Singer Nick Hexum looks at the COVID-19 pandemic as a glass half full. His band, 311, hasn’t been able to perform since February, but the break has had its own benefits.
“I have three children—all elementary school age,” Hexum says. “What’s been really cool about it is I know I’m the one who taught my now-6-year-old daughter to read this year. I taught her to ride a bike. Because of this extended time, I’m the guy who taught her this. It’s a special memory that’ll last forever.”
But 311’s break is about to end for a bit. The reggae-rock band is scheduled to play two shows on Friday, November 13, as part of Concerts in Your Car at the Arizona State Fairgrounds.
“This has been our longest break,” Hexum says. “The only time we took a break this long was in 1998. We were touring so much then that we had to take a little break to get houses and find a place to live. We were living on the road. That was 22 years ago. It’s going to be nice to get out there and rock.”
Hexum says he and 311 signed on to do Concerts in Your Car—which also hosts shows in Ventura County, California, and San Diego—on the recommendation of the soft-rock tribute band Yachtley Crew. He’s good friends with the musicians, who play basketball and poker with him.
“Once he recommended it and said it was great, I said let’s do it,” he says. “Phoenix is a great market for us. I remember in the early days, Phoenix and Atlanta were two of the first places that embraced 311. I’m talking 1993, the early days, when ‘Do You Right’ was our first single.”
The Nebraska natives are ready to unleash their pent-up energy that’s equal to those days 30 years ago, Hexum says.
“I think there will be a lot of joy uncorked since we’ve been itching to play for so long,” Hexum says. “We have an amazing crew and production manager who’s going to design a killer-looking stage to make sure it’s visually worth it and custom designed for the unique stage setup we have.”
This year, 311 was slated to tour in support of its 30th anniversary, which was waylaid because of the coronavirus. As part of the celebration, 311 is sharing congratulatory messages on its YouTube channel from fans and celebrities like Venus Williams.
“She’s an inspiring person to know,” he says. “She’s taking some inspiration from us. That feels good. She came out in Florida early last year and she said, ‘I’ve known you for a long time. I remember what it was like when I first heard the words to ‘Flowing’ on the radio. The words moved me so much. It’s nice to see someone else is going through what I’m going through.’
“That was her gateway to get into the world of 311. She’s come to a lot of shows. She saw us once and brought Serena, who brought Common. I thought this was the coolest backstage scene.”
Hexum, 50, has a photogenic memory when it comes to the 30 years of 311. For example, he vividly recalls the moment he realized 311 was more than a hobby. It was a career. It was the band’s first show, June 10, 1990, at Sokol Hall in Omaha.
“The first show we had we opened for Fugazi and the place just erupted into a wild mosh pit,” Hexum recalls. “I thought, ‘We’ve got something.’ It was that early in our career. I knew we tapped into something really special.
“I thought we just have to get out there and play for people. Everyone was ready to move out to California together.”
The plan worked. In three decades, 311 has released 13 studio albums, 10 of which reached the Top 10 on Billboard’s Top 200 albums chart. Nine of its radio singles reached the Top 10 on Billboard’s alternative radio chart. The road dogs played more than 2,000 shows—including 11 311 Day events and six Caribbean cruises—across the nation and 27 countries.
In mid-August, 311 launched a nine-part webisode series called “30 Years of 311” that is posted on 311’s online social channels on Wednesdays. They feature 7-minute video clips spanning 311’s career.
“The pandemic has given us time to take stock at how blessed we are,” Hexum says. “When you think about how wild the early shows were, we’ve changed a lot over the years. We’re always improving.”
The show in Phoenix will be in the round to allow fans maximum visibility. Hexum says playing in drive-ins is a thrill for him.
“Everybody gets to be very close, and we’ll have space to run around in a new setting,” he says. “Drive-ins were a big part in Omaha, Nebraska. We had a huge station wagon, kind of like the one in Chevy Chase’s ‘Vacation’ movies. We would turn around backward and go and watch double and triple headers and the ‘let’s all go to the lobby’ and get snacks song. I have very fond memories of going to the drive-ins in Omaha. To be the entertainment at the drive-in is really cool.”
311, 5:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Friday, November 13, Arizona State Fairgrounds, 1826 W. McDowell Road, Phoenix, tickets, in advance only, start at $99 per car. concertsinyourcar.com or 311.com/shows.