Raul Malo recalls the first time that his group the Mavericks played Indian Ranch in Webster. “We had no idea what to expect, like ‘OK, it’s a campground-looking place with a beautiful lake,’ ” he says. “We didn’t know what was coming. … When people go to shows there, they’re ready to throw down and have some fun.”

Sounds just like the Mavericks—perhaps the perfect band for a rustic amphitheater that’s outgrown its image of catering strictly to country music. “We’ve branched beyond that too,” says Malo, 52, whose Miami-born, Nashville-based outfit opens the Indian Ranch season on June 16, for what has become a favorite annual stop.

The Mavericks’ eclecticism combines country twang, Cuban groove, Tex-Mex bounce and Malo’s rich-voiced balladry. “It’s hurt in terms of full-on commercial success, even though by all accounts, we are successful,” says the singer/guitarist, whose Grammy-winning group also plays the Martha’s Vineyard Performing Arts Center on July 18. “You can forge ahead with sheer bravado and stupidity like we have and break through, but it definitely makes it more challenging if you don’t fit into a neat little box. I don’t think it matters as much as a few years ago. … We’ve been able to solidify our fan base by relentless touring.”

Formed in 1989 as what Malo describes as a “hybrid rockabilly country alt-punk thing,” the Mavericks have kept busy since returning from an eight-year hiatus with a 2012 release. Now anchored by co-founders Malo and drummer Paul Deakin, keyboardist Jerry Dale McFadden and guitarist Eddie Perez (with guest live players on bass, accordion and horns), the group has since released three albums—half as many as the Mavericks made between 1990 and 2003, when they crafted hits such as “What a Crying Shame” and “Here Comes the Rain.”

The Mavericks play Indian Ranch on June 16

“You have to make a choice as an artist,” Malo says of putting out 2017’s Brand New Day on the band’s own label, Mono Mundo, which translates to One World. “What games do you want to play or do you make your own game and let people come to you and exist outside the mold or confines of the business?”

Brand New Day rolls from the Roy Orbison-esque orchestration of the optimistic title track to the jaunty, sax-infused “Easy as It Seems,” which suggests a ’60s TV theme song, couching jabs like “Building walls between us doesn’t fix a thing.”

That lyric makes sense in light of the Mavericks’ trip to Cuba last year, televised as Great Performances: Havana Time Machine on PBS. “To go out there as a performer and see the island in that way was earth-shattering for me,” says Malo, the son of Cuban immigrants. After meeting Havana rockers Sweet Lizzy Project on that trip, he sponsored their immigration to the U.S. and signed them to Mono Mundo. “I couldn’t stand to see more great musicians languishing away on an island that’s disconnected from the rest of the world,” he says. “We can really start to bridge that gap and maybe one day have a normal relationship with Cuba again. I know I’m a dreamer and idealist, but I’d rather do that than sit around and do nothing.”

Malo grew up with Cuban music in his parents’ home, where his father listened to country musicians like Johnny Cash and Buck Owens and his mother also loved opera. The singer says that his mother recalled how he’d bang on the lid of the family’s console record player as a child to request Frank Sinatra and that his life truly changed when he heard Elvis Presley’s “It’s Now or Never.”

“When my mom showed me that it was an old Italian melody or aria, that sort of made the connection, the thread that I needed to find that connects all kinds of music,” Malo says. “If the king of rock ’n’ roll can do an opera song, hell, you can do anything.”

His omnivorous musical appetite didn’t help the fledging Mavericks secure their focus. “I’ve gone with the wind and gone with the muse,” Malo says. “It’s safe to say we know what we’re doing now, but early on we were just flying by the seat of our pants.” ◆

For more music coverage, check out Paul’s Weekend Music Ideas


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