Alexandria’s Birchmere has long been known as a hub in this area for roots music. It recently welcomed back a frequent visitor in Patty Griffin, as well as a musician new to the venue, Gregory Alan Isakov. The two celebrated folk artists, each accompanied by a sideman, played a split set, then joined each other onstage for an encore.
Lori McKenna is one of country music’s hit making songwriters, with songs covered by artists like Tim McGraw and Little Big Town. But she’s also an accomplished performer and recording artist in her own right, as she demonstrated recently at The Birchmere.
Robert Cray is the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful blues artist of his generation. He demonstrated exactly why that is when the Columbus, Georgia native appeared with his band — Richard Cousins on the bass, Les Falconer on drums, and Dover Whitecliffe-Swinbourne on keys — at The Birchmere recently. In front of a hot, packed crowd, and backed by a tight band, Cray showed off his considerable skill on the guitar and his incredible voice.
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.
Colin Hay performs at The Birchmere on Aug. 17, 2021. (Photo by Mickey McCarter)
Colin Hay was in lockdown at home in California, searching for ways to pass the time like the rest of us. He concluded, as perhaps many others did, “I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself.”
Thankfully, the quick-witted Scotsman immediately connected the thought to a hit song of that title, written by Burt Bacharach and covered by Dusty Springfield in 1964. It was a song Colin loved from his youth, and he scoured his memories of his father’s record store in the ’50s and ’60s for other inspirational tunes. Colin recorded and released 10 of them as a covers album
So it turns out that Colin did in fact know what to do with himself, which was abundantly evident in a wonderfully engrossing show by the drily humorous veteran in the first of two nights at The Birchmere recently.
Paul Thorn performs live. (Photo courtesy the artist)
When Paul Thorn plays The Birchmere, it’s always a party and a celebration.
Even in these times, when he couldn’t, as per his usual practice, wade into the crowd at the end of show to shake hands and give hugs, it’s still an evening of joy and uplift. The Renaissance man from Tupelo, Mississippi — Paul is a former pro middleweight fighter who once fought world champ Roberto Duran, and, in addition to his music, he’s a visual artist — is all heart, except where’s he also pure rock and grooving soul.
Russell Hitchcock fronts Air Supply at The Birchmere on Aug. 6, 2021. (Photo by Mickey McCarter)
Multi-platinum romantic rockers Air Supply delighted a sold-out crowd at The Birchmere recently, enchanting an audience at a much smaller venue than the core duo of Russell Hitchcock and Graham Russell have become accustomed to playing.
The gentlemen swashbucklers responded well to the intimate setting, dialing up the charm and churning out the hits as men and women alike sang along, laughing and crying, all the while transfixed by the veteran performers.
Renowned globally as frontman in the Australian band Men at Work, Colin Hay has since proven himself as a solo artist. Today, Colin releases an album of covers — songs important to him — called I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself, recorded during pandemic lockdown.
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.
Steve Earle & The Dukes pay tribute to Steve’s late son, Justin Townes Earle (J.T.), who passed away on Aug. 20, 2020, in Nashville with their new album J.T. The album was released digitally on what would have been Justin’s 39th birthday on Jan. 4, via New West Records.