People get saddled with nicknames for plenty of reasons, but to spend your life being called Antsy indicates something about your personality. Ron "Antsy" McClain earned his moniker as a young boy because he couldn't be still. And to this day, the busy humorist, Americana musician and artist hasn't slowed down.
With his comedic bent, comparing Antsy McClain and the Trailer Park Troubadours to Garrison Keillor is impossible to dismiss. McClain's oversized, black-rimmed glasses and pompadour hairdo hearken back to a simpler time in America, and he's a hell of a storyteller both in his music and when he's entertaining a crowd between songs. But where Keillor's stories focus on news from lyrical Lake Wobegon, McClain's Americana, or Trailercana, is often wrapped around stories that a person who isn't from a small Minnesota town can still relate to. People from Los Angeles to Louisiana will recognize shared experiences. The song "I Was Just Flipped Off By A Silver Haired Old Lady With A 'Honk If You Love Jesus' Sticker On The Bumper Of Her Car"--from his 2007 release Trailercana--opens with soft, twangy guitar and vocal harmonies and the line, "I was feeling pretty Christian / I was loving all my neighbors. / When I saw that bumper sticker there, I didn't think twice. / My hand went for my horn, and I pushed it with conviction. / When I saw that lady's finger, it almost put my heart on ice."
"My Baby Whistles When She Walks," isn't about a joyful woman but one whose body is full of holes from myriad body piercings. And sometimes his songs have a larger message as well.
In "Living In Aluminum," he posits the sentiment, "There's a lot to be said about contentment / some folks never get enough. / Let me ask you honey, which is better? / A mansion full of money, or a trailer full of love?" It's a bit sentimental but charming and funny like its author, who can be serious and thoughtful at times, too, even in his music.
McClain recently put out three releases in three months: solo albums Limited Edition Prince and The Beige Album and New Good Old Days with the Troubadours. He went through a period of musical growth as a songwriter after both his mother and father passed away within a couple of years of each other and from that came Limited Edition Prince, an album full of "message" songs.
"Something like [the death of your parents] will jar you into thinking about life in different terms. It certainly did with me."
McClain's new outlook and new perspective became a framework for much of the new music.
"Even the humorous songs took on that tone as well. [We need] to enjoy the ride. Let's hang on to each other while we're all here and love each other and try to make the best of the bad stuff when it happens and enjoy the great stuff, too," McClain said.
But serious or hilarious, McClain is more than just a musician. He's an editorial cartoonist, a painter, a drawer and a writer as well. His interests are as varied as his mediums, and his work includes a series of whimsical, beautifully painted guitars.
Born in Kentucky, he's lived in Nashville, Tenn., for the past 15 years or so, and though he spends much of the year performing--both with the Troubadours and solo--he doesn't play much in his hometown.
"Nashville is kind of a town like Los Angeles or New York," McClain said. "It's hard to keep a consistent fan base [and] the gigs are low paying. I don't play saloons, and that's about all there is in Nashville. Plus when I'm home, I just want to be home. When I'm here with the little woman and the kids, I'm just going to chill out."
That's not to say he never performs in Nashville. It's just that when he does, it's usually to help someone out. When McClain and the Troubadours play a concert at home, it's most often a benefit to raise funds whether for a large organization or simply to help out a fellow musician with health issues.
"It's a rare instance that we're like Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland and say, 'Let's put on a show!' unless it's for a benefit," McClain said. And a benefit is what brings McClain and the Troubadours to the Egyptian Theatre on Boise on Friday, May 29. The concert is a fundraiser for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which is one of the reasons McClain was willing to travel this far. That, and he's never been to Boise before.
"I've been through the bottom left corner [of Idaho]," McClain said. "Twice. And I've always wanted to go before. Now's my chance," he added, laughing.