The Smithereens with Marshall Crenshaw perform at The Birchmere on March 19, 2022. (Photo by Mark Caicedo)
That the last two years have been unkind to live music might be the understatement of the season. Bands who thrived on live performance were forced to hunker down, ride out the unavoidable pandemic pause, and wait until the proverbial “numbers” came down before performing in front of actual people again.
The Smithereens were scheduled to perform in Northern Virginia in October 2020 which, not knowing how long the pandemic pause would last, was then rescheduled to May 2021. Which, of course, was rescheduled again. Last week, the long-awaited return of the New Jersey-based band finally happened. And what a show it was! The Smithereens stormed back into a sold-out Birchmere and proceeded to melt the paint off the walls.
Easing into their third decade as a band, jam-scene pioneers Railroad Earth have been hard at work keeping their bluegrass soul and rock and roll spirit alive and well. On April 22nd, the next chapter of RRE will unfold with the release of their new album All For The Song; a 10-song collection filled with tales of biblical road-trip rainstorms, Louisiana getaways, and losing their brother too soon.
OURS performs at Jammin’ Java on March 3, 2022. (Photo by Marc Shea)
Jimmy Gnecco is a very soft spoken, down to earth person. As a musician and an artist, he is a powerful, uncompromising force. After Jimmy founded the band OURS, they played a total of five shows before the record label bidding war began.
But it was far from the dream that musicians hope for. It took years for Jimmy to get his first album to sound the way he wanted it to sound. And that wonderful sound was on full display in a recent performance by OURS at Jammin’ Java in Virginia.
OURS hit the road next month in support of their latest album released last year. The self-titled set came out on OURS’ own label Cage Recording Company, the third to be released independently after several major label offerings.
“I call this my fifth career,” soul singer Bettye LaVette told the audience at The Hamilton Live recently, “because it’s stopped and started so much.”
Born in Muskegon, Michigan in 1946, she began her recording when she was just a teenager, in 1962. Over the years, she’s endured the failures of record labels and other career mishaps, only to achieve real breakthrough success around the turn of the century. The start of that “fifth stage,” she noted, came with a song written producer Dennis Walker, best known for his work with blues artist Robert Cray: “A Woman Like Me.”
Hailed by the New York Times as “one of the great soul interpreters of her generation”, Bettye LaVette is a vocalist who can take any type of song and make it completely her own. To quote the late, great George Jones, “Bettye is truly a singer’s singer.”
Evan Stephens Hall leads Pinegrove during a performance at Rams Head Live in Baltimore on Oct. 19, 2021. (Photo by Casey Vock)
This country can be an unforgiving place to those in entertainment who makes mistakes, especially errors that anyone with common decency would agree are significant and alarming.
But America, as we have seen throughout history and in recent times, can also provide artists the opportunity to redeem and reinvent themselves if there is still enough support for their craft and what they originally set out to do.
That might be the easiest way for an outsider to rationalize or make sense of Pinegrove, a band originally from Montclair, New Jersey, that played to a packed house at Rams Head Live in Baltimore recently — but a band that saw its rise to fame derailed several years ago by what were and still should be considered serious accusations of sexual coercion against lead singer and guitarist Evan Stephens Hall.
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.
The Front Bottoms (Photo courtesy Baltimore Soundstage)
In August, The Front Bottoms released In Sickness & In Flames, the band’s fifth full-length studio album. Now, guitarist Brian Sella and drummer Mat Uychich are playing socially distanced drive-in shows, with a date at the Frederick Fairgrounds on Wednesday, Oct. 28, presented by Baltimore Soundstage!