story: Beth K. Maxey photo: Courtesy of Antsy McClain
ANTSY McCLAIN COMES TO THE NORTH STATE
Antsy McClain has a day job in the Nashville area, a wife and five kids. Yet he regularly travels all over the country to entertain loyal fans with original songs about life in a small-town trailer park – and his concerts routinely sell out.
“He’s one of the warmest, fan-friendly guys you’ll ever meet,” says Fred Ehrensvard, a Red Bluff real estate broker who first heard the singer-songwriter-artist’s “folkabilly” music about five years ago. (Folkabilly is a blend of rock, soul and country.)
McClain has brought his Trailer Park Troubadours to the North State six times in the past few years, filling some 2,500 seats with fans who want to enjoy his unique entertainment style. Most venues sell out quickly. He’ll be back at Red Bluff’s State Theater on Monday, Dec. 28, to rock in the New Year with a houseful of his “Flamingo Head” fans, named after the popular pink icons often found in trailer parks.
And he’ll probably be wearing a shirt made for him by Bonni Jackson of Red Bluff, who with her husband Craig got hooked on the singer’s brand of fun in 2007. A seamstress and tailor, she made a flamingo shirt for Ehrensvard, and then sent one with guitars on it to McClain. He liked it so much that he asked Jackson to make more, and she’s since made six shirts made from her custom pattern.
“He likes red and black, he doesn’t want pockets, the fabric has to be cool,” she reports. “I never imagined I’d be making shirts for anybody like Antsy.” Nicknamed Antsy by his junior high football coach because of his high energy, he grew up in a Kentucky trailer park with his truck-driving father and Avon-selling mother.
He remembers that his mother gave him a volume of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poetry the same weekend that he discovered Dr. Demento; an early lesson in contrasting the beauty of words with the joy of making people laugh.
“I was drawing pictures and making up songs at 14, and I still love it. What turned you on about life at 14 is what you should be doing as an adult. The closer you stay to that, the happier you’ll be,” he says. “I’m so right-brained I walk funny.”
His songs have stories and messages about life, love and loss, and his concerts are family-friendly. McClain’s songs include such titles as “Skinny Women Ain’t Hip,” “One Less Trailer,” “Prozac Made Me Stay”and“I Married Up.”
“He’s a cross between Elvis and Buddy Holly,” Ehrensvard says. “It’s funny and it’s real. He tells us things we already knew – he hits a lot of buttons in a lot of people. Anybody who can make you laugh in this day and age and can touch your heart is a gift.”
One of McClain’s newer albums, “Limited Edition Prince,” shows a more serious side and includes such well-known musicians as two-time Grammy nominee guitarist Tommy Emmanuel – who plays drums on this album – and Tim Lorsch and Edgar Cruz.
In “I’m Everyone,” he sings, “These songs are nothing more than journal entries/Just footprints in the dirt that I leave behind./Your guess is good as mine, where this road is leading/But you’re all there when my blessings come to mind.”
McClain has eight albums and a DVD to his credit. He also has written several books, including “If This Ain’t the Big Time, What Is?,” featuring stories of his journey in music, meeting his fans, remembering his family and bits of philosophy, including his signature phrase, “Enjoy the Ride.”
Although he jokes that his fans are loyal because “I will do a lot of lawn and garden work – show up with gloves, overalls and ready to work,” he admits that while he doesn’t fully understand their loyalty, he is always grateful for it. Ehrensvard and his wife Terese, for instance, have become close friends with the singer and have had songs dedicated to them. McClain refers to Ehrensvard as his “Uncle Fred.”
By day, McClain is a graphic artist whose employer is very understanding about what he calls “a weekend hobby that’s gotten out of control. It’s gone beyond anything I’d imagined. I just step back and let it go.”
He also has five children.“It’s a juggling act – there’s no easy way to do it. It’s more challenging raising teenagers – they need more attention.” His wife, “Polly Esther,” occasionally performs with him – for instance, the couple sings “It’s a Good Thing We’re In Love,” and she and the children sometimes travel with the band.
“We’ll see where this takes us,” McClain says. “As long as we have food on the table and shoes on the feet… I can be very happy with less, as long as I have books and music and my family.” •
Antsy McClain and the Trailer Park Troubadours Monday, Dec. 28, 7:30 p.m. Doors open at 6:30. State Theatre, 333 Oak St., Red Bluff Tickets $22 advance/$25 at the door. For ‘Flamingo Head’ special seating, call “Uncle” Fred Ehrensvard at (530) 529-3733. More information: State Theatre, www.statetheatreredbluff.com or (530) 529-2787; Antsy McClain, www.unhitched.com