At the time, five years ago, it seemed like another forgettable gig. Todd Weakley’s band shared a bill at the The Odditorium in West Asheville with a duo -- Ryan Anderson and his brother. Weakley remembers Anderson approaching and introducing himself.
“And my initial impression was like ‘Oh no, it’s gonna one of those shows,’” Weakley recalled. “But when he played, I was absolutely transfixed and I felt compelled to know more about this person.”
Weakley and Anderson surprised each other with their shared love for an obscure Boston band called Secret Stars. Their budding friendship grew from there, and Anderson begins to tear up at the mention of it.
“It’s like we speak the same language, musically. We played music a few times, but our bond’s more just like buddies,” Anderson said. “We had the same exact stories growing up, playing the same exact kinda places, having the same exact experiences but never having known each other.”
Weakley is a founding member of the theater collective The Cardboard Sea, and when Weakley looked to place a musical soundtrack into the company’s new play, he thought of Anderson.
The play is called “The Devotees” -- it’s by Florida playwright and Cardboard Sea member Jeff Donnelly. It opens Aug. 1 and runs six performances through Aug. 10 at the BeBe Theatre in Asheville. The story revolves people camping out to be first in line to buy the next big thing in tech. Weakley is directing the play.
“Ryan writes incredibly heartfelt, authentic songs and he likes to play them in a way that is sort of winking at rock n roll culture, just a touch,” Weakley said. “That’s also why he needs to be in this play, because I don’t think this play is populated by actors, it’s populated with artists who are on board to challenge these ideas of ‘How do we make something in this artificial universe feel heartfelt and authentic?’”
You can hear threads of Paul Westerberg, Bob Mould in Anderson’s music, which comes straight from the American garage rock playbook. Even before moving to Asheville in 2010, Anderson and his band, Minorcan, then based in Austin, Tex., recorded an album of Anderson’s songs titled “Keep at Hand.”
Revived in Asheville, Minorcan has since recorded two more albums and no longer even performs songs from “Keep at Hand,” but Weakley asked Anderson to rekindle songs from that record for the new play.
“The songwriting is emotional and turbulent and the sound has this sort of driving survival feel to it,” Weakley said of Minorcan’s first album. “I love it and I don’t think enough people have heard it.”
Anderson is performing the songs on stage with an amplified guitar as a member of the small ensemble cast. He sees this experience as if he’s performing cover versions of his own songs.
His only firm request to Weakley: Don’t give him any lines to memorize.
“Todd sees a connection and, in his whole theory in wanting to do this play about what people are devoted and devotion, and music is a big part of that,” Anderson said. “What’s really cool to me is I don’t really understand the connection, but we’ve been meeting a few times and going over the script and I’m starting to play, and it’s clicking for me. Now it’s fun to revisit these old songs in a totally new meaning and give these songs to Todd.”
“I hope it does become something that might be elaborated on in the future, for sure, as far as the milestone in our friendship,” Weakley said. “I’d love to think about a concept album that might suddenly also become the basis for a piece.”