Alabama Shakes

Y’all ever watch that show Diary on MTV back in the day? You remember, the one where they’d follow around a celebrity for a few glamorous days, and the diarist would start each episode by saying, “You think you know… but you have no idea.” Now that’s a catch phrase! It still runs through my head every once in a while. Probably because I was always tickled by how this intimidating phrase sounded in the mouths of less-intimidating subjects. Listen to the beginning of Jennifer Love Hewitt’s episode. That shit cracks me up.

Now watch this interview and tell me Alabama Shakes frontwoman Brittany Howard wouldn’t have knocked that line out of the park. I’m almost tempted to start a letter writing campaign to get MTV to revive the series… but thankfully I don’t have to. I heard Howard deliver the Diary catch phrase just a few days ago. Well, not those words exactly, but Friday’s Alabama Shakes show on Brown’s Island in Richmond made one thing abundantly clear: I thought I knew Alabama Shakes, but I had no idea.

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Carolina Chocolate Drops

There are two types of music nerds. There are the nerds who derive pleasure from holding their knowledge over your head, periodically using that knowledge as a bludgeon against the less-initiated. Think Jack Black’s character in High Fidelity. And then there are the big-tent music nerds. They’re the ones who delight in telling you everything you want to know about a song or artist, sharing their enthusiasm freely and without pretension. Take a wild guess as to which nerd genus I’m more fond of.

I was reminded of this (admittedly oversimplified) dichotomy two Fridays ago, when I saw Carolina Chocolate Drops perform on Brown’s Island in Richmond, VA. There may be no more inviting group of big-tent music aficionados than this Durham-based old-time string band. A decent percentage of the songs they played were covers or traditionals (“Jackson” was a personal favorite), and they took the time to explain the origin of almost every one. Who wrote it. When. What style it represents. I love hearing this stuff. Not only do these pre-song explanations serve as a preemptive Wikipedia lookup, they foster this wonderful atmosphere of inclusion — an even playing field where everyone can participate fully and enthusiastically.

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Drive-By Truckers

“Do you believe in rock & roll?”

This famous line from Don McLean’s “American Pie” has always seemed meaningful to me, even though its meaning must be very different for me than for someone who was alive on February 3, in 1959. Having been born in 1983, I missed the advent of rock & roll, and never had to fight for its legitimacy. I never had to hide a Buddy Holly record from my parents, nor has anyone told me, with a straight face, that anything I listen to is “the devil’s music.” But to me, believing in rock & roll is not passive at all. It means learning about the bands that made the genre a cultural mainstay, and looking for echoes of those bands in today’s music. It means not taking music for granted. It means screaming like a crazy person when you’re at a Wilco show and Jeff Tweedy wonders aloud if you “still love rock & roll.” With that spirit in mind, I headed to Brown’s Island in Richmond this past Friday to see Drive-By Truckers for the very first time. It was the band’s 15th anniversary show, marking 15 years to the day since they recorded their first demo, and what struck me was how the band personifies their genre so completely. Confident, powerful and captivating, the Truckers put on a two-plus hour demonstration of what three guitars, bass, keys and drums can do when applied correctly. Surrounded by fans who knew every lyric, I had the good fortune of recording “Let There Be Rock,” a song that states directly a truth that the band itself embodies: rock & roll has the power to lift us up, as long as we keep believing in it. Check out the video of “Let There Be Rock” above, and a studio recording of the song below, which can be found on their Southern Rock Opera album.