The world outside Missouri has noticed Ha Ha Tonka.
Since October, the band from West Plains, Mo., has attracted attention from network TV, public radio and the Windy City.
In October, an episode of the TV show “Nashville” included the song “Pied Pipers,” a track on Tonka’s latest album, “Lessons.” In February, they performed live on National Public Radio’s “World Cafe Live.” And on Saturday, the band headlined the main stage on Day 1 of the 6 Corners BBQ Festival in Chicago, home of the band’s label, Bloodshot Records.
All that in addition to previous brushes with fame and celebrity, including an appearance with Anthony Bourdain on an episode of Travel Channel’s “No Reservations,” filmed in their native Ozarks.
Their popularity isn’t confined to this continent. They just returned from a six-week tour of Europe, where they were greeted warmly and enthusiastically over the course of more than two dozen shows.
Friday night, they’re on a bill with Making Movies at Knuckleheads.
Via email, Brett Anderson, who sings and plays guitar and keyboards for Tonka, talked about the tour and the charms of crowds overseas.
How were the crowds over there? What kinds of venues did you play?
This was our third adventure to Europe, adventure being the key word. We have a couple unspoken rules. One of them being, to quote “Spinal Tap”: “Have a good time all the time.” And so we did: Eat the food, drink the beer, hang out with the locals and try to communicate.
We played 29 shows over the course of 36 days at all sorts of venues: outdoor tents, barns, beaches and dives. It’s typical in Europe that you are the only band — an “evening with,” if you will. So it’s important to catch and keep the crowd.
I think it’s safe to say the crowds in Spain were the best: Screaming along to the lyrics and wild as hell. Needless to say, we had a blast, and overall, minus a few duds, it was a success.
What was the most surprising thing to happen over there?
We had a big surprise in Oxford, England. We played a university show. Unbeknownst to us, it was a ball. Everyone was dressed in tuxedos and ball gowns. We played to a bunch of 18- to 20-year-olds all dressed to the nines, while we were wearing our jeans and plaid shirts. Pretty funny scene in hindsight.
In Europe, nearly everything is interesting. Not just the people, but the places you play and crowd reactions. For instance, in Germany, after a song is finished, the audience will clap continuously until the next song starts. Not in rhythm, but just as their way of showing their appreciation for the music. It’s very humbling.
How has playing the new songs live so much changed the live versions of those songs?
We are a big fan of crowd reaction. When the crowd reacts, you know you did something enjoyable. So, a lot of the new songs and old we shape in accordance to that. We then later will exaggerate those parts in other shows to bring it to the max, especially when we are dealing with a rowdy crowd.
What are the band’s plans once you get back home?
We play Knuckleheads in KC June 20 with our good buds from Making Movies. June 21st we’re headed back to southern Missouri to play at one our favorite places, Dawt Mill, right outside West Plains. A few weeks off after that, then a three-week run on the East Coast.
Ha Ha Tonka performs at Knuckleheads, 2715 Rochester. Making Movies is also on the bill. Tickets are $15 in advance.