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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
I first started writing this blog in 2011. The decision to do so was fairly spontaneous, and I had no idea that writing about music would change my life as much as it has. I might have expected that I’d learn about bands and albums, and that my world would expand in that way, but I couldn’t have guessed that I’d meet so many people who make the universe seem like a bigger, more beautiful place.
Two of those people play in Afro-Zen Allstars. One is Brian Cruse, the friendly, talented, and in-demand bassist I interviewed for River City Magazinein 2015. The other is the band’s founder, leader, and arranger, George M. Lowe, who is the subject of my latest article for the magazine. A short time back, Lowe and I met up at Addis downtown for Ethiopian food and an interview. As was the case with Cruse, we talked for nearly two hours, and I walked away amazed at Lowe’s warmth, his bravery, and his other-worldly devotion to music. That’s where the title of the article came from (the “Golden” part is a reference to the Ethiopian music that inspired Lowe to form the Allstars). I hope you’ll take a look online or find a print copy. I have a feeling you’ll end up as devoted to Afro-Zen Allstars as I am.
Many thanks, George, for all your help, and for making the world a bigger, more joyful, and better sounding place.
Really excited to spread the word about this. A few months ago, I had a chance to interview Mark Branch, the blues singer you might have seen at the entrance to the South of the James Farmer’s Market. My family goes there just about every week when the weather is warm, which makes Markiss Blowfish — that’s Branch’s stage name — the Richmond musician I see most often.
Whether I’m walking by in a hurry or stopping with my daughter to move along with Branch’s steady, chugging guitar playing, the amount of joy in my day increases as a result of hearing him sing, and I can report that speaking with him about music and his journey in life had the same effect. The experience left me thanking my lucky stars for my sense of place. Places matter, and they’re more than just locations. They’re the routines you settle into. The people you see. I’m so thankful for that market and this city and the feeling I get when I hear Branch’s voice booming in the distance when I’m walking toward him. Also Mrs. Yoder’s donuts. Can’t leave those out.
I hope you’ll pick up a copy of River City Magazine or read online to learn more about him. And be sure to check him out at the South of the James Market. It’s a wonderful, soul-nourishing way to start your weekend.
He and I met up at Perly’s and discussed — between bites of matzoh ball soup — everything from the history of No BS! to the need for more coverage of Richmond’s hip hop scene. It’s a conversation I won’t soon forget, and it’s one I feel very grateful to have had. Many thanks to Pace for meeting up and to Lauren Serpa for letting the magazine use one of her photos for that amazing cover.
Now for the giveaway — be the first to comment below or on this blog’s Facebook/Twitter/Tumblr and you’ll win a pair of guest list spots for tomorrow’s No BS! ten year anniversary show at The Broadberry. Really excited for this one. I’m feeling a little under the weather, but I don’t care — I’m not missing it. Hope to see you there!
So I’m going to attempt to end this jerk of a year with five wrap-up posts in five days. Fingers crossed this works. I tend to overwrite these things until they become albatross-y, so I’ll try to keep things snappy, starting with a quick list of links to music writing I did in 2016. Add in weekly contributions to the Off Your Radar newsletter and an August appearance on Sound Gaze and I can definitively say that this is the most blabbing about music I’ve done in a year.
Many thanks — seriously, too many to mention here — to the people I interviewed and the people who made what I wrote sound better and look prettier. Y’all know who you are, and I hope you also know how awesome and appreciated you are. Lots of fun stuff in the works for 2017. Until then…