I thought I’d start off the week by sharing a song that’s been an uplifting presence in my life — Justin Golden’s new one, entitled “Arm’s Length.”
I chatted with Golden for a River City Magazine piece published at the very start of 2020, and it stands in my memory as such a rewarding conversation. It was a joy learning about Golden’s journey and influences, and about his devotion to musical preservation. Here’s one passage of that interview that stuck with me, about why he started transcribing lesser-known blues songs from the past:
What motivated you to start transcribing?
Documentation and performance. I’m not really so worried about recording it for me to put out to make money. I just want to have it in my repertoire, and be able to show it. In the blues community, some people are considered culture-bearers, or torch-bearers, and I think I’m starting to be one of those people. I feel the charge to actually get out there and do it, because that’s what I like to listen to, and another 100 years goes by and no one’s going to know how to do this…
“Arm’s Length” is a testament to the timelessness of Golden’s approach. The sharp guitar licks, the simmer of the slide, the overall warmth of the mix… “Arm’s Length” is a joy to listen to, and it paints a vivid picture of Golden’s knack for making traditional elements feel fresh and vibrant.
Most of all, I love how cathartic the chorus is. I think we all need to hear that “It’s ok” from time to time, and it’s especially meaningful hearing that in between verses in which ambiguity is present.
Whatever the upcoming week brings, I bet it’ll be better with “Arm’s Length” in your life.
Y’all make it out to the Folk Festival this weekend?
Our weekend was packed, but I made it out for two sets I was especially invested in: Petroloukas Halkias and Vasilis Kostas playing traditional Greek music from the Epirus region (the style Christopher C. King focuses on in his book Lament from Epirus), and a performance by the Galax, VA-based Willard Gayheart Family, which included a mini-set from the namesake patriarch’s granddaughter, Dori Freeman. (If you haven’t heard Freeman’s excellent new album Every Single Star, make that the very next thing you treat your ears to.) Both groups were excellent — well worth the hectic micro-scheduling that seeing them required. As a side note, if you happened to see a grown “adult” running in plain clothes around the festival grounds in the neighborhood of noon on Saturday, Sunday, or both, just know that he felt exactly as undignified as he looked, and that he regrets nothing. (Keep an eye out for YHT-branded “Will Run for Folk Music” bumper stickers.)
As luck would have it, we’re zooming toward another opportunity for Richmond-based old-time fans to enjoy the sounds of Galax. Tomorrow (Oct. 15) evening at 7:15, the Byrd Theatre will be showing a new documentary about the Old Fiddler’s Convention, the multi-day competition that brings old-time instrumentalists from all over — and outside — the country to Galax each August. The film is called Fiddlin’, and it’s billed as “a foot-stomping celebration of true Americana and artistic expression.” I’ve never been to the convention myself, though I’ve seen a few clips and spoken to folks who are involved. It’s already on my Virginia music bucket list, and I bet it’ll be a few notches higher after tomorrow. Did I mention Dori Freeman is listed among the Fiddlin’ cast?
The showing is free (presented by JAMinc) and open to the public. Best of all, if you leave your house early enough, you won’t have to run from your car to the theater to catch the start!
Hope to see you there.
This is a J.C. Kuhl appreciation post.
I realized on Wednesday night that I’d been hearing Kuhl’s saxophone with a remarkable regularity over the course of the last week. Thought I’d share the timeline:
Last Friday, I set a new personal record for earliest Record Store Day arrival time, motivated primarily by Known About Town: Library Music Compendium One — the snazzy Coke-bottle-green vinyl compilation that pulled together tracks from the quarterly Library Music cassettes the Spacebomb House Band released throughout 2018. How motivated was I? Back on February 28, the day Spacebomb announced Known About Town, I emailed Bill at BK Music to say “I may end up setting a new personal record for earliest RSD arrival time this year.” I made it to BK a little before 5:30 a.m., when it was still dark and raining cats and dogs. Fortunately the Stratford Hills Shopping Center has a covered walkway perfect for a line of lawn chairs, and even more fortunately, I was near enough to the front to snag one of a few signed copies of Known About Town. Guess who contributed sax to the album? J.C. Kuhl.
Two days later, in the considerably comfier environs of my couch, I took in a live set by Mekong Xpress & the Get Fresh Horns. The band has started streaming their regular Monday night sets at The Answer via Facebook, and joining in has become a weekly ritual. It’s not the same as being there in person, which happened more regularly when the YHT crew lived just a short bike ride from the Mekong/Answer epicenter, but I love that I can still stay connected to the group, which is as stacked and sensational as any in town. And who’s there on sax, whipping songs into a frenzy with screaming solos that make you feel like you are there in person? J.C. Kuhl.
Two days later, Mrs. YHT and I made it out — got a babysitter and everything — to the Tin Pan, excited to see fellow University of Richmond alum (and my former bandmate, briefly) Andrew Schutte play bass with the Latin Jazz Messengers, a group led by trumpeter and UR professor Michael Davison. We were seated front and center and treated to an excellent set, which ranged from standards like “Caravan” and “Guantanamera” to a few unfamiliar tunes I’m looking forward to getting to know better. (I’m especially excited about having heard “The Preacher” and “Sister Sadie,” a pair of Horace Silver compositions that I’m hoping will serve as an overdue entry point to Silver’s body of work.) And guess who was there — and I mean right there, just a few feet away from our table, sipping red wine and trading solos with Davison and the rest of the gang? I think you see where I’m headed here.
