Alexandria Live Music Week
Photo: Trent Johnson

Alexandria Live Music Week Shines Spotlight on Local Talent

Alexandria Live Music Week Cofounder Scott Fallon is enamored with music. If you get a chance to chat with him, he’ll inundate you with his vast knowledge of the various music scenes found in Austin, New Orleans and Baltimore. Even though he’s a connoisseur of sounds throughout the country, when speaking about the hidden talents in his hometown of Alexandria, Va., his voice reaches an altogether different level of enthusiasm.

“We’re both hippies,” Fallon says of himself and cofounder John David Coppola. “When people think about Old Town, they think about history and shopping, but there’s a vibrant nightlife and an interactive arts scene. We interact with that all the time.”

Alexandria Live Music Week, from September 30 to October 8, highlights the budding scene Fallon describes. Even though Old Town Alexandria is known for its venerable buildings and historical significance, the music festival will host at least 200 bands performing at more than 60 local venues.

“We see it, so why not here?” Fallon asks. “It became an idea over beers, and we sort of took a leap of faith.”

Fallon and his crew’s involvement in booking varies on the venue, with big fish such as The Birchmere participating in the week’s lineup with previously scheduled shows. For smaller places, Fallon suggests local musicians who fit each locale’s size and genre.

“Some venues already have music seven days a week, and they don’t need us, but we help promote them during the week,” he says. “With other venues, we help spur them on to have different kinds of music, such as [featuring] local musicians. Ultimately, our mission is to promote the musicians of the area.”

Seemingly every question asked ends with the mission of wanting to promote local musicians in the area. One band set to perform, The Glimpses, participated last year and was more than happy to join the festivities again.

As lovers and residents of Alexandria, it was very fun to play in the heart of Old Town on Durant Art Center’s stage, and to celebrate the festival with local music lovers,” The Glimpses’ Mercedes Mill says. “There’s so much great music in the DMV area, and festivals like Alexandria Live Music Week help musicians and music lovers connect at lots of cool venues.”

One addition to this year’s Live Music Week is the inclusion of Del Ray venues. As part of Alexandria, it was a goal to get the neighborhood involved in this year’s rendition because of the creative culture brewing on that side of town.

“Even though Del Ray is part of Alexandria, it’s almost like two different worlds,” Fallon says. “It’s more of a hippie enclave and community-based, whereas Old Town is a little more bureaucratic.”

Mills is particularly amped to play at Del Ray’s “diner-esque spot” FireFlies, as the band lives right down the road from the community.

“We love FireFlies,” Mills says. “They have great food and brews, and feature all kinds of entertainment – everything from comedy acts to Sunday bluegrass.”

The more venues involved, the more opportunity for local acts, Fallon exclaims, as he once again reiterates what he seeks to improve on the most.

“We really want to put an emphasis on the local aspect of the event,” he says. “We made a concerted effort to open up [the festival] to more of Alexandria, and we want everyone in the city to participate.”

Though this year’s shows highlight jazz, blues and softer, easier sounds, Fallon says this lineup happened organically. In the future, he hopes to introduce Northern Virginia crowds to more eclectic types of music.

“Let’s bring all of the artists out there. Let’s consolidate and bring them together.”

For a full schedule and list of venues, visit www.alexandrialive.com.

 

Bumper Jacksons
Photo: Mike O. Snyder

Bumper Jacksons Raising the (Barn) Roof

On a humid evening this past August, a crowd of costumed, bicycle-riding revel makers took to the streets of DC, led on their wheels by a six-piece, traditional, old-time jazz band, instruments in tow (including the upright bass) on makeshift pedicabs. To a tourist, the sight must have been one to behold; but to the Bumper Jacksons, it was just another Wednesday.

Since forming in 2012, core duo Jess Eliot Myhre and Chris Ousley, along with the rest of the Bumper Jacksons, have quickly become one of the District’s most well-known and eclectic musical ensembles. When they’re not officially performing, which is rare, members of the band find a myriad of other ways to bring music – and camaraderie – to the city they call home. Partnering with local bikeshop BicycleSPACE for a “social ride” is a prime example.

