By Drew Olson Special to Published Jul 01, 2008 at 5:15 AM

Nearly a quarter-century after his previous band, Rank and File, played the Rock Stage, Alejandro Escovedo returns to Summerfest as a solo artist.

Escovedo, whose new CD "Real Animal" has won critical acclaim, joins Drive-By Truckers, Paul Thorn and headliner Lucinda Williams in an impressive lineup Thursday at the Harley-Davidson Roadhouse. caught up with Escovedo during his recent stint as an opening act for the Dave Matthews Band. You played Milwaukee at Historic Turner Hall Ballroom in April. Aside from the obvious (temperature/venue/attendance), how will the Summerfest show be different?

Alejandro Escovedo: Number one, the full six-piece band will be performing and we'll be showcasing more material from the new record. I just feel Summerfest lends itself to cover a wider range of material, from ballads to rockers, and makes for a more interesting performance.

OMC: Do you have any memorable stories from performing in Milwaukee over the years?

AE: Yes, the most memorable show was the acoustic quintet at Gil's Cafe and we set up in the round upstairs and played acoustically. The other time was outside of Gil's. I don't remember what the event was called; it was a street party Gil was hosting (Gil Fest).

OMC: I've always felt that being an opening act on a summer tour is a pretty tough gig. How have the shows been going in front of Dave Matthews? Is it hard not to be distracted when people are milling around, settling in and screaming for the headliner?

AE: Opening for a large-scale touring band is different than the type of gigs we're used to playing. This is first time we've opened up on a major tour and an audience can be indifferent. But Dave Matthews has come out every night and has introduced us to his audience and his band and crew have been nothing short of generous, gracious and respectful. We've been treated like kings and that has also been true of his fans. So, they have made what could have been an uncomfortable experience most pleasurable. And I am thankful to Dave Matthews for the opportunity.

OMC: On a similar vein, so much music here in the Midwest takes place in a festival setting. How does that vibe, as opposed to a club or theater, change your approach to playing live?

AE: It's all the same focus when we go out to play whether it's an acoustic duo, quintet, four-piece rock band -- we go out to establish one thing, and that's to present the songs with nothing but integrity, honesty and to the best of our ability.

OMC: How have the new songs been going over? Are the audiences reacting to songs that you thought they would like? Have there been any surprises in that regard? Do songs "breathe" or take on a new life when you start playing them live?

AE: Songs always take on a new life. To take a song from a rehearsal to a live setting is like unwrapping a package full of surprises. Songs are constantly mutating, and it takes the band a while to learn to play them -- tempos change, phrasing changes -- what may have been a good intro in the studio may not translate well in a live setting.

OMC: I loved the video of you performing "Always a Friend" with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. What was that experience like? Have you talked to Bruce about breaking every new single in that fashion? It seems like a pretty good marketing idea.

AE: The experience was like being shot out of a cannon! There is nothing to compare to the feeling of having the E Street Band play your song and the Boss having fun singing and obviously enjoying himself alongside me.

OMC: Considering all the turmoil you've been through, this is a pretty "upbeat" record. Even "People (We're Only Going to Live So Long)." It's not uncommon for adversity and turmoil to help incubate great music, but it's not often upbeat. Were you aware of that when writing / recording or is it something you thought of when you were finished?

AE: After having completed "The Boxing Mirror," which was a difficult record to make considering the experiences that led me to that record, it was intentional to step away from those type of subjects and emotional content. So, in writing an autobiographical album in the cinematic style that (co-writer) Chuck Prophet and I decided to write in, I was able to step away from myself and look at it in a more objective manner.

I credit whatever humor may exist within this album to Chuck Prophet's writing and involvement in this record. And, like all records, which are merely snapshots, this is a happy record that we are presenting in this moment.

OMC: Any other message you'd like to impart to your Milwaukee fans? Can you tease what's coming next?

AE: It always has been and always will be a great pleasure to play in Milwaukee -- the fans are enthusiastic, the food is excellent, the beer is cold and the hospitality is always excellent.

We plan to eventually begin a movie with Jon Demme, which has been put on hold with the release of this record, but I expect that to come into fruition before the year is over.

Drew Olson Special to

Host of “The Drew Olson Show,” which airs 1-3 p.m. weekdays on The Big 902. Sidekick on “The Mike Heller Show,” airing weekdays on The Big 920 and a statewide network including stations in Madison, Appleton and Wausau. Co-author of Bill Schroeder’s “If These Walls Could Talk: Milwaukee Brewers” on Triumph Books. Co-host of “Big 12 Sports Saturday,” which airs Saturdays during football season on WISN-12. Former senior editor at Former reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.