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.
Community Center — “Baby Grand” [Spotify/Bandcamp]
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 Magazine in 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.
Afro-Zen Allstars — “Aj Aj” [Bandcamp/iTunes]
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.
This post contains:
- A quick update about an article I wrote that’s on newsstands now
- A ticket giveaway — so be sure to read to the end!
I had the honor of interviewing Reggie Pace of No BS! Brass Band recently, and the resulting River City Magazine article can be found online here and in the real world as well.
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!
No BS! Brass Band — “Brass Knuckles” (live) [YouTube]
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…
Featured Off Your Radar weeks:
For Boomer Magazine:
For Richmond Navigator online
For River City Magazine
For RVA Magazine
For West End’s Best
Quick non-bloggy writing heads up: I recently got to interview Barry Privett, the lead singer of Carbon Leaf, and while the article doesn’t appear to be online yet, you can grab a print copy of River City Magazine/West End’s Best at these locations.
Carbon Leaf is a name you hear and see quite a bit living in Richmond, but I didn’t know the group’s full backstory — how they all lived together in one house on Floyd Avenue at one point, how they were originally a cover band and had to make the tough transition to playing original music, which venues in town they played in their early years… At the same time that Carbon Leaf has evolved over the years, they’ve been a constant amid a great deal of change during the last two decades. Really interesting, I think. I hope y’all will grab a copy and then grab a ticket to their show this Saturday at The National — should be a really good time.
Carbon Leaf — “Indecision” (live) [Spotify/iTunes]