Before Bear Rinehart co-founded the band NEEDTOBREATHE and became a platinum-selling, arena-filling rock musician, he was inspired to pick up a guitar by one of the great Southern rock bands of the last few decades: the Black Crowes. The son of a Christian pastor, Rinehart grew up around gospel music. The Black Crowes had an uplifting sound — with a swagger — that made sense to him. “It’s like such a gospel-soul-rock and roll mesh,” he tells Billboard’s Behind the Setlist podcast.
Rinehart lives outside of Nashville — the center of country, Americana and the Christian music businesses in the U.S. — but grew up in South Carolina, not far from the Black Crowes’ home of Atlanta. Rinehart was surrounded by “a well-rehearsed, very talented” church band with “all kinds of great gear,” he recalls. He picked up the music of great soul singers like Joe Cocker, Ray Charles and Otis Redding too. And growing up in the South left him surrounded by bluegrass and mountain music, where banjos and mandolins are standard instruments.
A youth spent listening to bluesy roots music and uplifting church music comes through in Rinehart’s second solo album, FEVER/SKY, released on March 24 by Dualtone Records under the name Wilder Woods. No Depression called FEVER/SKY “a party in a bottle, an ode to the sweaty intensity of old-time rock and roll.” Across its 11 tracks, FEVER/SKY also captures the uplifting emotions that drawn listeners to NEEDTOBREATHE.
“It always felt like you’re trying to sing songs that you can lean on, you know what I mean?” Rinehart says. “I feel like that’s where gospel comes from. It’s almost like the thing that you need to survive with. And I think as I’ve grown up and got into a ton of different styles of music, I would say, that’s probably the thread that I still feel as important. The music I listen to mostly meets me in that place it needed to meet me.”
Wilder Woods opens for the Avett Brothers on July 8 at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, Colo., and will perform at the Moon River Music Festival in Chattanooga, Tenn., on Sept. 10. NEEDTOBREATHE will play three dates in mid-July before starting a string of dates on Aug. 11 in Green Bay, Wis., that concludes at the Kansas State Fair in Hutchinson, Kan., on Sept. 8.
Listen to the entire Behind the Setlist interview with Rinehart at Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, iHeart, Amazon Music or Audible.