Live Music upcoming in Charlottesville
What a summer. By mid-June, it was already hotter than Hades, as my mom used to say. Don’t be surprised, if, by mid-July, it’s fry-an-egg-on-the-sidewalk-hot outside.
So what could be better than a night of red hot Texas blues in a cool, classic theater? Jimmie Vaughan comes to The Jefferson on Saturday, July 16. If his name isn’t immediately familiar, it may be due to the fact that his little brother was a guy named Stevie Ray. Yeah, THAT Stevie Ray.
Nevertheless, the elder Vaughan is no slouch on the Stratocaster and is considered one of the best blues guitarists in the business. With a signature Fender Strat in his name, a recent tour opening for (and playing with) Eric Clapton, and four Grammys under his belt, Vaughan has little to prove – and a lot to play.
Never as flashy as his late brother, Vaughan was the rock-solid center of The Fabulous Thunderbirds, an ‘80s-era Austin band that had a taste of commercial success with the 1986 album, “Tuff Enuf.” He’s been on his own since 1990 and continues to uphold the jazz and rock-influenced Texas blues tradition of legends such as T-Bone Walker, as well as the Three Kings (Albert, Freddie, and B.B.)
Vaughan recently released “The Jimmie Vaughan Story,” a career-spanning five-CD box set. The current set of shows, titled “The Story Tour,” should draw from all phases of his career.
I remember seeing the Fabulous Thunderbirds in the spring of 1982. They played an outdoor show in the gravel parking lot in front of the gym at my small Virginia college. Vaughan, his hair slicked back, in jeans, white t-shirt, and shades, was the epitome of cool. At 71, he’s still cool enough—and tough enough—to catch on a hot summer’s night.
A few weeks ago, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, or Jazz Fest, made a triumphant return to the Crescent City after a two-year hiatus. If you were fortunate enough to make it down there, you know what I’m talking about when I say there ain’t no place like NOLA for a healthy dose of musical funkification. And red beans and rice, of course.
It’s no exaggeration to say that New Orleans is foundational to American music. It’s more than just the birthplace of jazz, it’s where that most indigenous of American art forms gets all mixed up with the blues, R&B, rock, funk, and hip hop to create its own mélange of styles, which is just a fancy way of saying a gumbo of influences.
That’s why it’s so exciting that the Ting Pavilion is hosting Trombone Shorty’s Voodoo Threauxdown on Sunday, June 19th. This mini-Jazz Fest, curated by Troy Andrews, aka Trombone Shorty, is a blast from the Big Easy, with enough meat on the bone to satisfy even the most devoted fans of New Orleans music.
With Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue as the headliners, the bill also includes a range of musicians associated with the past, present, and future of the city’s traditions. The other artists on the Threauxdown include Tank and the Bangas, Big Freedia, Cyril Neville the Uptown Ruler, and The Soul Rebels.
But the act I’m most stoked to see is George Porter, Jr. and Dumpstaphunk playing the music of The Meters. If N’awlins is where it all began, then The Meters were there at the Big Bang, and George Porter, Jr. was holding down the bottom end on bass. Dumpstaphunk, headed by Ivan Neville, is the spiritual heir to The Meters and the band that best captures their pioneering sound. It’s a dream pairing of New Orleans musical royalty that may not be repeated any time soon, so if you want to seriously funkify your life, be sure you make it to the Pavilion on June 19.
May has sprung.
Outdoor shows flourish in the sweet spot before the summer heat drives us all inside again. With old standby Fridays After Five in full swing, look for a fledgling concert series to keep the river of vibes flowing into Saturday evening.
Rivanna Roots is a concert collaboration between local music collective The Front Porch, Rivanna River Company, and Sun Tribe Solar, held on the banks of the Rivanna River. In keeping with The Front Porch’s nonprofit status, the concerts will support Roots & Wings, a comprehensive music education program for children. The inaugural lineup, which begins in May and runs into sweater weather in October, is an impressive cross-section of local talent. We Are Star Children kicks things off in style on Saturday, May 21. Rivanna Roots is a welcome addition to Charlottesville’s summer scene.
