Back in early February (aka 3.7 million years ago, news-wise), I had the opportunity to chat over the phone with singer-songwriter Tyler Meacham, whose pop-infused Property EP was one of my favorite albums to come out of Richmond last year.
It was such a fun and engaging conversation — the kind that makes you want the resulting article to be out in the world as soon as humanly possible. A month and a half — plus one worldwide pandemic — later, sharing it feels bittersweet in all the ways Meacham described in her Instagram post from Thursday. Social distancing represents an existential disruption for performers everywhere, and it’s especially devastating for musicians who had been (and still are) working to gain the type of momentum that leads to liftoff for a career as an artist.
Nevertheless, I have two pieces of incontrovertible good news:
Good News #1: If I’ve learned anything from listening to Meacham’s music, seeing her perform live, and speaking with her about her craft, it’s that her gift is as real as it gets. Her drive, her savvy outlook on what defines pop music (one of my favorite parts of our chat), her remarkable ability to take her own experiences and mold them into pieces of art that are broadly affecting — that stuff endures, and while I can’t say what the world is going to look like a year, month, or week from now, I’m certain that those are the characteristics you find in artists who thrive in the long run, through ups, downs, and whatever else is thrown at them.
Good News #2: There are so many ways to keep the momentum going for musicians right now. Here’s a quick list of ways to make your Meacham fandom felt:
In November of last year, I had the honor of sitting down with Richmond singer-songwriter and guitarist Justin Golden for an interview. I’d seen him open for C.W. Stoneking at Richmond Music Hall not long before, and it was such a joy getting to chat about music with him — both the music from the past that he and Stoneking draw inspiration from, and the music currently being made in Richmond that we both find meaningful.
I hope you’ll take a moment to check out the interview here. You can also find it in the current print edition of River City Magazine on newsstands around town. (Just saw a stack at Wawa over lunch today!)
Many thanks to Justin for his generosity with his time and conversation, and for all his help with the piece. The depth of Justin’s love for music is inspiring. Check out his music below, and be sure to keep an eye out for when he’s performing around town. I think you’ll walk away as inspired as I did.
We’ve grooved with the Budos Band. Illiterate Light lit up the night. Now it’s very nearly time to say goodbye to the 35th Friday Cheers series, but not before a finale I’ve been looking forward to since this season’s schedule was announced: Lucy Dacus. Deau Eyes. Is it tomorrow yet?
There’s a unique poetry to tomorrow’s lineup that’s worth noting before you head down to Brown’s Island. For starters, this will be Dacus’ second Cheers performance; her first came in 2016 when she opened for Kurt Vile. And while you often hear the word “triumphant” used when artists return to venues they’ve played before, it’s especially fitting here, given the rave reviews she earned last year — both for her Historian album and for the EP she released with Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers under the name boygenius — and given that hers is the headlining set this time around.
The lineup is made even more meaningful by the fact that Ali Thibodeau of opening act Deau Eyes was there in the crowd during Dacus’ 2016 show, standing front-and-center and celebrating her friend’s Friday Cheers debut. I recently had the good fortune of speaking with Ali Thibodeau of Deau Eyes for a River City Magazine article, and here’s how she described that moment in relation to this one:
Did you grow up going to Friday Cheers?
I love Friday Cheers. It’s really cool. It’s one of my favorite things that happens in Richmond. I’ve felt really privileged to have been able to have watched my friends up there doing their thing. I know when Lucy played with Kurt Vile, I was in the front row, and was so stoked. My face hurt from smiling the whole time. I feel kind of full circle because it’s definitely somewhere we would go and hang out, around Belle Isle and Brown’s Island and all of that during the summer and stroll into Friday Cheers. I’m thrilled to be a part of it this year. It feels like a real hometown accomplishment.
Thibodeau and I touched on a number of other topics in our conversation, from her upcoming album’s lead single “Paper Stickers” (embedded below) to running a successful Kickstarter campaign and creative control more generally. Click here to check out the full article and here to snag a ticket for the Cheers finale. This show is special, y’all.
With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I’d like to share a link to an article I wrote about a place I’m truly thankful for: Small Friend Records & Books. I had an opportunity to interview the shop’s owners a little while back, and it was such a pleasure learning about how they got started, how they envision their store’s role in the Shockoe Bottom community, and how they see that space evolving in the future. They have such clear and admirable passion — not just for music, books, and zines, but also for the ideas represented in and by the items they stock.
Here’s how I started the piece:
When you walk into a house and scan the walls and shelves for the first time, you learn a lot about the people who live there. In that sense, Small Friend Records & Books, which opened its doors on 17th Street in April, feels as much like a home as a place you’d go to buy albums or novels.
I’ve written about this before, but one reason I care so deeply about — and am so thankful for — the record stores here in Richmond is the way they represent the importance of a sense of place in our lives. Places connect us to other people. They keep us engaged with those people, even when we don’t agree with them. And places connect us to our past, helping us better understand our present and future. Without a sense of place, we are diminished.
