Seeing Drake White and the Big Fire live is a far-from ordinary concert experience. Part Muscle Shoals groove, part honky tonk grease, with the soul of Ray Charles and the ramble of Roger Miller, and all under the big-tent spirit of a revival. All comers are welcome, and those who do — affectionately known as the FireStarters — are the spark to Drake's charismatic fuse.
"There's a Huckleberry Finn-type freedom to the live show and the studio is a continuation of that freedom,” Drake says with his rich, glowing Alabama drawl. “Being in the booth around innovators and experimenting with different sounds is extremely fulfilling to me. Whether folks are listening to a record or at a live gig, I just want the music to inspire and evoke feeling.”
But for Drake, playing music doesn't begin or end when he's onstage or in the studio. It's informed by every moment of his life, whether he's fishing, paddle boarding, building a barn, or spending time with his wife, Alex. A lover of nature and a boundless traveler, he's as happy camping in Montana as he is tilling the earth at his home in Tennessee. All of it helps fuel his larger mission to be present and to live fully in the moment.
"The adventure-seeking lifestyle is the muse to the music for me. A great meal, a great sunset, the feeling of a trout tugging at the fishing wire," says Drake. "You have to be present when you're running a table saw. When it's time to come back to the music, I'm that much more focused because I gave my ears a break.”
Being well-rounded is second nature to Drake. He's been in touch with the world around him ever since he was a child, learning from the example of his grandfather. "My grandfather was a preacher. He had a silver tongue, and was all about explaining exactly what he felt when he saw a flower open up," Drake remembers. "There was that softer side to him, but he had a few tattoos and was a cool dude. He had this rough exterior but he could really spiritually articulate his relationship with God."
Believing in a higher power continues to be a central part of Drake's life — "It's my north star," he says — but he realizes that spiritual connection means different things to different people. Faith, to him, is a state of mind. "God is a tree. God is the universe. God is a bird right here inviting you to come in and just be quiet for a second, just listen to what's around you," he says. "That's true happiness for me, when I'm truly in it, when I just let go completely."
Yet letting go takes hard work, and having the luxury to explore the outdoors or even play music takes sacrifice. "I would never want to relinquish my responsibilities as success comes. Having someone do everything to me sounds absolutely miserable. I like the Wild at Heart John Eldredge idea of self-sufficiency with a healthy balance of ego-check when you truly need HELP. I want to go out, catch the fish, skin the fish, cook the fish, serve the fish, and eat the fish, you know?”
That mantra is taking on a life of its own with Drake and Alex's latest project: the building of a barn that will function as an event and recording space on their property. Tucked into the Tennessee hills about 20 miles outside Nashville "the way the crow flies," it's an opportunity for the couple to formally unite their creative forces. (Alex is a chef.)
Drake likens the barn to his own Noah's Ark, and sees it as a place to break bread, play music, and bring together people from all walks of a life — all of whom, hopefully, would choose to leave their phones at the door. "It's a culture thing, it's what I grew up with. I grew up with lots of barns. It represents hard work. It represents comfort for me," he says, adding, with a laugh, "I've had some of the greatest moments of my life in a barn.”
All of it, however, leads back to playing music. "If you're walking the walk outside of the stage, my fans are going to see me and my guys hugging onstage. They'll see the camaraderie," Drake says. And he knows there's no faking the FireStarters. "Be real. If I'm not in a great state of mind, tell the people, 'Hey, today is not the easiest day for me, ladies and gentlemen. But tonight is my revival. Tonight y'all are going to help me get through this.'"
It's a service that goes both ways. "Music is my true love. I don't have to make myself do that. I'm just gonna do it if I'm breathing. My fans are my army and I'm built to serve them," says Drake. "When they come to my show, that's what I am: I'm a servant to the people who came here to have an experience."