For the last couple of years, actor Jeff Bridges has been making music with and touring with a backing band called the Abiders, a group of Santa Barbara, California musicians whose name pays homage to one of the most memorable lines in Bridges' most memorable movie, The Big Lebowski. But that wasn't what he initially wanted to call the group. "I wanted to go with 'The Royal We,' another Lebowski reference," he tells Rolling Stone in the deep, easygoing inflection that defined the Dude in the movie. "But all the guys said, 'No, the Abiders, man,' so we went with that."
Since his Oscar-winning role as the washed-up country artist Bad Blake in the 2009 movie Crazy Heart sparked Bridges' interest in playing music again, he made the 2011 country-rock album Jeff Bridges and has been making the time to tour more frequently with the Abiders. This summer, he'll be taking the group through the Midwest and up into the East Coast for the first time to play songs like the Crazy Heart single "Fallin' & Flyin'" and his own "What a Little Love Can Do." (He also intends to spread the word about No Kid Hungry, a nonprofit that provides free lunches to children in the summer nationwide; he says people who text "FOOD" to 877-877 can find meal sites in their area.)
To coincide with the trek, Bridges hopes to release a new live album, culled from Abiders performances in California, Texas and Las Vegas. He says he also has plenty of material for a new studio album, though no plan to record one in the immediate future. "I've been playing music since I was a kid, so there's a good back catalogue," he says. "Also, one of my main sources of music is my oldest friend, a guy named John Goodwin, who wrote a song for Crazy Heart, and he's written several songs on both of my albums I've got out. So we'll probably doing more of his songs on the studio album, too."
But for now, Bridges is keeping the band on the road, where his opening artist is his daughter Jessie, whom he taught to play guitar. "She took to it quickly," he says. "Now she writes so beautifully and has some great songs." Jessie has also been known to join Bridges for renditions of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's "Teach Your Children" and the 1970 Bob Dylan song "The Man in Me," which played throughout The Big Lebowski.
Incidentally, Bridges starred opposite Dylan in the 2003 movie Masked and Anonymous. What he does remember fondly about the experience is prepping for the movie. "When I got on board, I was sort of the 'senior thespo' on there, and [director Larry Charles] said, 'You might want to work with Bob for a little bit,'" Bridges says and then laughs. "For half a day, we played pretend together. I got to do some improvs with him." And while Bridges recalls Dylan coming to his trailer and saying, "You wanna pick?" and playing guitar with him – "a wonderful experience," Bridges kvells – he does not remember playing "The Man in Me."
Bridges did play that song, however, during the Abiders' performance at Lebowski Fest – a full-on celebration of bowling, bathrobes and White Russians – in Los Angeles this past April, an event he describes as "incredible." But it wasn't the performance that stood out most to him. "I hadn't seen the movie in its entirety for a long time," he says. "So after we played, I sat and watched it with the rest of the audience. And it was really a remarkable experience to be in the room with people who admire that movie so much, and you can just feel the love vibes going on. It was really terrific."
One of his favorite scenes remains the interpretive dance sequence by actor Jack Kehler, who played the Dude's landlord. Bridges used a photo he took of that scene for the cover of his 2000 album Be Here Soon. "We had a hard time keeping a straight face when we were shooting that stuff because he was so great," Bridges says. "I actually performed a little bit of that dance not too long ago. John Fogerty asked me to get up onstage with him at Sturgis, that big motorcycle rally, and we did [Creedence Clearwater Revival's] 'Lookin' Out My Back Door,' so I did a little bit of the landlord dance." He laughs and says, "It's inspiring," and sings the song's guitar part.
Even though he makes no qualms about dancing during a John Fogerty concert, Bridges says he still occasionally gets anxious before going onstage or getting in front of a camera. "It's something you kind of befriend," he says. "You get semi-used to it, but never entirely." On his upcoming tour, he intends to watch his daughter's opening set or maybe meditate to get in the mood. Of the latter relaxation technique, he says, "It kind of wipes the slate clean for a second, and all your expectations are put on the side and you get to be fresh."
But as his chat with Rolling Stone winds down, it's hard to imagine Bridges getting anxious at all. Especially considering the lightness of his very Dude-like farewell: "Toodle-oo."
Here are Jeff Bridges' upcoming tour dates:
6/26 Austin, TX - ACL 40th Anniversary @ Moody Theater
8/22 Hammond, IN - Horseshoe Casino
8/23 Milwaukee, WI - The Pabst Theater
8/24 Minneapolis, MN - Pantages Theater
8/27 Nashville, TN - Ryman Auditorium
8/29 Huntington, NY - The Paramount
8/30 Montclair, NJ - The Wellmont Theater
8/31 Alexandria, VA - The Birchmere
9/2 New York, NY - City Winery
9/3 Boston, MA - The Wilbur Theatre
9/5 Uncasville, CT - Mohegan Sun Casino
9/6 Ridgefield, CT - Ridgefield Playhouse