“I asked [BicycleSPACE] to help do a special edition of [one of their social rides] as a backdrop for a music video,” says vocalist/guitarist Ousley. “They came out in awesome costumes, I built a drum riser on the back of a pedicab and the band played tunes all through downtown with a big crowd of happy people. Lots of bikers joined in with us when they saw us passing by. It was awesome.”

The resulting video will be released this spring with the band’s forthcoming third album.

The band’s sound and look are old-timey, but not without sass – a bit like a neon victophone. It’s solidly jazzy (notes of frontwoman Myhre’s stint in New Orleans float into many of the tunes), slightly bluesy, but mostly simply makes you want to find a sweetheart and an old pair of swing shoes to shine up and take out dancing – like really dancing.

Which makes sense. Ousley (a “Maryland boy”) and Myhre (a “native Floridian”) met playing in a contradance/square dance band, the Sligo Creek Stompers, where Ousley says “[the two] first discovered [their] musical chemistry and the joy of melding, developing and remixing the diverse sounds of American roots music.”

From there, both a musical and personal relationship grew, and as the duo toured the country, they began slowly adding other musicians from the circuit – with a pedal steel here, a suitcase percussion there – until they rounded out their now steady lineup with Brian Priebe (trombone), Dave Hadley (pedal steel), Dan Samuels (percussion) and Alex Lacquement (bass).

“Our sound matured and grew organically,” Ousley says. “We didn’t plan to have the instruments we have. We just took the players whose personalities and musical interests fit our own. It’s really fun to have more colors to paint with.”

Their repertoire is indeed colorful, and the band’s second album, Too Big World, showcases the breadth of derivations on traditional folk that the Bumper Jacksons are capable of blending. Slow and lazy river harmonic rounds in “Jubilee” fade into sultry come-hither vocals from Myhre in “Trouble in Mind.” “Bully of the Town” is big and brassy, whereas “Adventure Story” is a modern lullaby a la Brandi Carlile.

In the short span of four years, the Bumper Jacksons have managed to cover a lot of ground. While they call DC home, they’ve traveled the country – playing venues big and small – from intimate lounge shows to traditional theaters, and barns and big festivals to the Kennedy Center. At the end of this month, the band is excited to raise “The Barns” at Wolf Trap in Vienna, Va.
“It’s seriously one of the best sounding rooms in the area – few places come close. We’ve been in the audience so many times, and we’re really looking forward to being on the other side.”

And while it is no surprise that fans at events like the Charm City Folk & Bluegrass Festival or Red Wing Roots Music Festival revel at the sight of Myhre’s washboard bass, one doesn’t immediately place a band singing about johnnycakes and venison, and sassafras tea and the Delta, in the same mental space as a city most musically famous for go-go and punk. Their appeal to the hometown crowd is perhaps an even bigger testament to the “it” that they seem to have. And though the members each have their own “spirit places” – New Orleans, St. John, Colorado, Philadelphia, Baltimore – DC inspires them to make the music they do. Myhre and Ousley agree.

“There’s an amazing entrepreneurial culture [here] that pervades more than the startups and NGOs. [They] see it in the artistic crowd, community organizations and more. It’s exciting.”

That entrepreneurial spirit is certainly alive for the Bumper Jacksons, who are able to make a living playing – the band is their main source of income – and paying it forward. Myhre, who built her own original washboard bass, makes, sells and teaches workshops on the classic American roots instrument. Other bandmates lead community classes in improv, old-time ukulele, upright bass and 1920s guitar – bringing it all back home to bike-riding bassists and their musical mission “to foster learning and growth in [their] audiences and [themselves].”

Catch the Bumper Jacksons at Wolf Trap on Saturday, October 22 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $22-$25. Learn more at www.wolftrap.org .
The Barns at Wolf Trap: 1635 Trap Rd. Vienna, VA; 703- 255-1900; www.wolftrap.org
Head and The Heart
Photo: James Minchin

The Head and The Heart Return to DC

After a brief hiatus, indie band The Head and The Heart are back with a new album and tour, which includes a mid-month stop at DAR Constitution Hall. The band, which was formed in 2009 in Seattle, has a history with DC – drummer Tyler Williams and guitarist/vocalist Jon Russell hail from Fredericksburg, Va., and grew up on a steady stream of DC punk. But while one-third of the band has roots in East Coast punk, The Head and The Heart’s latest album is a classic West Coast take on the indie sound that has made them a phenomenon in the past seven years.