J.C. Kuhl: a player for whom “known about town” couldn’t be more fitting.
Hot off the blog presses — my latest post for Virginia’s Travel Blog is up! I explored a few ways you can walk in the footsteps of some of Virginia’s musical legends, from Ralph Stanley and Dave Matthews to Bruce Hornsby and René Marie.
One fun addendum: I included a section on Jason Mraz, and while it focuses on his involvement with SPARC (School of the Performing Arts in the Richmond Community) and their annual LIVE ART show, Mraz brought this idea full circle by releasing a video that was shot in and around Richmond, meaning he’s essentially walking in his own footsteps. So meta. Check the video out below and click here to read my “Where They’re From” post on Virginia’s Travel Blog.
Very excited to share that I got to write a second series of music-themed posts for Virginia’s Travel Blog. And two are already up:
Here’s the setup:
Whether you enjoy a heartwarming song or a heart-racing outdoor adventure, your options in Virginia are nearly endless. In fact, you don’t have to choose between the two. The following festivals, venues, and pairings show how you can get your adrenaline pumping in the Old Dominion via live music and lively activities — often at the same time!
From FloydFest and Dominion RiverRock to the wilds of Southwestern Virginia, lots to explore here. Follow this link to read the post.
How do you sum up Virginia’s contributions to jazz in just one blog post? You can’t, obviously, but I tried to give a little info about some of the prominent people, places, and events that make the state such an amazing destination for jazz fans. Whether you’re big on Butcher Brown or wild about Warrenton, there’s a blurb or two here for you. Check out the post here.
For more information, I highly recommend Don Harrison’s article about Virginia’s jazz tradition in the February issue of Virginia Living. Tons of great info there as well, and the layout is stunning, complete with Devonne Harris and Marcus Tenney on the cover!
Hey, Virginia! In case you hadn’t already gotten the hint from the terrifying commercials they’re showing between Jeopardy! segments, there’s an election today! A big one, too — we’re choosing a new governor, and we’ll either be promoting current lieutenant governor Ralph Northam (recommended by this blog) or handing the keys to the race-baiting Republican who turned our state into a gerrymandered mess and is suddenly retweeting Donald Trump (gross).
I’ve already voted, and I’d love it if you followed my lead and voted for the folks with a “D” next to their names, but regardless of which bubbles you fill in, I hope you vote. There are so many important choices being made today, and more people being involved means better choices. I truly believe it.
Here’s some info on what to bring with you to the polls:
And here’s a song to listen to on your way there. It has nothing to do with politics, as far as I know, but it’s what my phone decided to throw at me while I was driving to the polls. Then again, I guess a voting booth could qualify as an A/B machine? I dunno, just please go vote, y’all.
Sleigh Bells — “A/B Machines” [Spotify/iTunes]
Currently sitting in Reagan National Airport, fixing to hop on a Chicago-bound plane with the whole fam. Two parents. One three year old. One five month old. Pray for us.
Speaking of prayer, I thought I’d designate “Jesus, Etc.” as my musical away message. I found an original pressing of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot on Wednesday, which still blows my mind. I’d even saved the repress on my Discogs want list, thinking I’d never find an original within a reasonable price range. The vinyl gods have clearly blessed this mess of a trip.
I’ll be sure to say hi to the Wilco Towers™ for y’all.
Wilco — “Jesus, Etc.” [Spotify/iTunes]
One more post for Virginia’s Tourism Blog to tell y’all about, called “Building Bridges: International Music Experiences In Virginia.” I sincerely hope you’ll read it and send the link around — getting outside of your musical comfort zone is such a worthwhile and soul-replenishing thing to do, and I’m certain that if it happened more often, people would understand each other in ways they don’t currently.
Best of all, Richmonders can get started right away! You’ll find Afro-Zen Allstars among the bands mentioned, and they’ll be at Garden Grove Brewing Company in Carytown tonight, continuing their monthly residency there. Can’t recommend it highly enough.
I wanted to take a second to thank Andrew Cothern and all the other folks at Virginia Tourism for letting me write these posts. It’s such an honor to tell these stories and represent the musical traditions of the state I’ve called home my entire life. I’ve learned a ton in the last few months, and I hope to be able to share more stories like these in the future.
To play us out, here’s another Richmond band I mention in the post — venerated salsa outfit Bio Ritmo:
Bio Ritmo — “La Vía” [Spotify/iTunes]
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.
Click here to read the post. Hope you’re thirsty.
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.
Todd Herrington — “An’s Mekong” [Bandcamp/iTunes]
My latest post for Virginia’s Travel Blog went up late last week! I hope you’ll click here and take a look — I offer a few suggestions for digging into the history of bluegrass in Virginia.
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:
The Bluegrass Clippers — Clippin’ the Grass [YouTube]