There was a lot of soul in the air when Lake Street Dive and Valerie June took the stage at Wolf Trap last week.
Steve Earle has been playing The Birchmere regularly for decades, since even before his debut album, 1986’s Guitar Town. He first visited the famed northern Virginia venue when he was playing bass in his mentor’s, Guy Clark, band. (Steve’s other mentor was the brilliant but deeply troubled songwriter Townes Van Zandt.) On Tuesday evening, Earle and his band, The Dukes (get it? it’s a pun on the early rockabilly song “Duke of Earl”) played the first of two nights at the club.
In the three and a half decades since the release of Guitar Town, Steve Earle has created a deeply respected and wide-ranging body of work. A self-described “cult artist,” his songwriting is held in the highest esteem by other writers, musicians, and artists. Although Steve may have left school after the eighth grade, his work is informed by a prodigious mind that delves incessantly into literature, history, and current politics. There’s a fearsome intelligence in his work, which has been noted by interviewers like Chris Shifflett, who has hosted Earle several times on his podcast, Walking the Floor.
I wasn’t sure what the experience of a concert would be like when I attended my first show since early March at The Birchmere on Monday evening. I knew that the concert hall would be a half-capacity, sold out for blues guitarist extraordinaire and singer-songwriter Samantha Fish. But I wasn’t sure what kind of energy such a crowd would generate.
Making her second appearance this year in the DMV, ace guitar slinger Samantha Fish tore it up at her first appearance at the 9:30 Club recently. (This summer, she led off a bill at Wolf Trap with Kenny Wayne Shepherd and the legendary Buddy Guy.) With a bevy of guitars at her disposal, the blueswoman heavily featured songs from her new LP, Kill or Be Kind.
“If you want Christmas music,” Robert Earl Keen told the Lincoln Theater recently, “go to the mall.” REK’s Countdown to Christmas Tour steered clear of holiday music until the encore, when he played the fan-favorite “Merry Christmas from the Family,” an ode to the dysfunction and craziness of the holidays.
Multiple award-winners The Travelin’ McCourys and Sam Bush played a double bill of bluegrass at the Birchmere Wednesday evening. The Travelin McCourys, formed from current and former members of the Del McCoury Band, took the stage first.
With talented sideman and fellow Tulsa resident John Calvin Abney accompanying him, Oklahoma singer-songwriter John Moreland delivered his trademark Americana ballads at The Birchmere recently. Opener Darrin Bradbury remarked that the previous night in Baltimore, he’d seen a grown man on the edge of tears during John’s set. “I’ve got to write me some of those,” he joked.
A strong crowd turned out for Amanda Shires’s “music show,” as she put it, at The Hamilton recently. At the beginning of her set, the lights dimmed and Leonard Cohen’s “You Want It Darker” played as Amanda and her band took the stage. Amanda began with material from the critically acclaimed album she released last year, To the Sunset, slinging her electric guitar, appropriately enough, on “Break Out the Champagne.”
There is a moment in The Empire Strikes Back when Yoda transforms into a being of incredible, transcendent power. Something very similar happened when the Taj Mahal Quartet picked up their instruments and started to play at The Birchmere recently.
Charleston, South Carolina folk-and-country-rock duo Shovels & Rope opened the annual Wheels of Soul tour recently. Married couple Carrie Ann Hearst and Michael Trent were the first of three heads of the beast that invades Wolf Trap every July. Curated by Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks (of the Tedeschi Trucks Band, who headline), the concert put a spotlight on the best of instrumental excellence and progressive, forward-thinking songwriting in Southern rock. It was a night of righteous jams and long-haired country boys.