If lazing on a blanket by the river is a little too mellow for you, the Southern Café & Music Hall has several options for breaking out the black t-shirts and Keds sneakers. May is packed with good stuff.
On Sunday, May 8, old skool wild man Jon Spencer brings his latest band The Hitmakers to town.
Spencer has played his patented brand of distorted fuzz-rawk with everyone from The Sadies (RIP Dallas Good) to R.L. Burnside. When Spencer (with the Blues Explosion) teamed up with Burnside for the 1996 classic “A Ass Pocket of Whiskey,” the planet shifted slightly on its axis. I still put this one on for maximum-volume R&R therapy. Bonus: On the skins with the Hitmakers and opening band Quasi is none other than Sleater-Kinney alum Janet Weiss. I do not plan to miss this Sunday show.
And if that doesn’t satisfy your girl power jones, Sarah Shook & the Disarmers, with Shagwuf, are at the Southern on Friday, May 27. Shook, whose popularity continues to rise, may not be playing clubs this size for much longer. Catch her while you can.
Wow. Spring has sprung and shows are popping up just like daffodils as two years of pent-up demand, from both performers and patrons, brings live music back to bars, clubs, theaters, and larger venues.
Shows Not to Miss
April at the Ting Pavilion promises three great shows within 10 days – Modest Mouse (4/19), The String Cheese Incident (4/21), and Old Crow Medicine Show (4/28). On Saturday, April 30, Pro Re Nata brewery in Crozet will host New Potato Caboose in its airy and spacious performance space. This reunion gig from the ‘80s jam band pioneers (they are contemporaries of homegrown heroes Indecision) promises to bring in a crowd that’s older, not necessarily wiser, but definitely ready for an excuse to trip down memory lane.
Old Venue, New Life
Speaking of crowds, I ventured out to local dive bar Dürty Nelly’s on St. Patrick’s Day. I realize the day that honors the patron saint of the Emerald Isle can turn into a green beer amateur hour headache, but I was curious to check out the pub’s new outdoor patio. Sure enough, a steady stream of honorary Irish lads and lasses packed the bar three deep as happy hour turned into dinner hour and beyond. The patio is located smack on the corner of Fontaine and Jefferson Park Ave and it’s a great place to people-watch as well as a highly visible advertisement for what I’m calling the Nelly’s renaissance, or Nelly-sance.
The new management has taken a beloved, but (if we’re being honest here) declining, establishment and breathed new life into the old girl. The old-school regulars still haunt happy hour, but Nelly’s now has added a patina of cool to go along with the layer of beer, grease, and old cigarette smoke. The patrons sport more ink, piercings, lumberjack beards, dreads, and high-water skinny jeans (what’s up with that look anyway?) than before. That’s a good thing because dive bars are not to be taken for granted. This town already has precious few. By tweaking around the edges without changing the essential nature of what made this joint unique, the new owners have made Nelly’s into a throwback place where locals, hipsters, undergrads, grad students, and assorted ne’er-do-wells can feel at home. And don’t forget the working fireplace, the only bar that has one (that I know of) in Charlottesville.
Even better, with a brand-new house PA system, Nelly’s has improved what was already one of the best-sounding small room music venues in town. They’ve been steadily building up the live music bookings and now have offerings most nights and on weekends. I’m psyched to see the Silas Frayser Band on the lineup for April 16. Frayser is a singer-songwriter in the bluegrass vein of Tyler Childers, but with a more hippie country feel. It should be a great evening to celebrate the Nelly-sance.
Okay, I’m going to get this one out of the way right up front: Southern Culture on the Skids is NOT the title of a Ph.D. dissertation on the decline and fall of a depraved Faulknerian family dynasty. It’s the name of a long-running band out of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, that might just be the most fun you can have without getting nekkid. They hit The Southern on Friday, March 4.
