ACL Music Fest Interviews

ACL Music Fest Interviews

Sam Roberts

Sunday, 1:45pm, Heineken stage

Sam Roberts' reality check stretches 4,000 unforgiving miles. "It's called the U.S.-Canada border," says the Montreal-based bandleader. "Every time we pass over to the American side, we're at square one again."

If Roberts finds the border humbling, it's because in Canada he's a bona fide, chart-topping, award-winning, record-setting superstar. Here, not so much, despite critical acclaim for both his 2003 debut, We Were Born in a Flame, and this year's follow-up, Chemical City. While the latter sets sharp narratives against a huge-sounding progressive rock patchwork – think Ray Davies fronting Muse – Roberts' best calling card is still his windmilling, stage-sprinting, no-two-alike live show. Seeing him work a crowd conjures comparisons to a mid-Seventies Springsteen.

"It scares me when I hear that, but if there's a comparison, I suppose it comes down to an ability to illustrate conviction onstage," Roberts says. "Bruce Springsteen isn't about bells and whistles; he's about sheer raw power and passion onstage. That's what I try to emulate because, in the end, playing live is where we make our stand."

This fall, Roberts makes that stand stateside opening for Ben Kweller, a tour that starts by bringing both acts to ACL. Roberts seems genuinely excited, like it's more than just a date on his itinerary. He's savvy and confident enough to know a park filled with 60,000 music fans is a park full of potential new fans.

"Festivals are great opportunities for the 'What the hell is this?' moment," says Roberts. "How many times have I had the same experience, wandering from the main stage to get a beer and stumbling upon some band that now I'll follow forever? If we can distract some folks from that ice-cold beer for just a couple of songs, we'll be more than happy."

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