Steve Earle performs at The Birchmere on July 20, 2021. (Photo by Ari Strauss)
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.
Samantha Fish performs at The Birchmere on Oct. 19, 2020. (Photo by Ari Strauss)
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.
Samantha Fish performs at 9:30 Club on Dec. 17, 2019. (Photo by Ari Strauss)
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.
Robert Earl Keen performs at the Lincoln Theatre on Dec. 6, 2019. (Photo by Ari Strauss)
“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.
The Travelin’ McCourys perform at The Birchmere on Oct. 23, 2019. (Photo by Ari Strauss)
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.
John Moreland, right, performs at The Birchmere on Oct. 1, 2019. (Photo by Ari Strauss)
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.
Amanda Shires performs at The Hamilton Live in DC on Aug. 17, 2019. (Photo by Ari Strauss)
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.”
Taj Mahal performs at The Birchmere on July 25, 2019. (Photo by Ari Strauss)
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.
Shovels & Rope perform at Wolf Trap on July 17, 2019. (Photo by Ari Strauss)
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.
Blackberry Smoke performs at Wolf Trap on July 17, 2019. (Photo by Ari Strauss)
Georgia rockers Blackberry Smoke filled the second slot on the recent Wheels of Soul Tour at Wolf Trap. With the dual guitar attack of Charlie Starr and Paul Jackson (on lead and backing vocals, respectively), these five long-haired throwbacks evoked the halcyon days of Southern rock — and groups like Lynyrd Skynyrd.