Essay: In Praise of Live Music

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Tim Bray and Karen Jonas (Photo by Mark Caicedo)

“Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone?” — Joni Mitchell, Big Yellow Taxi

The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed our worlds, collectively and individually, in ways that we are struggling to grasp. For those of us who cherish live music — artists, fans, writers, and photographers — the pandemic has made concerts impossible for the time being and the heartache at what has been lost is becoming a fear (irrational perhaps, but…) that they could be gone forever.

The abrupt, and traumatic, end to live music performances for the foreseeable future has left a sadness in me that I did not anticipate, nor with which I’m prepared to cope. I’m a diehard enthusiast of live music — from the traditional large venue concert experience to the small bars and clubs where local musicians perform for anyone who’ll listen.

But what they all have in common is talent, desire, and an otherworldly drive to share, as Los Angeles Times music critic David Ackert says, “that crystal moment when they poured out their creative spirit and touched another’s heart.”

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Live Review: Graham Nash @ The Birchmere — 3/10/20

GNash18 Graham Nash performs at The Birchmere on March 10, 2020. (Photo by Mark Caicedo)

With a voice as powerful and pure as ever, Graham Nash gifted a full house at The Birchmere recently with a stunning two-and-a-half-hour performance. Though many of us had seen him perform with CSN (and sometimes Y), to experience a Nash solo performance was a rare privilege.

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Interview: Raul Malo (of The Mavericks @ The Birchmere, 7/13/20)

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Raul Malo (foreground) fronts The Mavericks (Photo by David McClister)

(Editor’s note: This show was rescheduled from March 25 due to the coronavirus threat.)

Raul Malo is best known as the frontman of critically acclaimed band The Mavericks, who uniquely fuse classic honky tonk, rockabilly, Tejano, and pop, as well as his own Cuban background. He also released a number of well-received solo albums, mainly during a period of hiatus for the band.

Parklife DC’s Mark Engleson interviewed Raul in advance of his solo date at The Birchmere on Monday, July 13. They talked about his projects, his approach to production and songwriting, his musical background and influences, and the upcoming concert.

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Live Review: Squirrel Nut Zippers @ The Birchmere — 3/5/20

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Jimbo Mathus fronts the Squirrel Nut Zippers at The Birchmere on March 5, 2020. (Photo by Rashad Polk)

Laaaaadies and geeeentleemen, if you missed it, you missed the most carnivalistic display of vaudeville performance on The Birchmere stage in recent memory. Those undeterrable rascals, those curious geeks, barkers, and showgirls, the Squirrel Nut Zippers put on an antiquarian revival show of towering proportions.

SNZ’s tour is celebrating the 25th anniversary of their debut album, The Inevitable Squirrel Nut Zippers, and they played it through on a recent evening. Playing in order, they began with “Lovers’ Lane.” For “Danny Diamond,” female vocalist Cella Blue came out wearing a feather boa and waving a fan.

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Live Review: Hayes Carll and Allison Moorer @ The Birchmere — 3/1/20

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Hayes Carll (Photo by David McClister)

Just under a year into their marriage, singer-songwriters Hayes Carll and Allison Moorer brought their Alone Together Tour to a sold-out Birchmere recently. Allison performed a solo set first, followed by Hayes, who invited her back out for a duet.

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Live Review: Arlo Guthrie @ The Birchmere — 2/29/20

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Arlo Guthrie (Photo courtesy The Roots Agency)

Folk legend Arlo Guthrie celebrated a lifetime of music at The Birchmere on a recent evening billed as a commemoration of his debut 1967 album, Alice’s Restaurant. His set featured the titular “Alice’s Restaurant,” a 20-minute-or-so story song that involves litter, jail, and the draft. “If I could’ve imagined that song would be popular,” Arlo told the audience, “I would have made it a hell of a lot shorter.

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