Robert Earl Keen performs at The Birchmere in Alexandria, Va., Jan. 28, 2021. (Photo by Ari Strauss)
Texas troubadour Robert Earl Keen recently put on two performances at legendary Alexandria, Virginia, music venue, The Birchmere, on Jan. 27 and 28. Traveling with a scaled down version of his usual road band, Robert performed as an acoustic trio which included himself on lead vocals and guitar, Kym Warner on mandolin and backing vocals, and Tom Van Schaik on drums and percussion.
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.
The year started out typically enough. But the way it began and how it’s ending are startlingly different. By the end of March, so many plans and hopes were dashed that now, as we race toward 2020’s conclusion, many of us feel they may never be realized.
Like so many others in this Year of Covid, I’ve had a chance to reflect, reassess, and reset for the coming year, sorting out what is, and isn’t, important. I enjoy photographing people, whether it be portraiture, cultural documentation, or musical performance. As a photographer, I strive to become invisible and capture moments as they are, not as I or the subject, would like them to be. Although photographing live music has been challenging as of late, I’ve been afforded the luxury of time to go through my archives and, as a result, have made a belated but important discovery: the final image must also render the photographer invisible.
(Originally scheduled for Dec. 17, this concert has been postponed due to the DC mayor’s latest moratorium on live music.)
Vanessa Collier, acclaimed soulful blues singer/saxophonist and 2020 Blues Music Awards “Instrumentalist – Horn” winner, who’s just released acclaimed new album Heart on the Line, performs a socially distanced, intimate duo performance with featured guitarist Arthur Neilson at The Hamilton Live on Thursday, Dec. 17.
moe. performs at the Frederick County Fairgrounds on Nov. 7, 2020. (Photo by Casey Vock)
American flags were hoisted high in the air Saturday night at drive-in out at Frederick County Fairgrounds and music lovers from the DMV seemed to be, for the most part, celebrating a day that marked a shift to a new presidential administration — at least tentatively.
And who better to host such an ordeal than moe.? One of the country’s most seasoned touring jam bands of the last several decades, moe. scheduled the show just a few weeks back as their last of the year and arrived as the perfect candidate to celebrate what felt like an All-American kind of night at another “Showtime at the Drive In” presentation hosted by All Good Presents and Baltimore Soundstage.
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.
Jon Ryan MacDonald fronts Fellowcraft at DC9 on Oct. 27, 2020. (Photo by Mickey McCarter)
Like four links in a chain, the members of Fellowcraft relaxed and rolled to the rhythm in a performance at DC9 recently. The four guys hadn’t performed for an audience in more than seven months, but they instantly drew tight as they rocked through 12 big tunes for a successful livestream.
Cris Jacobs performs at the Frederick County Fairgrounds on Oct. 21, 2020. (Photo by Casey Vock)
Cris Jacobs, a Baltimore native and arguably one of the Charm City’s top songwriters and performers, took the stage recently in support of Grace Potter way out at the Frederick County Fairgrounds.
His appearance was announced just a few weeks back as part of what has become the unexpected gift of the fall season — the Showtime at the Drive In series of performances hosted by All Good Presents and Baltimore Soundstage. It was Cris’ first time performing at a drive-in style concert and his first live gig since February.
Grace Potter performs at the Frederick County Fairgrounds on Oct. 21, 2020. (Photo by Casey Vock)
While performing musicians painfully prepare for what could be a long winter with limited options for reaching their fans in the flesh, some have made the trip to Maryland as of late to take advantage of the opportunity provided by the newly dubbed Showtime at the Drive In series of concerts being held at the Frederick County Fairgrounds.
Last week, Grace Potter made the trip down from her current home in the mountains of Vermont to take the stage for a solo performance organized by All Good Presents and Baltimore Soundstage.