Small Friend is a wonderful place, and I hope you’ll take a few minutes to check out the interview. More importantly, head downtown to check out Small Friend for yourself. I’ve been there a number of times, and of the albums I’ve snagged there, I think I’m most in love with my copy of the Wild Wild Country original score, which was composed by Brocker Way — brother of the pair of brothers who made the Netflix docuseries. (There are three brothers total. Well, three brothers involved in the series. I guess they could have other brothers… I’m gonna stop. You get the idea.)
In many ways, the show is itself a meditation on the idea of place — on what it takes to build an organic community, and how quickly a place can grow without losing its sense of self. Here’s a favorite track of mine from the score — the elegiac “Church and State.”
The Richmond Folk Festival is rapidly approaching, and I’m beyond excited to share that I had an opportunity to chat with one of the three-day event’s most accomplished and anticipated performers, uilleann piper Jarlath Henderson.
Henderson hails from Northern Ireland, and he occupies a crucial creative space: the sacred middle ground between giving voice to tradition and forging a new path forward. Around the time we talked, I was immersing myself daily in the wonderful “new” John Coltrane album, Both Directions at Once, which is a dispatch from that same creative space. I ended up mentioning Coltrane to Henderson, and we talked a little about that idea of moving forward and backward at the same time.
Here’s what he said:
As a musician, I think you move from either being very sure of yourself to very unsure of yourself constantly, and it’s very hard to be sure of yourself. But within the traditional music world, in general, just like in any niche market, like bluegrass, there are the hardcore fans who really want things to be the way they were. But after a certain amount of time, it becomes more of a historical representation of a time gone by rather than an accurate representation of now. At the end of the day, it’s just a form of folk music, and it has to be for the people. It’s an interesting place to be.
Click here to read the rest of the interview, which appears in the current print edition of River City Magazine, and click here for more information on the Folk Festival.
I’ve lived my whole life along the I-64 corridor in Virginia — Norfolk until I graduated high school and then Richmond for college and beyond. It’s a stretch Gold Connections frontman and leading creative force Will Marsh knows just as well, given his Charlottesville roots and his time spent at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg. His drive between home and school probably wasn’t too different from mine — between an hour and a half and two hours if the traffic was kind. Worse on summer weekends when the Outer Banks were in business.
We had the opportunity to speak over the phone early in June. The first full-length Gold Connections album, Popular Fiction, had come out a few weeks before, giving me more than enough time to fall hard for Marsh’s writing and knack for studio decision-making. I’d also gotten a kick out of tracing the way standout tracks like “Salt” and “Isabel” evolved from versions he recorded in 2014 with W&M contemporary Will Toledo of Car Seat Headrest for the self-titled Gold Connections EP, which didn’t end up being released until 2017. Hearing more about how those two projects took shape and the tremendous care Marsh puts into how his music is presented was really interesting, and it got me thinking about I-64. Whether long or short, there’s something sacred about the time between recording and releasing music. How many times did those songs provide a uniquely private soundtrack to a drive along that stretch of road? What else might the people next to us on the highway be carrying with them? What hopes, problems, and creations?
All that said, Marsh is looking and driving squarely forward, with an outstanding debut LP and the backing of Richmond’s EggHunt Records. Click here to read the River City Magazine article I wrote about our conversation. It’s in the inaugural issue of River City as a standalone publication, and I’d love it if you grabbed a copy around town or checked it out online. You can hear yet another version of “Isabel” below, from a Bridge Room Session I’d recommend highly.
On one of this year’s first truly beautiful spring days, I drove out to the grounds of the Montrose recording facility to interview Steve Bassett, who has a pre- and post-production trailer parked near the studio’s main building.
This was actually my second time speaking to Bassett. Longtime followers of this here blog might remember that I wrote a magazine piece on Virginia’s state popular song, “Sweet Virginia Breeze,” which Bassett cowrote with another Richmond legend, the late Robbin Thompson. And while I had separate phone conversations with the two writers for that article, I got to meet them both in person shortly thereafter, at an early evening show up in Ashland. They graciously signed my copy of their Together album. I also snagged a copy of Bassett’s autobiography, Sing Loud, which was being sold at the merch table.
I’d recommend picking up a copy. Inside, you’ll find insight from someone who has truly drilled to the core of what it means to live a life in music. Someone who has learned the secret to accessing the joy in just about any type of musical environment. I certainly felt that joy when I spoke to him early this spring, with seed pods falling from the trees and stories flowing — about his new album, Tres Leches, and the incredible journey that’s taken him from Muscle Shoals, Alabama and Carnegie Hall to the steps of Virginia’s Governor’s Mansion.
The resulting River City Magazine article is available online over at Richmond Navigator, and I hope you’ll give it a read there or pick up a print copy. The layout is wonderful, with photos by Jennifer Challis taken at Bassett’s recent show at the Broadberry, which was excellent. Thank you, Jen, for sharing those, and thank you to Steve for the conversation. I won’t soon forget it.