Live Music upcoming in Charlottesville
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.