Owl figures stare from every corner of Matt Lee’s living room in Newbern.
So asking a question about how his Night Owl Country Band got its name will hardly fly. It goes without saying.
But Lee’s detailed explanation adds context.
“It works pretty well for us since we’re sometimes playing until 2 in the morning,” Lee said.
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This is to report that the sometimes-late, pushing-to-be-great foursome — lead singer/bassist Lee, rhythm guitarist Brett Denney, lead guitarist and mandolin player Tim Dooley and drummer Steve Pardue — is preparing both to spread its wings locally for its concert at The Commons March 22 to partly benefit the Wounded Warrior Project to help veterans, with national country singer John Schneider headlining. The group’s last Commons show, one marking its three-year anniversary in October, sold out at a ticket cutoff of 440 people.
And the ensemble that played the venerable Grand Ole Opry in 2017 also is branching out to embrace a bigger national audience, with concerts scheduled as far away as Texas, Florida and South Carolina later this year. Plus, a tour of Australia is in the works in the fall.
Apparently, listeners are ready for the group that mixes its four-hour nightclub set lists with original material such as the single “Cool Gentle Wind” and cover tunes stretching from Waylon Jennings to the Georgia Satellites to, well, even Prince.
Denney kicked into “Purple Rain” at a show last year and the country crowd went nuts and band members swore that listeners wanted to make it rain another way.
“It was like they wanted to throw us money,” Denney said.
The four still supplement their music with full-time day jobs. But they are grateful for understanding bosses and nicer road accommodations than when they first began traveling and lodging in more spartan, and sometime scary, establishments.
“I once prayed over my bed before I got in it,” Dooley said.
In an unforgiving industry in which it can be can be tough to have a prayer to fully make a living touring, the quartet likes its chances. Besides, even Schneider, whom they all watched years ago in “The Dukes of Hazzard,” recently offered them a compliment and encouragement about their music after seeing a Youtube video. Moreover, people are even latching on to their souvenirs available on the band website at nightowlcb.com.
“Merchandise sales are really picking up,” Lee said.
Copies of their CD “Here to Somewhere.” Caps. T-shirts. Drink koozies. Mugs. Shot glasses.
The performers, who have played everything from blues to rock to gospel in their past years in music, see no real science in their growing popularity.
“We just really have fun up there on stage,” Dooley said. “We have a ball, and I think that’s contagious. The audience can sense that, and it becomes a big party — and we’re just along for the ride.”
“I can’t fathom all of it,” Pardue said. “I don’t fully understand.”
“I think part of it is the fact that we’re country with a twist — southern rock style,” Lee said.
The four have bonded quickly.
“This group is really a caring family,” Dooley said. “We’ve become close friends.”
And smart alecks.
“Hey — what’s his name again?” Pardue asked, motioning toward Dooley. “Actually, we don’t take offense very easily.”
Yet, some areas are sacred ground — such as Dooley’s snow-white, flowing, recently trimmed whiskers.
“Oh — we can’t make fun of the beard,” Denney said.
Dooley smiled. The guys have grown to respect and support one another.
“There is,” Dooley said, “a bromance a-brewing.”
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Together since: Oct. 31, 2015, though lead guitarist and mandolin player Tim Dooley joined later.
Background: Pop, rock, country, blues gospel.
Appearances: From local gigs to nightclubs all over the Midwest and South, with set lists stretching four hours and including about 25 percent original tunes and 75 percent covers (including artists such as Travis Tritt, Merle Haggard, Garth Brooks, Brett Young, Lynyrd Skynyrd and others).