Refreshing roots rockers

Band of Heathens - Ed Jurdi, from left, Seth Whitney, Gordy Quist, John Chipman and Colin Brooks - will play the State Theater at 7 and 9:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Band of Heathens - Ed Jurdi, from left, Seth Whitney, Gordy Quist, John Chipman and Colin Brooks - will play the State Theater at 7 and 9:30 p.m. Wednesday. STEVE BUSH/BAND OF HEATHENS

For Seth Whitney of Band of Heathens, playing at the State Theater in Olympia is a homecoming.

Seth, the bassist for the Austin-based Americana band, grew up in Olympia and his father, Bruce Whitney, is the musical director for Harlequin Productions, which now owns the State Theater. Harlequin artistic directors Scot and Linda Whitney are his uncle and aunt. Seth even appeared in Harlequin’s first production of “Hamlet” back in 1993.

On Wednesday, Seth and his fellow Heathens will play two shows at the State Theater, a place that holds many fond memories.

“I saw ‘Star Wars’ there for the first time in 1977,” Seth said of the theater, which had a previous life showing movies. “I’ll never forget driving up and seeing the marquee. That was pretty epic for a 7-year-old.”

When he was a teenager, he frequented the theater’s dollar movies. “I’ve lived through all of the State Theatre’s different incarnations,” he said.

The Wednesday shows will be Seth’s first time playing for a hometown crowd, except a few tiny gigs when he first got into music. His mom, Hope Whitney, lives here, and several other family members will be visiting for the occasion.

In fact, this is Band of Heathens’ first time in the Northwest, but it isn’t a particularly big gig for the roots rockers, who have appeared on “Austin City Limits” and will play several music festivals this summer, including Lollapalooza.

This year, the Heathens are up for an Americana Music Award for Group of the Year, and last year, the band was nominated for Best Emerging Artist.

“They’ve toured all over the country many times, and they’ve toured Europe, but they’ve never made it to the Northwest,” said Scot Whitney.

The Heathens have been compared to the likes of The Band and Little Feat, and the group has the soul of a jam band, too.

“What makes these Heathens so refreshingly different is the overall musicianship and seamless blending of alt-rockers, folk tales, gut-bucket blues and heartland anthems,” wrote a critic for the Chicago Sun-Times. A Wall Street Journal reviewer said the Heathens were the highlight of SXSW last year.

“I can’t say enough how great the band is,” said Bruce Whitney, who admitted he is a proud dad but who is certainly qualified to judge music. “I’ve heard them many times. They are extremely exciting live, with really fresh original music.

“And Seth and the drummer just really lock in. They are a great rhythm section.”

While Seth didn’t play music much growing up – he said he quit the violin in fourth grade and the trumpet in fifth – he was always surrounded by it. And he got a few basic lessons from Bruce in how to hear and play the bass part in a song.

“I’ve always loved music,” Seth said. “I didn’t pursue it when I was young, I think because my father was so good at it. I figured I’d go out on my own and try something else, but as soon as I played music with other people, I was transformed. I became obsessed, and I’ve never looked back.”