Tonight's stop in Pittsburgh promises something special for Caroline Smith and The Good Night Sleeps as they drive in the tour van on a two-week tour that hits 12 different cities.
"My mom's side of the family is from Pittsburgh," Ms. Smith said during a fuel stop on the way from a Memorial Day show in Scranton. "Mom and my grandparents and my aunts and my uncles and my cousins all live in Mt. Lebanon. So I've been to Pittsburgh a lot. I never lived there, but I always wanted to. I grew up being best friends with my cousins and I would visit Lebo. I wanted to go to high school with them, but I had to grow up in Minnesota."
Which isn't a bad thing. In fact, it was Minnesota's vibrant music community that got her started on her career as a singer-songwriter, playing coffee houses and clubs at the age of 15.
But as she and her music have matured, she's added musicians.
"Right now, we are a six-piece group," she said. "We just added two new, fabulous backup singers that will be with us tonight."
You know you've made it when you have backup singers.
"I have a couple boys that have been with me since the onset, and we always joke, 'Why are we still hanging out together? Five years! What do we have left to talk about?' "
The answer is: The music.
Caroline Smith and The Good Night Sleeps have recorded three albums with a fourth all finished and ready to go with a fall release. They've visited Pittsburgh three times before.
"This is the prerelease tour," Ms. Smith said. "We promote the new songs, familiarize people with them and kind of get a buzz going in preparation for release of the record."
But don't expect the same indie-folk sound you might have associated with them in the past.
"That's what we used to sound like," Ms. Smith said. "Our new sound is more of a soul, R&B direction. It's a little bit more groovin', more rhythm. I guess it's risky if you're switching to a more abstract or heady kind of direction. But our songs have always had an air of light-heartedness just because I'm kind of a goofy person.
"This new music we've been playing is a lot more fun, with sassy songs about being a woman. And having two new backup singers who are women gives us a girl-force on stage that we totally use to our advantage. But boys have fun at the shows, too, you know.
"We get people to dance and laugh and be interactive, and that was the goal of this new music. It was kind of an experiment and on this tour we've seen that it's working unimaginably better than what I had hoped for. The smiles on their faces. You can really tell if the crowd is not having as much fun as you'd hoped. Well, most crowds have been dancing and clapping and laughing, and that's what we want. That's great.
"So I'm actually not too worried about losing any fans. And most importantly, this is the music I feel honest doing right now and I am having fun doing it. And that is most important. And if it didn't work and people didn't like it, at least I knew I was doing what was in my heart as an artist."
She and the Sleepers sing and play along a fine line between striving for musical perfection and just cutting loose on stage and having fun.
"We totally try to make it perfect," Ms. Smith said. "We rehearse a lot, we do warm-ups. We really like to have a polished sound, locked in, clean and tight. We put in a ton of effort to get that result.
"But I think that shows are better for us if we're having fun. If we're thinking too hard about it, it doesn't turn out well. But if we're having fun, that's how we get in our pocket. We like to sound tight and polished, but we value the audience having fun. There's so much energy in a live show and that's way more important than sounding clean and perfect.
"We've got some Type-A personalities, but they can party."
Ms. Smith and The Good Night Sleep will be enjoying a dinner with her family before heading over to AVA Bar & Lounge, 126 S. Highland Ave., in East Liberty for their 9:30 p.m. show. If you get there early, you can treat yourself to the opening act, Coastal Remedy, from Indiana, Pa. Cover is $5.
If you have a suggestion for something to do some evening, let us know about it and we'll see if we can get some of our friends to join you. Contact Dan Majors at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1456.