The rumors are true: Your Local Hippie Dude won’t be Your Local Hippie Dude anymore. Knoxville singer/songwriter/occasional rapper/jam-rock staple Mac Comer is moving to Denver, Col., soon; his last show in Knoxville (at least for a little while) is Saturday, May 24, at Scruffy City Hall.
A preternaturally amiable fellow with a flowing mane of strawberry-blonde hair, a twinkle in his eye and a perpetual blush on his cheek, the 31-year-old Comer has been playing in town since his mid-teens, when he floated between various high school hippie outfits. An unabashed jam-rock aficionado, he learned to play music wailing along on a set of bongo drums in his bedroom to Spin Doctors and Ben Harper songs during his years at West High School.
At 18, he bought a guitar, and broke onto the local singer/songwriter scene with a solo gig at Java in the Old City. “I played the first ‘serious’ song I ever wrote that night, ‘Dancin’ Around,’ and the Phish song ‘Bathtub Gin,’” he says. “I was horrified. But my friends were so supportive, and I started doing a lot of local open mics.”
It wasn’t until the mid-‘00s, though, that he emerged as a regional presence and minor local icon, answering hereabouts to the nickname mentioned above. And it began in earnest at Preservation Pub.
“I had been playing open mic nights at the Preservation Pub, and one night someone cancelled out on a Friday evening show,” Comer remembers. “I played solo a whole Friday night, by myself. “It was awesome. The club was packed. They let me play, for some weird reason, and I played four hours straight, I was so excited. Scott and Bernadette [West] kind of adopted me as their musical child. I’m pretty loyal to them. They always took an interest in what I’m doing.”
Comer’s nickname, and his band-poster meme “Support Your Local Hippie Dude,” came about around the same time, courtesy of a close friend. “I’d always ask him, are you coming to the show tonight?” Comer says. “And he would say, yeah, I’ve gotta support my local hippie dude. So then I put that on a poster, and forgot to put my real name on the poster. So I went with it.”
In the years since the Local Hippie Dude arrived, Comer has released three albums, toured surrounding cities and states, and played shows with some of his own jam-band heroes. He’s also begun a sort of old-school hip-hop side project, Gingerbread Red, that now comprises about six songs of every set. But now, with his move West, Comer is looking to take his musical career to yet another level.
“I want to branch out as a musician,” he says. “I love Knoxville, but I want to go somewhere I can grow a new audience, while still considering Knoxville my home. I feel like I need a little bit of a creative reboot, a change of scenery. And there’s a good jam-band/bluegrass audience in Colorado, so I feel like I would be a good fit.”
Which doesn’t mean he’s lost his love for the city he’s called home since the tender age of six. “I’ll still be able to come back here,” he says. “Once I get settled in Denver, I hope to be back every three months. “Heck,” he adds with a chuckle, “If Scott and Bernadette will fly me back, I’ll come back here every two weeks. Gladly.”
Mac Comer and the Coo Cool Kidders will play Scruffy City Hall on Saturday, May 24 at 10 p.m.