Even if you’re not too familiar with the band, chances are you’ve heard The Head and The Heart. Their songs have been featured in TV and film for years, including the soundtracks for How I Met Your Mother, Sons of Anarchy and the trailer for Silver Linings Playbook, among numerous others. Although that’s been a leg up for the band, it doesn’t totally explain their rapid rise from a Seattle bar to world tours.

“It has been really quick and everything happened really fast for us,” pianist Kenny Hensley says. “So many bands tour for 10 years before they catch their break, and we put a lot of work into it, but it did happen really fast.”

The Head and The Heart’s origin story almost sounds like fate. Hensley happened to go to an Irish pub to watch a basketball game shortly after moving to Seattle from L.A., and happened to catch an open mic set from Russell and multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Josiah Johnson (currently on a health-related break from touring). The three struck up a friendship and started working on some songs, which they performed at the same open mic every week. Charity Rose Thielen, who plays banjo and violin, joined the band after hearing one of those sets, and bassist Chris Zasche was working at the bar as a bartender. Williams is an exception; a friend of Russell, he moved to Seattle after hearing a demo the group recorded.

“It was kind of a combination of super random events and a lot of luck, I think,” Hensley remembers.

But the luck kept coming as the band put in more and more work. They made copies of a self-titled EP, which helped garner attention from local record labels. Just one year in, they signed to legendary label Sub Pop Records, which remastered and expanded the album for release in 2011. In those first two years signed to Sub Pop, the band toured in the U.S. and Europe with Vampire Weekend, The Decemberists, Iron & Wine and Death Cab for Cutie, among others. Just two years after forming the band, they played on Conan and hit the Billboard 200 chart. A second album followed in 2013, as well as more touring. It was an exhausting beginning, and one that left everyone in need of a break.

“We hadn’t had a real break from each other and from the road in four or five years, and so coming into finishing the last album cycle and touring, we let everyone know we wanted to take an extended break to live normal lives and recharge a little bit,” Hensley says.

That break took different forms for the members of the band. While Hensley spent time in China, Williams came back to Virginia. Thielen worked with Mavis Staples, Russell went to Haiti and Zasche camped in the Canadian Rockies. When they came back together, they found themselves rejuvenated and ready to work on their third album, the newly released Signs of Light. It’s an album that Hensley sees as imbued with the space in which they wrote it, rather than a central message.

“We did write a lot of the songs in California at this studio north of San Francisco. The studio had this amazing floor-to-ceiling view of the ocean. I feel like the record sounds like a sunny, happy California record, and I hope people hear that. We were in a really good place when we were writing the songs, and I think that shows.”

After a few days in Europe, the band kicks off their Signs of Light tour in Nashville early this month. Their performance in the District is one Hensley is looking particularly forward to, not least because he’s a big fan of the city.

“I love being in that city, getting a [Capital Bikeshare] bike and checking out the monuments and museums,” he says. “It’s one of my favorite cities.”

The Head and The Heart are playing DAR Constitution Hall on October 22 at 8 p.m. More information and tickets are available at www.theheadandtheheart.com
DAR Constitution Hall: 1776 D St. NW, DC; 202-628-1776; www.dar.org/constitution-hall
Erin Anne Weston
Photo: Nick Donner

Local Songwriter Erin Anne Weston Launches Folk Music Career

Erin Anne Weston is no stranger to music. The Arlington, Va.-based musician has been playing and writing music since she was introduced to violin at age seven, and has been making her mark on the DC music scene for the past six years with her band Left on Vermont. After meeting a producer in L.A. this summer, she felt encouraged to continue writing and nurturing her folksy sound and decided to turn her dream of becoming a songwriter into a reality. She recently launched a Kickstarter campaign through Indiegogo in order to meet her monetary goal to produce her third solo album, Anchored. On Tap had the opportunity to catch up with Weston before her Kickstarter campaign ends this Friday.

