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The Long Yonder 

Having played together for nearly four decades, the original four members of Charlottesville band, Indecision, headline Flynn Fest.

click to enlarge (From left) Guitarist/vocalist David Ibbeken, bassist Shawn McCrystal and guitarist/vocalist Aaron Evans onstage at an old Van Riper's Music Festival in Afton, Va.  The annual hillside party was the brainchild of Coran Capshaw before he became known as the manager of Dave Matthews Band and one of the country's most powerful music moguls.

Shawn McCrystal

(From left) Guitarist/vocalist David Ibbeken, bassist Shawn McCrystal and guitarist/vocalist Aaron Evans onstage at an old Van Riper's Music Festival in Afton, Va. The annual hillside party was the brainchild of Coran Capshaw before he became known as the manager of Dave Matthews Band and one of the country's most powerful music moguls.

If you were living in Richmond in the mid-1980s to early 1990s, you may remember it was a time when jam bands roamed the earth.

One of the most popular in Virginia, Charlottesville’s Indecision, played memorable originals and choice covers by the likes of the Bonzo Dog Band and Spirit, with bar-friendly, danceable grooves often described as a mixture of Little Feat, Allman Brothers and Steely Dan; sleek, jazzy Southern jams with the ability to stretch out, as they say.

During its heyday, Indecision played colleges and theaters as well as packed, marathon performances at New Horizons Café on Broad Street, where the people (and the steam) would waft out of the second-floor windows. Thinking back, that venue’s narrow, crooked staircase was a death trap waiting to happen; fortunately, the band had no pyrotechnics, save for the telepathic interplay of its members.

An early favorite of future Charlottesville music industry mogul Coran Capshaw, the group played shows with the likes of Widespread Panic, Dave Mathews Band, the Neville Brothers, Phish, and even The Band; and were regular participants, seven years running, in the popular Van Riper’s Lake Music fest in Afton, Va.

Now in its 38th year of existence, Indecision still performs around eight to ten shows a year. Founding guitarist and singer Aaron Evans says that he also wrote a bunch of new songs during the pandemic that he can’t wait to perform. Over the years, the group has recorded several records in Richmond, including its self-titled, 1986 debut at Island Recording Studio, as well as “The Great Road” (2004), produced by David Lowery at Sound of Music.

Indecision returns to Richmond this weekend to headline Flynn Fest, an inaugural day festival named after a beloved former Moody Middle School teacher and music lover, Flynn Wyche, who passed in November 2019 [Disclosure: We were good friends and it remains a huge loss for many who knew him]. Other bands on the daytime bill include The Mills Family Band (old time bluegrass/folk/jazz) with special guest Andrew Winn from Agents of Good Roots, and Pet Moose Project (alt. country). The event, which runs from 2 to 7 p.m., is a fundraiser for ChildSavers, the “only nonprofit in Virginia using a coordinated prevention and intervention model to address children’s mental health,” according to the event site.

Old school Indecision fans take notice: Although the group added a keyboardist, Doug Wanamaker, fairly early on, and later a frontman-of-sorts in singer Chris White, only the original “core four” members – guitarist/vocalist David Ibbeken, bassist Shawn McCrystal, drummer/vocalist Craig Dougald, and guitarist/vocalist Evans will be performing in Richmond – which many of their fans have not seen in oh, three decades or so. Maybe since New Horizons.

“It has that original energy that we had. I’m really enjoying it a whole lot,” says Evans. “It has this kind of forward motion to it that didn’t happen with the keys or Chris. The more instruments you add, the more chance the tempos are going to get drug into a flat. But with four, it feels good.”

Past articles have noted lingering questions about why Indecision never broke through to greater success like several of the jam bands it used to perform with; the band stopped regular touring in 1993. Did they move on to day jobs too soon? Might Capshaw have guided them to greater exposure on national tours under Red Light Management? It’s all speculation now, but loyal fans still pack Indecision shows in a number of different states, a testament to the group’s songs and shared love of playing music together.

Style spoke with Evans, who recently got over COVID, from his home in Charlottesville about the history of the band and what’s around the corner.

click to enlarge A more recent shot of the founding members of Indecision: Aaron Evans, Shawn McCrystal, Craig Dougald and David Ibbeken. - CHRIS BURGESS
  • Chris Burgess
  • A more recent shot of the founding members of Indecision: Aaron Evans, Shawn McCrystal, Craig Dougald and David Ibbeken.