Formed in 1983, the band consists of Rick Miller on guitar, Dave Hartman on drums, and Mary Huff on bass. This southern-fried power trio serves up an adult portion of some of the funkiest, slinkiest, greasiest tunes this side of the wrong side of the tracks. Their manic stage show is a sight to behold and makes the best use of a bucket of Wayco fried chicken I’ve ever seen (Eight Piece Box). The music itself exists in a dimension all its own way out where surf, punk, garage, and psychobilly intersect.
Over the years, I’ve seen SCOTS (as most fans know them) more times than I can count. Once, at The Jefferson, I witnessed two drunk frat boys catch pieces of fried chicken and hurl them back at Mary Huff way harder than they should have. Huff, in all her badassery, sized them up, made the V-shaped, in front the eyes “I see you” sign, gave them the finger, and never lost the beat. I worship her to this day.
Fried chicken mischief aside, SCOTS loves Charlottesville. They’ve passed through here many times, making regular stops at long-gone venues such as the Outback Lodge and Zippers. Don’t miss them when they descend on the Southern.
Later in the month at The Southern, check out a record release show from Nelson County’s finest, Lord Nelson (March 12) The Wooks (March 16) for some bluegrass, and, at the Jefferson, a two-night run with jamgrass stalwarts Railroad Earth (March 25 and 26).
It’s a good thing that February is the shortest month. It’s consistently cold, it still gets dark early, and we’re all genuinely fed up with winter. So, in honor of the season, this month’s entry will be brief.
And to add to the season’s misery, covid is still with us and is playing havoc with concert scheduling. At least two shows at The Jefferson —Yola (Feb. 13) and The Cadillac Three (Feb. 17)—have been postponed. So be advised to check the venue’s website before you go out.
The show that really grabbed my ear this month is Mdou Moctar at the Jefferson on Feb. 26. This left-handed guitar shredder is an ethnic Tuareg who hails from a tiny village in Niger. Inspired as a kid by Eddie Van Halen, Moctar and his band weave hypnotic textures of psychedelic Afro-pop, traditional melodies, flat-out guitar pyrotechnics, and socially conscious lyrics (in Tuareg, natch).
When I listened to his latest release, Afrique Victime, I heard echoes of another mesmeric guitarist, Philadelphia-based Steve Gunn. I’ve been a fan of Gunn’s music for several years, and his hooky songs conjure up a dreamlike state with catchy, repeated melodies. He’s a prolific artist, and sure enough, when I checked his website, I found that he’s just released an EP, Nakama, with bassist Mikey Coltun and rhythm guitarist Ahmoudou Madassane from Moctar’s band. Kindred spirits, indeed.
Moctar’s music is as expansive as his native Sahel, that vast region of Africa just south of the Sahara Desert. The opener, Emily Robb, is a one-woman guitar whirlwind whose squalling, feedback drenched instrumentals should be the perfect lead into the main act. I can’t think of a better way to spend a bitter February evening.
Omicron willing, January is a good month to go underground. It’s cold outside and even the hardiest music fans find that layering up only gets you so far. And besides, numb fingers can make musicians a bit grumpy.
At the Jefferson, check out the dark country tones of Lost Dog Street Band on Sunday, Jan. 30. Starting out as buskers, guitarist/vocalist Benjamin Tod and fiddle player Ashley Mae (with bassist Jeff Loops) delve deep into a ghostly Americana sound that evokes rough living, hard roads, and the redemptive power of song. Their upcoming album, Glory, echoes the stripped-down old time folk ballad direction the band will likely follow when it takes the stage. This show was moved from the Southern, so the buzz seems to be strong on this one. Also check out their cover of Warren Zevon’s classic junkie lament, Carmelita, from The Magnolia Sessions, a disc of originals and covers recorded live under the shade of a Southern magnolia on a hot, humid summer evening in Nashville.
