Hozier performs at the Hippodrome Theater in Baltimore on March 13, 2019. (Photo by Matt Ruppert).
Filled seats, flashing lights, rattling rafters, and the kind of folk-soul hybrid that shakes the soul and moves the feet. This defined the Hippodrome Theatre in Baltimore recently as Hozier took an audience’s hearts in his hands then broke and reconstituted them.
The Dead Tongues perform at Jammin Java on Feb. 17, 2019. (Photo by Matt Ruppert)
I walked around Jammin Java on Sunday, its brick walls reflecting the stagelights, crowd slowly filling in. My wife asked if I wanted a beer; we went to the bar, where a gaggle of musicians ordered drinks, special opener Molly Sarlé holding a bouquet of white and yellow flowers. Ryan Gustafson, also known by his stage name The Dead Tongues, walked away last, but not before I could say, “I’m really looking forward to the show.” He stopped, turned, looked me in the eyes, telling me “Thanks so much,” with a hand on my shoulder.
Lucinda Williams performs at The Anthem on Feb. 8, 2019. (Photo by Matt Ruppert)
By nearly all accounts, Lucinda Williams is the undisputed queen of Americana. Car Wheels On a Gravel Road, recently passing its 20th anniversary, is a desert island record for nearly anyone who’s had the privilege of settling down with its songs. Full of nearly interminable heartbreak, its characters somehow keep picking up the pieces to start again.
And so, Lucinda rolled into DC with the Drive-By Truckers and Erika Wennerstrom to play The Anthem on an unseasonably warm night recently.
Drive-By Truckers perform at The Anthem on Feb. 8, 2019. (Photo by Matt Ruppert)
Full disclosure: The songs of Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley have guided me through some of the best and hardest years of my adulthood. From the first discovery of Southern Rock Opera during my college years to the most recent American Band, I can write with confidence that their songs hold persistent meaning to me.
So, I will not be objective about the recent performance of Drive-By Truckers at The Anthem. Consider this your warning.
Sharon van Etten and her band performs at the 9:30 Club. (Photo by Matt Ruppert)
Anticipation hovered in the thick, rain-refracted light over 9:30 Club as the early crowd nestled close to the brick, waiting. Darkness and light bouncing back and forth, the air felt thick with hope, with expectation, as Sharon van Etten would take the stage at the club recently for the first time to play the songs off her new album Remind Me Tomorrow.
HC McEntire at Jammin Java on Feb. 2, 2019. (Photo by Matt Ruppert)
I remember when I first saw HC McEntire play on a stage with Mount Moriah, knees shivering with the music, her voice echoing off the tin ceiling and walls of Boot and Saddle in Philly. Cavernous, passionate, and ultimately transformative, in many ways. I read my journal from around that show and it has a quote I think is worth sharing – “Shimmying, we are alive,” which is a reference to the song, “Hail, Lightning” from their eponymous album.
Her recent show at Jammin’ Java was equally transformative.
Amen Dunes performs at the 9:30 Club on Jan. 31, 2019. (Photo by Matt Ruppert)
In the minutes before Amen Dunes walked onstage on Thursday, a kind of trance settled over the 9:30 Club.
The Seldom Scene performs at The 8×10 on Jan. 24, 2019. (Photo by Matt Ruppert)
The Seldom Scene is closer to their 50th anniversary (2021) of making music than they are to their 40th, and they maintain relevance in the scene that by many accounts they either buoyed or helped create. They certainly nodded to bluegrass traditions at The 8X10 in Baltimore recently. But like so many musicians that followed them, The Seldom Scene borrowed from other genres such as country, rock, and pop – with ease and a deep familiarity.
Japanese Breakfast rockets Baltimore Soundstage through the stratosphere on Jan. 19, 2019 (Photo courtesy of Matt Ruppert)
Michelle Zauner, who goes by the name Japanese Breakfast, has toured for what seems like forever, or at the least as endlessly as a musician can, since releasing Soft Sounds from Another Planet in 2017 (though she took a recent break in Bali to wind down (and hilariously glance askance at an influencer taking endless photos of food). She was back on stage, where she belongs, at Baltimore Soundstage recently.
Gregory Alan Isakov performs at Baltimore Soundstage on Jan. 12, 2019. (Photo by Matt Ruppert)
Just 61 days since he last came to the greater area (at 9:30 Club), Gregory Alan Isakov coasted into Baltimore at the Soundstage, one imagines in his old Vanagon (it wasn’t), his bandmates along for the ride.