The Noise is Back in Town
As in glorious live musical performances
By Billy Eye
With so many ways to communicate at our disposal, we must not forget the transformative power of a live music experience and genuine human exchange.
— Jon Batiste
Now that live musical performances are returning to the Gate City in a big way, we could almost rename this town Gig City. Not only can you catch live music at the usual suspects — Flat Iron, Oden Brewing Company, White Oak Amphitheatre and The Blind Tiger — but also at Center City Park and LeBauer Park, both of which hosted amazing local performers all summer.
But are today’s audiences receptive to live events?
“Folks turned out for the Dance From Above parties in their new space by the airport,” YES! Weekly’s music scribe, Katei Cranford, tells me. “Strictly Social’s downtown block parties sold out at, like, $20 a ticket. At the end of the day, musicians wanna get back to melting faces, audiences wanna get back to getting down and bars wanna make money.”
And from the musicians’ perspective?
“We started back as soon as we could,” says Josh Watson, lead vocalist/composer of Grand Ole Uproar, a band whose kaleidoscopic, psychotomimetic musings have been captivating music-lovers up and down the east coast for over a decade.
Emily Stewart, Watson’s former bandmate in Our Horse Jethro, recently joined Grand Ole Uproar on banjo and vocals. “The band would get together once a week, outdoors, during the pandemic,” Watson says. “We were writing new tunes and Emily’s vocals really strengthened the songs while also giving the music more momentum with her banjo.”
As a solo artist, Stewart’s melodic intonations mesh brilliantly with her cornbread-and-collards lyrics, an easily traversed minefield of dreams, spotlighted recently on a mesmerizing “Tiny Stage Concert,” (check it out on YouTube).
Grand Ole Uproar is continually adding tunes to their live set, developed during “The Great Lull,” during which Watson occasionally performed online from Tom Troyer’s Black Rabbit Audio studio. “It’s strange playing to a camera,” Watson reflects.
On September 11, Grand Ole Uproar will rock the rafters at Bull City Ciderworks. Then, on October 10, they’ll redefine afternoon delight at Double Oaks Bed & Breakfast as part of the Charlie’s Angels for Rett Research fundraiser — a rollicking afternoon not to be missed.
In 2019, Viva la Muerte was voted “Triad’s Best Original Band” by readers of YES! Weekly. Eye would agree. “We call [our sound] psychedelic Americana,” singer/songwriter Matt Armstrong tells me. “That place where roots and instrumentation meet not just the electric, but blurs boundaries with all kinds of genres.” I forgot: Artists always serve up the most mouthwatering word-salads when you ask them about their work.
VLM was MIA for a year. “I think our first gig back was at Oden in March,” Armstrong says. “It’s a wonderful place. It’s like our home base.” Oden Brewing Company doesn’t have a built-in sound system, “So you do your own sound,” he tells me. “It’s kind of a crapshoot, but lately we’ve had Tom Troyer mixing our sound and he’s just nailing it.”
Produced by the aforementioned Troyer, Viva la Muerte’s third album, Storm Country, drops October 29 — Halloween weekend. Don’t miss the album release concert that night at Oden.
It was truly a journey, Armstrong tells me. But they needed to connect with the right producer to get the balance right.
“We asked Dan Morgan at Leveneleven Brewing if there was anybody local that he would recommend,” Armstrong recalls.
Enter Troyer of Black Rabbit Audio.
“The best guy in town,” Dan told him.
Word on the street is that Troyer’s not just an accomplished audio engineer, but a talented musician in his own right. “Tom is constantly composing as he’s listening,” Armstrong says. “On a good day, if you’re humble and you listen to his compositional ideas, you say, ‘Oh yeah, let’s go with that.’ He offers lots of input.”
Viva la Muerte’s locomotive musical muscularity will flex and perhaps enlighten the minds at Center City Park on Saturday, September 4, at 7 p.m. You can also catch the band at Oktoberfest at SouthEnd Brewing on Saturday, October 2.
Jeepers gee willikers . . . who is this Tom Troyer fellow that I keep hearing about? I wandered over to Black Rabbit Audio in the Woodlea Lakes neighborhood to find out.
Besides producing other artists, Troyer is the singer/songwriter of his own band, Farewell Friend, which just released a third album in August. Each of Farewell Friend’s mellifluous compositions are autobiographical excavations into Troyer’s past. According to their liner notes, the band’s 2019 release, Glenwood & Gomorrah, is “both a question and a prayer for the neighborhood he [Troyer] grew up in.” Farewell Friend’s latest release, Samson, “has a lot more to do with understanding what I was going through in my 20s, as the son of a pastor,” Troyer says. As for his audiences? “Facebook tells me they’re over 60. I do connect more with people over the age of 45.”
Farewell Friend will be giving a daytime acoustic show at Center City Park (sponsored by Well Springs) on September 17. “We’re actually going to set up as a complete brass band with bare instrumentation,” Troyer says. “Our bass player, Evan Campfield, and his friend Caleb Baer formed a [Punch Brothers cover] band called Balboa Park.” Caleb will join Farewell Friend on mandolin, violin and viola for the show. A scrumptious recipe if I ever heard one.
Troyer will also be handling sound for the not-to-be-missed, all-star benefit party for Matty Sheets on Saturday, September 25. The musical lineup features local sensations Modern Robot, Emily Stewart, Laura Jane Vincent, and Squatch and Soda, among others. That’s at The Green Bean downtown, where Matty is drawing the area’s most talented individuals for his decades-long running Tuesday night Open Mic Night. OH
Billy Eye, who wrote a bi-monthly column covering the East L.A. music scene from 1980–83 (the source for his book, PUNK), is OG — Original Greensboro.