Sunday, March 4, 2012

Contemporary Folk Americana

On Thursday night I got a text message asking me if I wanted to see a concert at a place called Jammin Java on Friday.  I had no idea who sent the message (some out of state number), and I'd surely never heard of Jammin Java -- but I said yes anyway.  A quick Google search told me there was a music club/cafe/bar called "Jammin Java" out in Vienna, Virginia, and I figured that I'd figure out who the sender was sometime before I got there.  Lest it turn out to some rando in Milwaukee.  Or a mass murderer.

Turns out it was just some people from my old ward who are really into live indie music and who happened to have my phone number.  Apparently they had invited me to things before (when I responded they said "Wow, you're alive"), but I'd never been able to go -- that's what happens when you regularly work until 10pm on Friday nights for a year and a half straight.  This time, though, I managed to extricate myself from the office in time to get to the venue by 7:00pm. 

It looked like a random store front in a suburban strip mall (because that's what it was):

but inside, a dark and hipster vibe prevailed as befits the indie music scene.  My jeans were definitely not skinny enough.  And as for ironic facial hair, well, we all know that isn't my strong suit.  Thankfully the lights were off, so I was able to sit my preppy self down without drawing too much attention.

The show we'd come to see was a singer named Anais Mitchell and her band.  She's on tour promoting her new "Young Man in America" album.  I'd never heard of her (not surprising) but I enjoyed her show a lot.  The group was predictably ecclectic -- Anais and her vocalist side-kick were little and cute in a raggedy hipster-elf sort of way; the bassist was handsome, lanky and uber cool (as bassists so often are) despite a distressing quasi-mullet on the back of his head; the drummer was clearly a lunatic.  The sound was what did it for me, though.  My biggest complaint in listening to live music" (meaning these sorts of bands, not orchestras or opera or musicals) is the way they sound -- all electric and distorted, with the volume up so high that all I want to do is plug my ears and run away screaming.  But the sound technician for this group managed to keep a clean balance throughout the show, letting the tight vocal harmonies come through and capturing the funky things they were doing with the guitars and other instruments.  It was such a clean sound that it felt surprisingly intimate, like they were whispering closely in my ear.

I had no idea how to characterize the group or its music.  One of the women in our group (who is a rabid enthusiast) described it as Contemporary Folk Americana.  "Folk" because the songs are normally very narrative about folksy themes; "Americana" because they use traditional American instruments like guitars and banjos; and "Contemporary" because, well, they are.  My favorite song, which seemed to embody this characterization, was a sad ballad about a farmer whose wife dies in childbirth while he's out working in the field.

Here are some links to her songs, some of which were on Friday's set list:

Your Fonder Heart
Two Kids
Old Fashioned Hat
Come September
O My Star

Who knows, maybe I'll go to more of these sorts of concerts if my work schedule stays manageable.  I'll need some skinny jeans, though....

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So glad it wasn't a mass murderer... Lady