Two of the most unique singer-songwriters working today graced the stage of The Birchmere recently — Todd Snider and Aaron Lee Tasjan. Both, in some sense, are part of the alt-country/Americana scene, though putting them into this genre box is far too reductive.
While both draw on classic songwriting traditions, they put a modern — perhaps even a postmodern — twist on them. They share a delightfully warped, witty sense of humor, perhaps connected to their fondness for psychedelics.
For the War and Treaty — the duo of Michael Trotter and Tanya Blount-Trotter — last week’s appearance at Wolf Trap was a homecoming. Tanya is a DC native, and friends and family of both Michael and Tanya appeared throughout the show. Tanya’s eighth grade band teacher played the trombone in their horn section, Michael’s mother came on stage for a song, and Tanya’s brother sang, too.
The War and Treaty has a Motown spirit, a country soul, and a classic rock ‘n’ roll heart. On July 29, their performance was full of high energy and infectious joy, and it got loud. There was plenty of crowd engagement, with Michael getting the crowd to sing and clap along. He formally greeted the audience by saying, “Welcome to the Church of the War and Treaty, formerly known as Wolf Trap.”
Aoife O’Donovan performs at Wolf Trap on July 28, 2021. (Photo by Casey Vock)
When singer-songwriter Aoife O’Donovan last appeared at Wolf Trap four years ago, she performed in the trio I’m With Her as part of the American Acoustic package tour, which also included the Punch Brothers. At the time, she noted, she was seven months pregnant; she referenced this in one of the evening’s songs, “Elevators.”
Aoife reappeared at Wolf Trap recently as a solo headliner. Normally, she told the audience, Wolf Trap is a venue where she would be an opener, but, because the venue is running at low capacity for social distancing, she was given the opportunity to headline.
Chris Thile performs at Wolf Trap on July 24, 2021. (Photo by Casey Vock)
Chris Thile loves playing at Wolf Trap. On Saturday evening, he called it “the best outdoor ampitheater in the world.” Over the years, Chris has played Wolf Trap with his main band, the Punch Brothers, and as the host of the (tragically) canceled NPR variety show Live From Here.
A mandolin virtuoso, Thile first emerged on the the music scene as a member of the bluegrass trio Nickel Creek with siblings Sean and Sara Watkins, who won a Grammy for their 2002 album, This Side. During Saturday’s show, Chris performed “Rest of My Life,” from Nickel Creek’s 2014 reunion album, A Dotted Line.
Asleep at the Wheel performs at The Birchmere on July 8, 2021. (Photo by Casey Vock)
For five decades, Austin’s Asleep at the Wheel has carried the torch for Western swing. Winners of 10 Grammys, they’ve collaborated with everyone from Willie Nelson to Jamey Johnson to Huey Lewis. to Old Crow Medicine Show.
Despite playing what is “hard-core country music,” the Wheel has long attracted fans who don’t normally feel drawn to country. Part of this is the great divide between country through the ’50s and the Nashville sound that succeeded it. As Tyler Mahan Coe has said on his podcast Cocaine & Rhinestones, there’s no real distinction between honky-tonk and early rock ‘n’ roll. Asleep at the Wheel may have fiddles, but they also have drums and sax, and they rock hard.
Watchhouse performs at Wolf Trap on July 7, 2021. (Photo by Casey Vock)
Watchhouse, the duo of singer-songwriter Andrew Marlin and multi-instrumentalist Emily Frantz, has been making roots music for over a decade, formerly under the moniker Mandolin Orange. They are sometimes called a “bluegrass duo,” but their music has also been characterized as folk and Americana. From North Carolina, Marlin and Frantz are clearly influenced the traditional Appalachian mountain music of their home state, but they’re not strictly acoustic traditionalists; their band includes an electric guitar and drums.
Amy Helm performs at The Hamilton on June 11, 2021. (Photo by Casey Vock)
On Friday, pandemic capacity restrictions were lifted in the District of Columbia. When Amy Helm performed at The Hamilton Live, it was the first time in 16 months that venue had been fully open to present live music to eager audiences. It was a special night; the enthusiasm and love from the crowd was palpable, as most of the attendees were at their first show since early March 2020.
For Helm and her band, it was their first time back on the road and being outside of her native New York state. She acknowledged the significance of live music reopening, saying it was an honor to be playing. She joked, “Just to full capacity?” to which her bandmate Connor Kennedy quipped, “You can’t really go further than that.
Bonny Light Horseman performs at Songbyrd Music House on Feb. 4, 2020. (Photo by Casey Vock)
A sold-out crowd gave its full attention to the “supergroup” Bonny Light Horseman during their recent performance at the Songbyrd. An acoustic guitar intro led into their first song of the evening, “10,000 Miles.” Singer-songwriter Anais Mitchell, whose musical Hadestown cleaned house at this year’s Tony Awards, led off on vocals. Eric D. Johnson, frontman for the Fruit Bats, came in next, with multi-instrumentalist Josh Kaufman on the electric guitar.
Damien Jurado and Nick Thune perform at The Miracle Theatre on Jan. 16, 2020. (Photo by Casey Vock)
Critically-acclaimed singer-songwriter Damien Jurado recently took part in a somewhat unusual performance at The Miracle Theater recently. He split the bill with comedian Nick Thune in an evening titled “Sad Music/Sad Comedy.”