On Tap: What drew you to violin lessons as a child?
Erin Anne Weston:
I fell in love with the violin when I heard Vanessa Mae for the first time. She played classical violin on an electric violin with a full band, and I thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever heard. I had to learn!

OT: What genre of music do you play? Who are some of your musical influences?
EAW:
My music is most easily categorized as folk rock, but there are subtle blues and country influences that come through the music, too. I love John Mayer, Nora Jones, Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson, among so many other musicians and bands. I can’t stop listening to The Head and the Heart’s new album or the Lone Bellow with their incredible harmonies. I think there are elements of each of these styles that come through in these songs.

OT: Your sound has been compared to Colbie Caillat and Coldplay. Did this come as a surprise to you? Are you inspired by these artists’ particular sounds?
EAW:
I have heard the Colbie comparison before and I love her music, so it’s a welcome comparison! Coldplay was a total surprise. I have seen them in concert, and they are incredible performers and songwriters. I think their use of a choir for backup vocals, catchy drums and easy-to-sing melodies has influenced so much music, including my own.

OT: Did you have an “a-ha” moment that led to you deciding to pursue music full-time? If so, what was it?
EAW:
I’ve always played music or performed in some capacity – violin growing up, choir and musical theater in high school, acapella and songwriting in college, and various bands after that. A solo career felt like more of a dream until I played for a group in L.A. this summer and got some great feedback from a big-time producer there. It really encouraged me to pursue this wholeheartedly.

OT: Apart from songwriting, I see you have a photography business with your husband. What led you both to specializing in wedding photography?
EAW:
Nick and I love photography that brings us close to authentic and genuine human moments. We have photographed couples from their wedding day to their second or third kid. We really consider ourselves portrait experts, and enjoy being a part of people’s most important life moments and creating beautiful images for them.

OT: Before your experience in L.A. this summer, what were your thoughts regarding a full-time career in music? Did you feel you were at a roadblock?
EAW:
I have been pursuing photography pretty exclusively the past few years, and once business was doing great and became very stable, I began to suspect that I might have the option to pursue music more intentionally if I gave myself the permission to do it. Joining the band at my church and meeting the producer in L.A. solidified that conviction, as I had been ramping up my solo music to prepare for the house concert where I met him. The most important realization I’ve had is to always have music be a part of my life and share my work with others. There’s an exchange there that people not only value, but need. We all need to know we have shared experiences and feelings. It’s part of belonging to each other.

OT: What advice do you have for other artists who may be hesitant to pursue their dreams?
EAW:
You’re always going to feel a little bit like an imposter when you’re going after something you really want. Don’t listen to that voice. What you have to offer doesn’t have to be the best in the world. We need more authentic connection in our art, and it starts with listening to your innermost voice and offering the world what is most unique to you. Be honest. Be authentic. Work hard. People want to help you when you are working hard to make something beautiful.

OT: I read chocolate was your favorite food. Do you have a particular brand you enjoy most?
EAW:
Yes! I absolutely love chocolate! Dark chocolate is my weakness, especially dark chocolate-covered caramels from Godiva. No contest.

For more information on Erin Anne Weston, or to donate to her Kickstarter campaign before it ends on Friday, go to www.indiegogo.com/projects/help-erin-launch-her-songwriting-career#/.

Farm Aid

Farm Aid at Jiffy Lube Live

Guests enjoyed Farm Aid’s annual all-day music and food festival at Jiffy Lube Live. This event featured a unique lineup of artists like Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, Neil Young, Dave Matthews Band,  and genres and family farm-identified, local and organic foods. Photos: Shelly Coates

Angel Olsen
Photo: Amanda Marsalis

Still Intensity: Angel Olsen at 9:30 Club

Angel Olsen’s records are often intimate, immediate affairs. Even on her most recent album, My Woman, with its echoes of Pat Benatar and Stevie Nicks, its guitar solos and synths, her immense voice cuts through, grabs you and holds you – alternately violent and cradling.

That being said, nothing compares to the experience of seeing her live. Her voice can fill a room without a microphone, and it somehow reverberates off of every surface. It’s not only an aural sensation – it’s an imposingly physical one as well. But it’s her stage presence that truly separates the live performances from the records.

