If most of 2020 (and, let’s face it, most of 2021) was a pressure tank waiting to explode, then the packed house at The Fillmore Silver Spring was the symbolic release Wednesday night as Japanese Breakfast performed to an audience eager for live music. And they certainly got that rush of excitement when, straight off a New York Times bestseller, “Crying in H Mart,” and an acclaimed new album, Jubilee, Michelle Zauner, the creative force behind Japanese Breakfast, kicked off her US Tour with the first stop at The Fillmore.
Not to sound like a Doubting Thomas, but as recently just a few months ago, I don’t think I would have believed it. But Wednesday night, I found myself walking into the Ottobar for the first indoor club show I’ve experienced in nearly a year and a half. Definitely the longest time I’ve gone without stepping foot in the my home away from home in probably 20 years. But if there was a show that bring us all back home it was seeing Mac McCaughan and Jim Wilbur of Superchunk on that raised stage, playing to a rapt, and vaccinated, audience that night.
One thing you can say about The Wood Brothers, they sure know how to put on a show. And it was a celebration that seemed to signal good things to come.
It goes, really, without saying, but it’s been a tough year. For many in attendance at the Frederick Fairgrounds Sunday evening, this was the first time seeing a live performance since the winter of 2020 — a long thaw indeed! But as Oliver (guitar/vocals) and Chris Wood (bass/harmonica/vocals) and multi-instrumentalist Jano Rix hit the stage things started heating up. That’s both figurative and literal as the summer heat kept drive-in attendees going back for some much needed refreshments from their cars.
What can be said for a year that began with so much promise but ends, well, like we are all feeling stuck in an alternate dimension. Looking back on my calendar which went so off the rails after two and a half months in, it really does look like a glimpse into a world that should have been but one that’s now alternate history.
But even in this bizarro world of COVID-19 there was some great music created at homes, online, socially distanced, and even on the streets! There is nothing that can beat the feel of a crowded show, the thrill of being there, and the joyous exhaustion that follows, but this past year we saw people pulling together – giving what they could – to keep live music alive despite every roadblock tossed in its way.
Since these lists are often limited by “best of” or Top 10, I want to include, well, all of those performances I caught this past year. There weren’t many, but each one I relive when I hear a song from a brilliant artist I’ve seen or go through photos from the past year. Here are my Top 12 Musical Moments of 2020 in chronological order.
As a fan of live music, going from seeing a show at least twice weekly to no shows at all for about eight months has been rough, but it’s nothing compared to what venues and artists have gone through in that time. It’s been a year of live-streaming, fundraisers, and trying to find new ways of keeping the making of music and the creation of these unique communal experiences alive through these difficult times.
One of those ways that have emerged in recent months is the advent of drive-in concerts.
Eze Jackson performs as part of the Creative Alliance’s Sidewalk Serenades on July 4, 2020. (Photo by David LaMason)
On a hot afternoon recently, right outside of my house in East Baltimore, the amazing Eze Jackson gave a spirited Sidewalk Serenade.
Sidewalk Serenades is a program through the Creative Alliance in Baltimore that helps local musicians provide socially distanced performances as a way to provide a vital line from artists to audience in the age of COVID-19. But it has the added benefit of highlighting the best musical artistry in and around Baltimore. And Eze Jackson is certainly one of the best.
There is such a rich variety of music throughout both Baltimore and DC, but it’s a rare thing to find places that are so in love with the arts that the place itself becomes part of that artistic experience.
Baltimore’s Creative Alliance, which formed back in 1995, has become a vital force in East Baltimore, expanding into the old Patterson Theater (itself over 100 years old) back in 2003 right when I, myself, moved into the neighborhood.
Like a blanket offered to a shivering stranger, “Even This Is Going to Pass,” by Eliot Bronson and featuring Lori McKenna, is a welcome and warm refrain in these tough times. The song which was just released as a single is helping to raise money for Feeding America, the largest domestic hunger relief organization in the United States.
Rams Head Live! has been around since 2004, but it feels like it’s been around for much longer. Since the closing of Hammerjacks the first time in 1997, there have been few places in Baltimore with the capacity of Rams Head that brings in some big (and future big) names in music with acts like the Beastie Boys, Lizzo, Jay-Z, and the Black Keys.