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The Jayhawks have been through many lineups over the years since their beginnings in the mid-'80s. But if longtime fans were to get their wish for which one they would love to see again, it would have to include vocalist/guitarist Mark Olson. With his brittle harmonies sewn together with fellow vocalist/guitarist Gary Louris, listeners' hearts tend to melt.
Wish granted, as the Tomorrow the Green Grass-era lineup, with keyboardist/vocalist Karen Grotberg, bassist Marc Perlman and drummer Tim O'Reagan, reconvened in September 2008, performing at a festival in Spain.
A folky band that isn't afraid to rock (or the reverse, depending on how you look at it), they've even gone on to perform entire albums live. Not surprisingly, they've performed their most heralded so far: Hollywood Town Hall and Tomorrow the Green Grass.
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Also in the live setting, the band hasn't disowned the records they made without Olson (Sound of Lies, Smile and Rainy Day Music) and they even perform a song Olson did with the Original Harmony Ridge Creekdippers, his post-Jayhawks band.
Now touring off of this year's Mockingbird Time, it's pretty safe to say none of this would have happened if it weren't for Olson and Louris singing together again. Tours and an album, '09's Ready for the Flood, certainly helped spur the reformation of The Jayhawks, which had called it quits a few years before.
"I really think the way we went about it was a really nice way because we ended up spending a lot of time playing, singing together and writing together without going about making a Jayhawks record, so we were kind of able to explore new musical ideas," Olson says as he drives the band's van 35 miles outside of Knoxville, Tennessee. "When it was time to make a Jayhawks record, we had all kinds of experience working again."
As much as people (especially rock critics) can bemoan how the band never seemed to get their due in the '90s, you can't argue with how the band is received now. Thanks to reissues of their early material, an anthology collection and a heralded new album, people haven't forgotten the band — and not just the people who fell in love with the tender 1995 single "Blue."
"I have to say that there is a big range of age groups that come and see us live," Olson says. "I think that's kind of unique and that's a nice thing. The thing is, it's hard to judge, though, because we're up there playing, so I can't really say, and I'm not doing a census of each night's crowd. My sense is that it's people who are in our age group. But there are fans in different age groups, 10 years old to 80 years old. Either way, they're all welcome to see us play, and they seem to enjoy it."
With their reception now, Olson has plenty to share with the wisdom he's gained. "You have to enjoy the rough ride," he says. "So all the things that we did back then, that I was a part of, I really, for the most part, enjoyed doing and looked forward to doing. They were exciting. There was always some kind of building going on. Even on the warm-up tours that we did, there was something to be learned. There was something to come of it. It was decent. If nothing else, it's an opportunity to play."
Olson looks at an extensive cycle of touring in front of him and his bandmates without worry. "I've never been too caught up in, 'This is going to help me out tomorrow,'" he says. "It's more like, 'Today I'm playing music and I'm glad about it.'"