The rest of the month belongs to The Southern. Jocelyn & Chris (Jan. 13) are brother/sister rockers with a big outdoor summer festival sound. This one promises to be loud and sweaty. Ryley Walker (Jan. 23) is an adept fingerstyle guitarist with roots in the flourishing Chicago indie scene. Palindromic jam band Dopapod cranks it up on Jan. 28 and the following night (Jan. 29), Nellie McKay, who has been making records since 2003, brings her torchy cabaret-style act to this small venue.
And if you’re willing to go further afield, Crozet’s Pro Re Nata Brewery has a full schedule slated for January. PRN has plenty of room for music with a spacious main hall and a smaller outdoor side stage. On Jan. 7, local Grateful Dead tribute band, the ‘77z, pays homage to the sound of the Dead in and around their late ‘70s, mid-career heyday, and usually open the second set with a killer Help/Slipknot/Franklin’s.
The spirit of the season is upon us. Robert Earl Keen is back in town on Wednesday, Dec. 8th at The Jefferson with his annual Christmas show, this year titled, “The Road to Christmas.” Keen’s signature holiday song, referenced below, has become a kind of country-fried, three-sheets-to-the-wind, Yuletide singalong and a staple of his live show.
…Carve the turkey, turn the ball game on
Make Bloody Marys ’cause we all want one
Send somebody to the Stop ‘N Go
We need some celery and a can of fake snow…
- Robert Earl Keen, “Merry Christmas From the Family”
Several years ago, he began structuring a holiday-themed tour centered around subjects ranging from the Apollo moon landing to ‘70s outlaw country. The evening showcases a selection of songs from each band member, a cluster of Keen classics, and features elaborate stage sets. But the centerpiece is “Merry Christmas From the Family” and its irreverent evocation of fractured – yet loving – family dynamics. The song is like a good-natured second cousin to fellow Texan James McMurtry’s more barbed and cynical “Choctaw Bingo.”
While Keen is a serious songwriter and a well, keen, observer of human nature, he’s also a master of the boozy party anthem. Keen always enlists a solid Texas-based opening act for this tour. In 2019, it was Shinyribs, and this year it’s singer-songwriter Waylon Payne. If you really want to get into the holiday spirit, don’t miss this show. Just remember to call an Uber and consider calling in a sick day on Thursday.
At the Southern, check out North Carolina-based Zack Mexico with New Boss and Piranha Rama on Saturday, Dec. 11. Signed to local label, Warhen Records, Zack Mexico has an interesting psychedelic surf sound anchored by two drummers. The band opened for Future Islands on a 2017 European tour.
And that’s it for the month. See you next year!
…A bag of lemons and some Diet Sprites
A box of tampons and some Salem Lights
Hallelujah, everybody say “Cheese”
Merry Christmas from the family
The live music lineup for November looks promising. See our top recommendations below. But first, allow me to riff a tad…
On Friday nights, the Champion Brewing Company taproom is punk AF.
Tucked away just off the Downtown Mall at 324 6th St. SE, this local brewery has more of a dive bar feel than others in the area. The sidewalk-level entrance leads to a basic barstool, a handful of tables facing two TVs and a big picture window of the brewing operation. The walls are decorated with framed black-and-white photos of historic, and in many cases, long vanished Charlottesville street scenes. But the real action is found on the outdoor patio area, a pandemic-era addition that includes a covered stage and ample picnic table seating.
On a recent Friday, a friend and I checked out a trio of local bands – Linda., Girl Choir, and the XSmashcasters – and it was a blast. Each band played a short set and the music ranged from indie rock to power pop crunch to punk yowl. It was loud, fast, and over by 10 p.m.
