Interviewing The Revivalists’ David Shaw: Hamilton Local to World-Touring Artist, by GraciAnn Hicks
Hamilton native David Shaw first fell in love with music while he listened to a tape of “Chuck Berry’s Greatest Hits” on a Fisher Price cassette player. As a 6-year-old, it was his first taste of rock ‘n’ roll.
By the age of 12, David decided to learn guitar so that he could play Nirvana’s “Come As You Are.” As he practiced the song, his love for guitar blossomed.
“It took me about six months to figure it all out,” David said. “But after that, I mean, the passion just grew. And I was just infatuated with the guitar. I couldn’t get enough of it.”
His parents and sisters supported his musical journey and helped expand his musical horizons. David remembers how his sisters would pick him up from junior high football practice in a Dodge Spirit convertible, blasting Tool and other bands that would remain ingrained in his memories.
“I think a lot of those memories, looking back, they were just really burned in there,” David recalled. “And that music came right along with them.”
Shortly after David learned guitar, he started to join bands. At the age of 13, he played rhythm guitar in a punk rock band called SOS.
“We were in the vein of like, The Exploited, and Total Chaos, and NOFX, Subhumans…” David explained. “That was the kind of music I listened to at the time. I was a little skater kid, so that was the vibe.”
Following SOS, he played rhythm guitar in several other bands. He shared memories of playing in the battle of the bands at Bogart’s in Cincinnati with the band Talis.
“That was like my first taste of getting to play in front of a crowd,” David said. “There’s definitely this really special kinda energy that is developed. And then it’s like, once you’re out there, it’s all up to you to wield it, you know, turn it into something else.”
He shared that while The Revivalists’ success has added pressure to performing in front of crowds, the experience largely remains the same. He’s still filled with excitement to play in front of others.
“It’s kinda a funny analogy, but picture there’s like a bunch of dogs waiting at the fence, ready to go into the dog park,” David said. “And you open [the gate], and you’re just out there, running around, and you’re ready to go. And you’re having the best time. That’s kinda what it feels like.”
David played rhythm guitar in a couple other bands before he started to write his own music. At the age of 22, he started to sing and write songs as a way to cope with difficulties in his life.
In 2006, when he lived in Columbus, David decided to enter a competition that a local radio station hosted. The contest, Acoustic Idol, allowed musicians to play their songs for record executives.
The first year he submitted his music, he didn’t make it in.
“I didn’t even make the cut,” David said with a smile in his voice. “I didn’t even get a call back. They didn’t even care. That was a pretty big blow.”
Rather than let the failure prevent him from pursuing music, he used it as a way to improve himself.
“It’s kinda like my Michael Jordan story honestly,” David said. “I needed to get cut from the freshman team to realize that I had to work a little harder, and I had to dig a little deeper, and whatever I was doing was not connecting.”
The next year, he entered Acoustic Idol and won. That moment gave him the confidence he needed to put his all into his music career. After winning, David moved to New Orleans where he would meet bandmate Zack Feinberg and form The Revivalists.
David sat out on his front porch and played the song Purple Heart – which was later included on the band’s album Vital Signs – when by pure chance Zack rode by on his bicycle. After David finished, Zack played “Candy Man” by Mississippi John Hurt, and thus began their relationship as bandmates.
“Now here we are, 15 years later, playing [in] every nook and cranny in the United States and overseas,” David said.
In addition to the smaller venues, The Revivalists have also played at larger venues and festivals, which has led to unique and unforgettable experiences.
David recalled playing a cover of “My Generation” by The Who at KAABOO music festival a few years ago. The Revivalists decided to play the song after they learned that Bob Saget, who’s best known for his role of Danny Tanner on the 90s sitcom Full House, would be in attendance. In one episode, Bob’s character danced and sang along with the same song, so they invited him onstage during the cover.
Another moment that sticks out to David is when he danced with Ellen DeGeneres on national television to The Revivalists’ hit “Wish I Knew You.”
Although these moments stand out to David, The Revivalists’ accomplishments aren’t the reason for his lifelong love of music.
“If I hadn’t had any success, I’d still be doing this,” David said.
David shared that his music helps give him a purpose. In the past five years, he has come to view it as a form of service.
“I didn’t realize that for a long time, and now it’s like, people rely on me and my art to give them something that really resonates with them and helps them cope with whatever’s going on in life,” David said.
The sense of purpose that creating music provides has also helped David to stay sober for more than a decade. Songwriting is one of the ways David stays grounded.
“It’s me connecting, staying in contact with myself, and that’s the biggest part of it, I think.” David said. “Because when I’m not that way, it’s like something else is driving the boat. You can’t let the beast get in the driver's seat. You don’t want to know where that goes.”
Throughout his journey with music, David has learned the importance of trusting his gut while also listening to the insight of others.
“You really have to believe in yourself because no one can see it the way you do,” he said. “But you also have to be malleable. You can’t be so hard that you can’t see anyone else’s perspective. You have to be a little bit of a chameleon in that respect.”
David applies this mindset to his songwriting process. He views it as a collaborative process, where he bounces ideas off of others to find what works best. (And although there are more people involved in the process when he writes songs with The Revivalists, he still values others’ input for his solo music.)
That said, David prefers to let songs develop without too much influence.
“I need to let the story just unfold naturally, however it wants to,” David said. “I’m just a vessel for it.”
(Photographer: Zackery Michael)
Despite all the ways his life has changed since he first fell in love with music in Hamilton, David hasn’t forgotten where he comes from. He still loves Hamilton and the people that live there.
While some people may hesitate to see the potential in a small Ohio city, David was inspired to start the annual music festival, Big River Get Down, in Hamilton.
David noticed similarities between Hamilton and Fredericton, Canada, which holds the annual Harvest Music Festival. People from all over Canada and the United States travel to attend the Harvest Music Festival in the small town of Fredericton, and David saw the opportunity to create something similar in Hamilton.
“I was like, ‘Let’s build something that the city can really pride themselves on,’” David said. “And let’s turn it into something that’s like this big yearly event. Something that people just can’t wait for it to happen.”
David enlisted the help of Hamilton local Adam Helms, who founded the local concert series at RiversEdge Amphitheater, to start the music festival. The annual festival has continued to grow since it began in 2016.
“It really went off with a bang,” David said. “It was proof of concept of ‘Oh yeah, this is gonna work, for sure.’ And so we’ve been on the rise ever since.”
Big River Get Down allows David to perform in his hometown every May. Although he tours across the world, each year he returns to the place where his 6-year-old self first fell in love with music while listening to a Chuck Berry cassette.