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 love seeing shows at Maymont. I was just there a few weeks ago for Shovels & Rope, and it was outstanding. The surroundings are gorgeous — just inside the main Maymont gates, with rolling hills in the background and trees here, there, and everywhere. It’s a breath of fresh air — literally and figuratively — compared to many indoor (and outdoor) venues.
A few nights stand out in my memory as especially meaningful. Béla Fleck is one. Gillian Welch is way up there — seeing her pay tribute to Guy Clark by playing “Dublin Blues” was otherworldly. Another highlight was seeing Old Crow Medicine Show there in 2012, and I’m thrilled they’ll be returning to Maymont this Friday. (Tickets here.)
They’re touring behind a strong batch of new tunes in Volunteer, which was released in April of this year. Though the album features a characteristic mix of upbeat romps and slower, sweeter songs, things feel elevated on this album. “Whirlwind” tugs especially hard at nostalgic heartstrings, and “Flicker And Shine” pushes a truly frenetic pace, showing off the adrenaline-addled fifth gear that’s always set the band apart from many of its peers.
I’m especially stuck on “Shout Mountain Music,” though. While it too picks up the pace, it’s an example of how Old Crow can reach back to the roots of old time country and reveal something that feels wild and organic. And it capitalizes on one of my favorite techniques of theirs — grounding lyrics in specific geography, so they feel more real, and more connected to the places that have played a role in the living history of country and folk music. And I have to admit: Whether it’s “James River Blues” or “Shout Mountain Music,” it’s always fun to hear Richmond called out in an Old Crow tune.
Hope to see y’all there on Friday.
A quick Friday recommendation for you:
This deep-dive on Warren Zevon by Steven Hyden via the Ringer. I have a few of Zevon’s records — two handed down from my father-in-law, one I found at Goodwill — but I knew very little of what Hyden shares about the singer-songwriter. I found the piece to be incredibly moving, especially on the topic of how to reckon with a complicated legacy like Zevon’s. As Hyden admits, it’s more than a little uncomfortable seeing yourself reflected in Zevon’s story. But I think it’s a good discomfort — the kind that lets you know there’s an important lesson to be learned by feeling and following it.
Hyden also taught me something about the Drive-By Truckers, whose headlining set I’m hoping to catch tomorrow night on Brown’s Island at Stone’s Throw Drown. I’ve heard the Truckers encore with “Play It All Night Long” at least a couple of times, but I had no idea it was a Zevon tune. (Tunes, if you’re counting the incorporation of “Ain’t That Pretty at All.”) It sounds so much like them. Now I’m tempted to draw all sorts of parallels, like how the immense weight of the Truckers’ sound when they’re at their sludgiest could have a slightly cleaner forebear in “Detox Mansion.”
Here’s hoping they play “All Night Long” tomorrow night.
There are people through whom art flows especially freely — and in more than one direction at once. Brock Scott of Little Tybee is one of those people.
I got to interview him over the phone for this Richmond Navigator piece (the print version will appear in River City Magazine), and I was taken aback by the way the group manages to marry their music, their videos, their promotional efforts — all the ways they tap into a seemingly bottomless well of creativity. And when you listen to their music, you hear that same boundlessness. It’s amazing. And inspiring.
They’re playing tonight at the Camel (along with The Reign Of Kindo and Night Idea), and there’s one section of the interview that’s especially relevant if you’re thinking about attending:
What do you have planned for the upcoming tour?
I did a sailing trip in Greece a few months ago, and I filmed a music video. There’s this guy who was on the boat with me, and then two other people, and I filmed the whole experience. It was three weeks. In the video, there’s this captain, and he has two crew members, and he goes to sleep one day, and they disappear from the boat. When he wakes up, he realizes the boat is sailing by itself… Basically, that captain is coming with us on tour. We have a merch table that’s a [cutout] set of a boat, and the captain’s inside of it, and I’ve created a video for every single show on the tour. The captain is sailing to all these different islands, and each island is a different city on the tour, and we’re his crew… I have a street team in every single city on the tour, and I’m mailing them figurines [of the missing crew members], and then they hide them, and there’s going to be a photo scavenger hunt. If people find the figurines and bring them to the show and give them to the captain, he rewards them with a VIP package.
Watch the video below, and keep an eye out around town for those figurines (you can see examples on the band’s Instagram feed). Click here for more info on tonight’s show, and click here to read the article in full.
Little Tybee — “Lost In The Field” [Spotify/Bandcamp]
John Moreland, who released one of last year’s most outstanding albums in Big Bad Luv, will be playing a sold-out show at the Camel here in town on Sunday. It promises to be an exceptional one — I’d call it a must-see for anyone who values the craft of songwriting. Moreland’s songs are as affecting as you’ll find, and they’re awash in the sacred alchemy that turns hurt into healing via language and melody and honesty. Many writers set out to perform that same magic, but his gift is a rarefied one, up there with the greats, in my opinion.
Speaking of gifts, I was given a tremendous one in having the opportunity to interview him for a River City Magazine article, which recently went up online. We talked about connecting with audiences, about the role religion has played in his life, about touring in a hardcore band in high school… he was generous and candid and I’m truly grateful for that conversation.
Here’s a link to the article, and here’s a link to more info about Sunday’s show at the Camel. Saw Black opens. Can’t wait.
John Moreland — “It Don’t Suit Me (Like Before)” [Spotify/iTunes]
Exciting things afoot at EggHunt Records…
Earlier this month, the Richmond label announced that it signed Grace Vonderkuhn — an exciting and explosive garage/psych artist who hails from Delaware. Full details on her upcoming album have yet to be announced, but I wanted to go ahead and start spreading the word for two reasons:
- Her 2015 self-titled EP is well worth a listen. While her intense guitar work is a big part of why I’m looking forward to the release of her upcoming album, I’ve latched onto a more low-key tune from the EP called “God Bless Your Soul,” which is embedded below.
- She’s playing at Strange Matter tomorrow! More info here. I’d imagine folks in attendance will have their souls blessed with a healthy helping of her new material, and three other bands — The Smirks, Black Naked Wings, and Don Babylon — round out the bill. Should be a hoot.
Grace Vonderkuhn — “God Bless Your Soul” [Bandcamp]