Style Weekly: I’d love to know some history for how the group came together. I'll start by mentioning a rare, early Indecision track that I can remember having on a mix tape in high school, I believe the song was titled “Lelani” or “Lady of the Nightlife” – do you remember that one? It was a pretty sort of ballad.

Aaron Evans: Oh, yeah! I wrote that. And this will help lead into some of the history. Craig, the drummer, and Shawn [bassist], and myself started playing in Craig’s attic when I was in like, the 10th grade. We used to play at a place called the Cotton Exchange just as an acoustic duo; I think it was the summer before Craig left for college. We were underage and were playing for tips and beer [laughs]. Times were different back then, summer of ‘83.

Anyway, there was a barfly there named Lelani who used to take the tip jar around and make people pay. So I wrote that about her … I think that song is archived somewhere. We should release those on bandcamp or someplace, that’s a good idea. [Note: The band has a limited presence online partly because it’s most active years came before the country was filled with camera phones].

Craig went to [East Carolina University] and hated it, so he came back. Ibbs went to W&L for one year and transferred back to Charlottesville. That’s when we all started practicing together in 1984, when the band started. I think our first gig was in a frat house at UVA and then maybe something at VCU. I want to say we piled up into a dorm room or something there, I can’t remember, it’s all a little blurry. Our first gig at the Mineshaft in Charlottesville was in 1985 … In Richmond, I liked [playing] New Horizons the most, it had a vibe. But we also played The Library, maybe the Jade Elephant once?

How did the band’s name and the famous upside-down mushroom logo come about?

We were in rehearsals that fall of 1984 at Shawn’s parents house. We were trying to come up with a name and somebody said, ‘What about Indecision?’ I can’t remember who it was. Danny [McCrystal, Shawn’s brother] said I’ll come up with a logo, and I said, “What if it was a play on the word, ‘in’ separated from ‘decision.’ And he very creatively came up with the upside down mushroom logo, splitting up the word.

click to enlarge An early, soiled flyer for an Indecision show.
  • An early, soiled flyer for an Indecision show.

It was a pretty obvious nod at the time that the band was on the psychedelic spectrum. Your most popular song early on was “Take it All In,” which remains a trademark song. What was that one all about, the lyrics mention “walk the corner with all of your friends” is that the corner in C’ville?

Yeah. It’s actually about an LSD trip [laughs].

The chorus goes “I can see them, they can’t see me.” Does that mean someone took LSD and turned invisible?

[Laughs] Well, we felt that way. Me and my buddy Rob Bass, who was kind of an original member of Indecision, before it was Indecision, we were really influential on each other, pushing each other’s songwriting. You know, check this out. He’s why I started writing and playing guitar. He lives in Jackson Hole now, I’m going to see him next week. Anyway, I was with him, and maybe a third person, and we were down at the University in the 11th grade tripping on acid. I wrote that song when I was literally 16 years old. It was one of the first songs I wrote … It hasn’t changed much over the years.

Did you guys ever have a problem with the hardcore band with the same name of Indecision?

Well, in the early years of the internet, they contacted us and said they wanted to offer us something like $4,000 for the rights to the name. We said no. We were a band way before them, I don’t think they performed until the early ‘90s or something.

People have wondered over the years if Indecision had held on a little longer touring into the mid-‘90s, if Coran Capshaw would’ve taken a more active hand in the band’s future? As more big jam festivals started happening on boats and wherever.

Yeah, that might’ve happened. Before he became manager of Dave Matthews, he was a local show promoter and booked Max and was the manager there [inside the Trax/Crossroads venue in Charlottesville]. He was always a fan of ours. At one point he offered to manage us, but Danny was our manager and soundman. We had no reason to tell Danny he was just going to be a soundman. Who would’ve thought [Capshaw] would become this mogul? But Coran did help us out later on with “The Great Road.” He helped us record that in Richmond with David Lowery, to facilitate all that. And he got us into Bonnaroo [Music and Arts Festival] in 2004 playing a side tent. It was really nice of him to make that gesture and get us down there … Probably our biggest crowds were the latter Van Riper’s festivals -- and that was Coran’s baby from the beginning.

