B&L: What animal do you associate yourself with (given our ties to oxen)?
Hickman: Animal… Maybe the beaver? Like the big daddy beaver – I am rather protective, but if I put my mind to it, I sure get a lot of stuff done.
B&L: Why music? Why do you seek it? Why do you create it? How’d it come calling to you?
Hickman: I really do believe that music is a calling. If it wasn’t – I would almost certainly be doing something easier. I was the son of two physicians in Virginia, and a very good student. Music was the first time I felt like I had a superpower. Like I was an X-Men or something. It’s a magical feeling, being able to improvise, and just make music from nothing on the spot.
B&L: What’s the making of a great show?
Hickman: To have a great show, you have to believe in the music you are making. And you have to know it well enough that you are going to have fun. OR know that you don’t know the music, and have fun anyway!
B&L: Is it weird to set foot onto stage and play to a room full of (mostly) strangers? Or are they all friends at this point?
Hickman: It’s not weird anymore. It’s the only job I’ve ever had, since I was an adolescent boy. I try to have confidence in what I do. If strangers don’t like it, I just assume something is wrong with them.
B&L: Let’s talk about the Power Outage Party you’ve got coming up at the Word Barn? What’s it all about?
Hickman: The Power Outage Party is very special to me. It’s a night of fully acoustic music, performed in the round, with no electricity and only head lamps and lanterns for lights. When people used to ask me what style of music I played, I said I play music you could play if the power went out. To me, that means Songs. Bluegrass. Jazz. Classical music. Folk songs and fiddle tunes. All kinds of stuff that you could play anywhere, in a cabin or on a boat. I wanted to bring that feeling and that versatility to a venue, in a very intimate way.
B&L: What was the impetus for this type of show? Where did it all begin?
Hickman: This is the third year of the Power Outage Party – and this performance at the Word Barn is the only time I have brought it on the road. There are so many people performing that it doesn’t make a lot of financial sense. But it’s just so much fun that only doing two shows seems like a waste.
B&L: Why the Word Barn? What keeps you coming back? Why do this thing here?
Hickman: The Word Barn is an exceptional place. It’s a venue that was created for the right reasons. The Barnstar! shows I have played there have all been great. And I really thought that the Word Barn would be an amazing place to have a fully unplugged performance.
B&L: What do you appreciate about literally taking music back to its roots (in a room, full of people, sharing songs, no soundcheck, maybe some lanterns…)
Hickman: Not paying attention is not an option. You have to be very present when musicians are standing 12 inches away from you. It’s a very vulnerable feeling performance.
B&L: How does the “setlist” come together for this sort of engagement? Do you choose the tunes, or is it off-the-cuff selections from each participant?
Hickman: I get song suggestions from the artists, and help edit and collate those into a show I want to see. Every show is different. Sometimes we have special guests that appear, and we just make it work. And a number of songs I just really want to hear. That’s why I make gigs, so that my more talented musical friends will do my bidding.
B&L: What’s one tune (or, heck, a couple) that exists out there in the ether that blows you away that you kind of wish you had written yourself?
Hickman: You know what’s a crazy song? “Transit” by Richard Shindell. That is an amazing song. It’s such a strange story. And halfway through the song, the entire narrative turns on a dime, from a small tiny detail earlier in the song. It’s breathtaking.
B&L: What’s the hardest tune you’ve ever needed to find your way through in a live setting?
Hickman: Well – a few years ago, John Prine asked me to play the encore with him, when Josh Ritter and I were opening for him in Charlottesville. His guitar tech handed me his guitar and said get on stage! As the song went on, John Prine said “why don’t you pick one, Zack?” I like to play guitar, and I can play just fine, but I am not amazing. Now I’m soloing with John Prine in front of 5,000 people? That was a crazy situation. At the end of the song, he says “Come on Zack, why don’t you take us on home?” I played the last solo and the show was over. That was a special one.
B&L: Question number 12. If you could have a dozen of anything, what would that dozen of something be?
Hickman: I’d take 12 more power outage parties in a heartbeat!
Zachariah Hickman’s Power Outage Party takes place at the Word Barn on Thursday, November 21st. Space is limited. The show takes place smack dab in the middle of the Barn. Reserve your spot and gather further bits of information right here.