Skilled painters are able to achieve an effect when painting faces where the eyes of their subjects seem to follow the viewer regardless of vantage point. This eye-tracking illusion is eerie, intimate, unsettling and most of all, commanding. Last night at 9:30 Club, Angel Olsen was somehow able to accomplish this effect with her voice. Regardless of where she was looking and what she was singing, it was as if she was looking and singing directly at you, or more accurately, directly through you.

Take “Acrobat,” for instance. The opening track from 2012’s Half Way Home, already foreboding, was slowed down and stretched with sizzling drums and droning guitars, turning the track into some kind of apocalyptic waltz heard darkly, almost submerged underwater. The crowd was silent, entranced, hanging on every syllable, when, during one of the carefully weighted silences peppered throughout the song, Olsen popped a smirk. She held it, surveying the crowd as if she wouldn’t continue until we were all ready, then gently intoned, “I thought that I died.” The power of the line, accented by the knowing smirk, sent a palpable shiver through the room.

The louder moments of the concert inspired shivers as well. Olsen and her band, who are as tight as they come, don’t move around very much. The performance is strikingly still, especially when compared to the excellent opening act, Alex Cameron, who strutted and danced across the stage. This stillness combined with the burning drive of “Forgiven/Forgotten,” the melodrama of “Shut Up Kiss Me” and the slow build on “Sister,” which after the mantra-esque chant of “All my life I thought I’d change” explodes into a guitar solo, lends the performance a kind of stirring power, an inward potential energy simultaneously repressed and expressed. The contrast builds what you might call a density of power, a thickness – sounds that might otherwise be diffuse all swirling around the singular, still, magnetic force of Olsen and her band.

This performance marked Angel Olsen’s first appearance at 9:30 Club, and it was nothing short of a triumph. I’ve never seen a crowd so transfixed, so silent, so willing to live and die by each siren like stroke of her falsetto or operatic quiver of her lower register. The show ended with an encore of “Intern” and “Woman,” both off the new album, and both vastly different songs musically and emotionally.

What makes Olsen such an incredible live act is that she approaches both her music and her performance with an actor’s intensity and commitment to craft. Regardless of the track, regardless of the mood, she fully inhabits each song. The audience can’t help but listen in wonder and awe.

Learn more about Angel Olsen at www.angelolsen.com.

Photo: Amanda Marsalis

Gipsy Kings
Photo: Michael Coleman

Gipsy Kings Still Electric 30 Years In

Nearly 30 years into their storied career, world music superstars the Gipsy Kings showed no signs of slowing down last weekend during a thrilling set at the Lincoln Theatre that had hundreds of people dancing in the aisles.

The iconic 10-piece band, which mixes traditional flamenco styles with Western pop and Latin rhythms, brought their A-game to the Lincoln and a near-capacity crowd responded in kind, cheering every number and singing along to most every song. Lead singer Nicolas Reyes and lead guitarist Tonnino Baliardo are the undisputed kings of the Kings, but it was the band’s talented younger members who injected the most energy and vitality into every number.

The Gipsy Kings, who hail from the south of France, incorporate elements of Latin and Cuban musical styles, as well as Arabic, reggae and jazz guitar reminiscent of the French gypsy master Django Reinhardt. And Washington, DC – one of the most international cities in America – couldn’t seem to get enough. The crowd gave its loudest applause for the band’s biggest hits, “Bomboleo” and “Volaré,” but also showed lots of love for some deeper, quieter and more obscure tracks.

Opening for the Gipsy Kings was Galen Weston, a Toronto-based guitarist whose playing can go from understated and elegant to furious and on-fire in the span of a single song. Accompanied by Richard Underhill’s blazing sax solos, Weston put on a guitar clinic that had me making comparisons to guitar masters such as Carlos Santana, Eric Johnson, Pat Metheny and Steve Vai. Weston’s debut album, Plugged In, features 12 tracks that include 10 originals by Weston and arrangements of Keith Jarrett’s “Country” and Jimmy Van Huesen’s “Like Someone in Love.”

