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.
Baltimore has been host to some legendary musicians and, I’d say, just as legendary music clubs. In addition to being a gallery space for the visual arts, the Metro Gallery, which is a mixed media space in the heart of Baltimore’s Station North Arts District, has been putting on some of the most eclectic performances by the best artists — local and international — you’ve ever heard of (or shortly will).
Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy with Emmett Kelly perform at the Lincoln Theatre on March 7, 2020. (Photo by David LaMason)
When I think of Will Oldham, whether it’s by his stage name, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, or the number of other names he’s recorded under (Palace Brothers, Palace Music), I think of a musical force that I’ve known for years but always seems to be around. What’s distinct about Will’s music is in the poetry of his words; the pastoral tones of his music; and that distinctive voice that sounds much older than its owner.
Sloan rocks the Union Stage on Feb. 22, 2020. (Photo by David LaMason)
Okay. So, I admit that I’m a fan, so saying that Sloan is one of the best bands around and that next to the term “power pop” in any reputable encyclopedia are the names Chris Murphy, Patrick Pentland, Jay Ferguson, and Andrew Scott is a little biased on my part. Four songwriters and musicians who have been writing and performing for nearly 30 years and right on the heals of releasing their twelfth LP, aptly titled 12, the band is in the midst of celebrating the 20th anniversary of their fourth record, “Navy Blues,” with an extensive tour.
And Saturday night at the Union Stage the quartet rocked the roof off to an awestruck audience.