A couple of years back, my band opened for a Baltimore-based group called Community Center at the Tin Pan, and I have such happy memories of that evening. One thing that stands out to this day as I look back is how warm and kind the Community Center folks were, and I can confirm after interviewing guitarist and vocalist Brian Loeper for the latest issue of River City Magazine that their commitment to inclusion runs even deeper than I realized, down to the bedrock of how they approach writing and performing.
I had such a nice conversation with Loeper, and I can’t recommend highly enough heading to Cary Street Café on Thursday, August 3rd to see them live. Click here to check out the article online, or here to find a print copy.
One of my favorite spots on this pale blue dot. The Beer Garden in Corolla, North Carolina, a couple of minutes south of the northern endpoint of NC Highway 12. You get your Corolla Pizza slice/cheeseburger, you walk over to the Beer Garden, you hear good music like “Nancy From Now On,” from Father John Misty’s first album, and you feel like a human being again.
Music and beer. Two of my favorite things in the whole wide world. Two things Virginians are really, really good at. The kind people at Virginia’s Travel Blog let me write a big long thing about the glorious middle of that Venn Diagram — breweries around the state that do music right, whether that’s hosting shows, brewing beers inspired by music, or letting customers bring and spin their own vinyl.
I mentioned Todd Herrington’s Things album near the end — I can’t imagine a better song to share when talking about the intersection between Virginia music and beer than “An’s Mekong,” named after the Richmond restaurant that’s won CraftBeer.com’s Great American Beer Bar competition multiple times.
I was especially excited to write this one, in part because of how essential and elemental this state’s connection to bluegrass is. Forgive the expression, but it practically sprouts up out of the ground around here. Virginia has contributed so much to the genre throughout the last 70 years, and it really struck me while I was working on this post how those contributions comprise a kind of inheritance. Something we can all enjoy and engage with. Ralph Stanley, the gorgeous Lincoln Theatre in Marion, a museum exhibit on banjos, Bill Monroe’s mandolin… there’s so much to do, see, and hear, and I went ahead and included some recommended listening for the ride to each landmark.
One of those recommendations is Clippin’ the Grass, an album released in 1983 on a Virginia label called Outlet Records. (If you follow me on social media, you know I love posting pictures of records, and you’ll see a picture in the post of my copy of Clippin’ the Grass. Couldn’t resist.) Here’s the whole thing via YouTube:
I love last tracks on albums. There’s the sense of satisfaction at having consumed something completely, like turning over the back cover of a book you just finished. And while they’re not as crucial or weighty as movie endings, they can be just as revealing. There’s also a unique sense of intimacy to last tracks. Casual listeners may not hear the very end, so it’s like the room gets a little smaller, especially when they’re quieter, more confessional tunes.
That’s how the end of this Marias album feels. I enjoyed all of Peace Sign, but “R U Trying 2 Break My Heart” is a knockout punch. It’s the longest song on the album, and it might be its most pensive, as well, but what really gets me is the chorus. “Are you trying break my heart while the world is falling apart?” it asks, absorbing personal and public devastation into a single desperate plea. Then it exhales: “I guess I’m ready for this to begin. Breathing out while the fire comes in.” The fact that “this” is ambiguous makes the chorus even more enveloping and universal. The whole thing makes me think of old videos of atomic bomb tests, for some reason. Certainly left me feeling leveled.
Have y’all checked out Dust Up Mag yet? Some truly talented and dedicated folks have set their sights on covering live music in Richmond and beyond (the site’s motto is “Get to the gig”), and they were kind enough to let me review the Friday Cheers finale from last week. Here’s a link. This was my third time seeing Car Seat Headrest since Teens of Denial came out, and I walked away wildly impressed yet again. Hope a fourth time isn’t too far off — there’s something beautiful and therapeutic about singing along with Toledo’s songs. Read the full review here.
[Editor’s Note: American Tunes is a series of posts dedicated to songs that address America’s social and political challenges. For more information on the series, click here.]
For the first few years of my writing this blog (from 2011 to 2014, to be exact), my 4th of July tradition involved posting a rework of the Night Before Christmas poem that talked about trying to find the perfect music to accompany Independence Day celebration, and why K’Naan’s “Wavin’ Flag” fit the bill so well. Here’s a snippet:
And then in the very last place I would look —
the perfectest verse with perfectest hook!
But this just can’t be — a song for the 4th
that’s sung by K’naan, our friend from the north?!?
That’s right — he’s Canadian! Somalian too,
his formative days spent in Mogadishu.
But being a foreigner shouldn’t detract
from the fact that his song “Wavin’ Flag” is jam packed
with the message we’re coming together to send: That freedom and justice will win in the end.
The national atmosphere has changed dramatically since 2014, and I’m not sure I’d keep using the word “foreigner” in that context, given how bloated with vitriol the term has become, but I still believe that last bit, and believe it or not, K’Naan is still on my mind on the 4th, just for a different song.
The same friend who hosted the annual party described in that original edition of “‘Twis the Friday before the 4th of July” recently sent me “Immigrants (We Get The Job Done),” a track from The Hamilton Mixtape by K’naan featuring Residente, Riz MC & Snow Tha Product. It’s tone is dour in comparison to that of “Wavin’ Flag,” and it’s video has serious emotional stopping power. While I don’t think we should stop celebrating this country’s birth, it does feel like we could stand to mix in some additional reflection — on how we became a nation and how we treat each other now.