run, just kind of back doing shows in the area, and getting back with Justin Mazer in the beginning of November. We haven’t played together since Susquehanna Breakdown.
I did house shows this year. It was my first time playing that alternative venue idea. The goal was to do 10, and I will have done 16 house shows by the end of the year. And by the end of the year, a run of shows and Christmas shows.
On house shows…
I hadn’t been to any house shows. I kind of heard of different artists kind of doing that in between tour runs. I threw a feeler out there on social media and started booking them, and it really took off. It’s been a blast. Really fun.
Some hosts have been people that I know, some are people that reached out. It’s been quite an adventure of just showing up and being welcomed into people’s homes to play music. It’s a great honor to be invited into someone’s home. I’ve done some places in Scranton, Harrisburg, Lancaster, and I’m going to do Baltimore and Albany.
The crowd size has been between 20 and 50. I didn’t know what I was getting into, but you just kind of find your way. Playing originals, playing covers and making songs up and having people sing along. And staying for two hours longer than I was supposed to just because it was so much fun.