The talented Canadian guitarist’s set was a fitting start to a masterful double bill of music at the Lincoln, and yet another reminder that DC is a great place to be a music fan. Learn more about the Gipsy Kings at www.gipsykings.com.

Widespread Panic

Widespread Panic at Warner Theater

Widespread Panic rocked the house at Widespread Panic at Warner Theater. Photos: Mark Raker

Flume

Flume at 9:30 Club

Flume rocked the house at 9:30 Club. Photos: KGabriellePhoto

Alabama Shakes

Alabama Shakes Brings Rock and Soul to Farm Aid

Farm Aid’s 31st concert will barnstorm into Bristow, Va. this month at Jiffy Lube Live, marking the third time the benefit will take place in our neck of the woods. Since 1985, the concerts, started by Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp and Neil Young (all appearing this year), have raised more than $50 million to promote the cause of family farmers all across the U.S.

In addition to Farm Aid’s three stalwart performers, this year’s show will also feature Dave Matthews (who is now part of the organization’s board), Sturgill Simpson, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Margo Price, Jamey Johnson, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, Insects vs Robots and Ian Mellencamp.

Another new addition this year is Alabama Shakes, the powerhouse rock and soul band from the small town of Athens, Ala. On Tap recently had the chance to speak to lead singer and guitarist Brittany Howard, who explained why the band wanted to join the Farm Aid tradition.

“We were very honored to be asked to play Farm Aid,” she said. “It is a great organization and cause that we are happy to be a part of. Being from a small town, we know the importance of supporting smaller, family-owned farms and businesses.”

The Shakes burst onto the scene in 2012 with their debut album, Boys & Girls. Previously, they were playing as a cover band around Alabama and the Southeast on weekends, and holding down day jobs during the week. But when their debut album and its lead single, “Hold On,” caught fire with listeners, that all changed. The band started playing major music festivals like Bonnaroo, and opening for acts like Jack White and even fellow Farm Aid luminary Neil Young. Howard remains humble and awed by the band’s swift successes.

“We are constantly shocked by the people we get to meet and perform with,” she said. “A few years ago, we were lucky enough to open a few dates for Neil Young, and he and his whole organization couldn’t have been nicer. We look forward to seeing him again, and hopefully we will get the chance to also meet Willie and John.”

After extensive touring behind Boys & Girls, the band returned to the studio and recorded their follow-up album, Sound & Color, which was released last year. It, too, struck a chord with listeners and critics alike, raising the band’s profile even more and earning them three Grammy Awards, including Best Alternative Music Album.

The band’s captivating sound and dynamic live performances weren’t just noticed by people in the music scene, as the band found out when they were invited to the White House for a tribute to Memphis soul as part of the ongoing “In Performance at the White House” series shown on PBS.
“It was pretty surreal,” Howard said. “The White House is one of those experiences that you go into not sure what to expect, and come out just amazed at how nice everyone was and how well we were treated. The President and First Lady are so sweet, and I love that they have brought so much music to the White House over the past eight years. I even got to dance with the President for a moment! I hope this is a tradition that continues.”
Alabama Shakes evolved between their first two records, and the band plans to do the same when it’s time to make a new one, Howard said. She said there’s not a set timetable, because the band needs their schedule to settle down before they can get their creative juices flowing again.

“We are still figuring that out,” Howard said, when asked about the timetable for the next release. “We will be taking some time off, and then look forward to getting back into the studio. We definitely push ourselves to constantly grow musically, and I know we will do the same on this next record. I really enjoy being in the studio and look forward to getting back to creating, when that time comes.”

In the meantime, the band will keep touring. Howard said they are “a pretty boring bunch” on the road, passing the time drawing, making “funny short documentaries” and watching movies. And as for the band’s success, she said there’s no secret other than old-fashioned talent and artistic integrity.
“As an artist and songwriter,” she said, “I think you hope people connect to the songs. We just try to stay true to what we want to do and hope people connect to it.”

Catch Alabama Shakes at Farm Aid on Saturday, September 17 in Bristow, Va. Tickets are $49.50-$189.50. Learn more about the show at www.farmaid.org
Jiffy Lube Live: 7800 Cellar Door Dr. Bristow, VA; 703-754-6400; www.farmaid.org

Photo: David McClister