If someone was writing a book on Indecision, what do you think would be the most interesting chapter?

I think the original six years, the first six years from 1984 or 1985, where it was our job and our main focus. But the little resurgences here and there [trails off]… My joy is writing songs, bringing them to the band, and arranging them and putting them altogether and they come to life. I’ve thanked the guys many times for helping me give birth to these songs. Anytime I go through a writing spurt, I get excited.

The covers are fun too, but there’s something about originals, when you believe in them, and playing them for an audience. Sometimes [the audience] doesn’t quite bite, but if we keep playing it, they’re going to get this tune. Some have to be heard a few times to get it. I’m not always right about that, but sometimes.

Back when we were doing it originally, people were taping us and those were circulating – but that doesn’t happen as much anymore. We’ve all grown older and aren’t quite as active at spreading our live music. It’s also harder to get people to accept new originals, at least half want to hear the old stuff that takes you back to the best times of your life -- which we’re happy to do … But I’d say for this upcoming show, you’ll hear a lot of the good ‘ol stuff, as well as a handful of new originals.

Do you have a particular Indecision album that you’re proudest of, or happiest about how it came out?

As far as songwriting goes, “Ponder Yonder.” But the production on that one, something happened in the mastering of it that made it really compressed and dark and kind of pillowy sounding. If you put it in a disc changer with other contemporary discs it’s much quieter, compressed and just weird. But the songwriting and performances are great. Those songs are the ones that have kind of lived on with our setlist. And I really did enjoy “The Great Road” too. If we had still been touring, that one probably would’ve outshined “Ponder Yonder.” The songwriting was really good.

Are you still writing new songs for Indecision?

Yes! The October before COVID, a buddy of mine gave me a couple laptops and I bought some monitors and nice mics. I had just started writing a few things when COVID hit, and I wrote more in that two-year period then I have in the past 20 years. Those songs are slowly making their way into the Indecision repertoire …

Indecision is currently back to the four-piece, the core four. There’s a good faction of our fans that are glad that it’s back to that. More than I thought there would be [laughs]. We always loved Doug and Chris’ offerings, but they’ve kind of moved on to other things; COVID changed a lot of people’s priorities … But the four of us can read each other’s minds. It’s a very comfortable process; we’ve been working together for so long … I don’t know how well I’ll be singing this weekend. I’m just on the other side of COVID, not contagious anymore. But I’ve still got the head-remnant congestion thing going on.

Who were the biggest guitar player and songwriter influences for you?

Definitely Mark Knopfler [Dire Straits] songwriting and guitar playing. Larry Carlton who played with Steely Dan. Ibbs is a Steely head, too. I was steeped in jazz there for awhile, it definitely informed my music sensibilities. We’re a rock band, but every once in awhile you can hear the jazz thing in it. We probably have more of a swing feel than a lot of bands do … One of my other influences over the past 25 years is Steve Kimock. He’s always changing up his lineup and creating different things. His tone and choice of notes is outrageously nice. He’s a really great player … As far as songwriting, Neil Young and Knopfler.

click to enlarge An old snaphost of Indecision guitarist and vocalist Aaron Evans performing in Charlottesville sometime in the early 2000s. - BRENT BALDWIN
  • Brent Baldwin
  • An old snaphost of Indecision guitarist and vocalist Aaron Evans performing in Charlottesville sometime in the early 2000s.

Do you still have any side-gigs going on?

Yeah, Craig and I had a band, Second Draw, but COVID kind of splintered that … the one I have going now is all original music, 99% my stuff, called Aaron Evans and Friends. We’re still in the rehearsal process. We have a gig in August at this tiny diner in Charlottesville called Holly’s – and I’m working on a show at Durty Nelly’s Pub. I’d like to get down to the Camel in Richmond. It’s basically the four-piece of Indecision with a different bass player [Stuart Holme from The Cows, not the AM Rep punk band, obviously]. We’ve been playing in bands that covered songs our whole careers. I wanted to do one project that was just dedicated to originals. But we’re just getting off our feet.

Indecision headlines the inaugural Flynn Fest – a charity concert for ChildSavers, at River City Roll on Saturday, July 9 with bands starting at 2 p.m. and ending at 7 p.m. The two other bands are the Mills Family Band and Pet Moose Project. Tickets are $25 and available on eventbrite here.

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