It was also a reminder that Charlottesville used to have small venues like Tokyo Rose, the Outback Lodge, the Annex, and a succession of others that hosted bands just venturing out from the garage. The Southern, the Front Porch, Miller’s, the Looking Glass space at Ix Art Park, and, well, the Garage are still out there, but the Champion taproom shows seem like a welcome throwback to the kind of indie rock showcase gigs that should exist in every respectable college town. Check out the apt pairing of Boxed Lunch and 7th Grade Girl Fight on Friday, Nov. 5th.
Both The Jefferson and The Southern have full slates in November. At the Jeff, join the Herd (as the fans are known) as jam band pioneers Donna the Buffalo (Nov. 6) trample their way through town. On Nov. 10, Circles Around the Sun play instrumental psychedelic jams, and to continue the Grateful Dead-adjacent theme, Lettuce roll into town on the 14th. Their Jerry Garcia Band-focused throwdown with members of Dead and Company at Lockn 2018 has gone down as one of that festival’s hottest sets ever. And to top off the licorice sundae (Deadheads will get the reference) Bigfoot County with Brothers and Sisters do a full-on pre-Thanksgiving Dead tribute on Nov. 24.
At The Southern, November has more of an Americana vibe. Chris Smither (Nov. 3) and Martin Sexton (Nov. 12) check the singer-songwriter box, while all-woman string band Della Mae (Nov. 14) and post-Old Crow Medicine Show Willie Watson (Nov. 16) check the folk and bluegrass boxes. Happy Thanksgiving!
But Wait! This just in: Management has just announced a crowd-pleasing Halloween show! Chamomile & Whiskey is already one of the best live acts in Charlottesville, hands down. The band’s Halloween Bash, like its St. Patrick’s Day throwdown, is the stuff of local legend. Don’t miss this show!
Then winter will have its way with this outdoor venue. Never fear! With spring shows already scheduled for the String Cheese Incident and Leon Bridges, here’s hoping for a full 2022 slate—heralding a return to normal—to be announced soon.
The action shifts inside as the fashion slides into flannel and fleece. The Jefferson opens the month with a one-two punch of Tennessee-based bands. I’ve got a soft spot for Boy Named Banjo (Oct. 7) — Note: this show has been moved to The Southern — because two of the founding members went to Sewanee, where I grew up, and the band’s gentle, Avett-style Americana is a great choice for date night.
Lucero (Oct. 17), on the other hand, hails from Memphis. These guys have been playing greasy, punky, Southern alt-rock for a long time and are the perfect choice for when your date bails, or better yet, if she shows up in cowboy boots, ripped jeans, Sun Records t-shirt, and a trucker hat. Yowza!
The shows come fast and furious the last week of the month, with two jam-heavy bands (Spafford, Oct 26; Tauk, Oct. 30) bookending a couple of rootsier alternatives. Lubbock-based Flatland Cavalry (Oct. 28) showcase fiddle-heavy tunes full of Texas twang and ‘tude. On Oct, 29, literate and long-lived The Mountain Goats bring the kind of indie cred that’s possible when your front man, John Darnielle, is a New York Times bestselling author and your drummer Jon Wurster’s other gig is with Superchunk.
Down at the Southern, two shows stand out. Chatham County Line sprang out of the Great Alt-Country Scare of the late 1990s and has had several discs released on Yep Roc Records. The Raleigh-based quartet recently added a drummer to its mostly stringed instrument lineup. The band’s 2019 all covers release, Sharing the Covers, included a great version of Wilco’s I Got You (At the End of the Century). Politely request that one at their Oct. 16 show.
On Oct. 24, Austin-based Emily Wolfe brings her skronky, effects-heavy guitar rawk to the club, with a show that should please all the gear heads out there. The Southern is one of the last underground (literally) clubs left in Charlottesville, (RIP The Mineshaft and Tokyo Rose) and it’s a great place to see a band that’s really loud. Wear your ear plugs for this one or stand right next to the speaker. It’s your choice.