The average lifespan of a band is only a few years, so remaining together for 17 years, as Cracker has done, is an accomplishment by itself. Throw in a couple of gold records and one platinum, and you have a career worthy of pride and praise.
Cracker plays its first ever Salida concert at 8:10 p.m. Saturday in Riverside Park when the band headlines FIBArk’s musical pinnacle.
Surviving multiple decades in an industry that burns through bands like wildfire wasn’t easy, Johnny Hickman, who co-founded the group with David Lowery, said.
“Honestly, part of our longevity is that we live in different states, and each of us has a lot of interests outside of the band,” he said. The fact that Cracker still has tunes on the radio doesn’t hurt either.
Cracker has also focused on keeping the music fresh by rotating a wide range of musicians on its tours. “The songs get reinvented with each new member since everyone plays things a little differently,” Hickman said.
Another mental trick the longtime music partners have learned is the power of imagination. Each time they play an older hit, they envision it as a brand-new song. “It’s a mindset,” Hickman said. “These songs are our babies, and we’re proud of them.”
The pair also realizes the show may be someone’s first time hearing Cracker. “Quite often, someone will come to a concert for the first time, hear a hit song and not have realized that it was ours,” he said.
Hickman noted that regularly adding new players continually shifts their sound from country-ish to rock.
“The center of our live shows are radio hits. We keep rotating the set list,” he said. “Someone will mention a song we haven’t played in a few years, and we’ll add it in. That keeps things fresh.”
When not touring, each singer expands a solo musical career. And Lowery, who holds a doctorate, is also a college professor, teaching mathematics at the University of Georgia.
Hickman and Lowery met in 1980 as teenagers in a punk rock band. The two drifted apart during college but reunited a decade later, began writing songs together and in 1991 started Cracker. Ten albums and countless highway miles later, the two remain musical partners.
“We’ve been fortunate,” Hickman said. “We have a core group of fans who call themselves ‘crumbs,’ and they follow our shows around the world. We have Crumbs UK, Crumbs Colorado, Crumbs Canada and so on.”
For the last 15 years, Cracker has hosted an annual festival at Joshua Tree in California, but 2019 will be the last time for the event. Hickman believes the band’s focus on live performances is what keeps fans returning year after year.
With multi-decade success comes an element of recognition, often in unexpected places. Cracker has purposely refrained from excessively placing photographs into public view, but the band members still get noticed.
“I was in southern France with my family, wandering around, shopping, buying cheese, when a French fan approached to say how much they liked the band. That was unexpected,” Hickman said.