Six bands (and venues) to watch

For a town with a long lineage of locally-grown musicians, rounding up contenders as "up and coming" stars is easy, but choosing from all this talent is hard. Our venues are constantly packed with lots of bands, lots of sounds.

So we turned to some big names from radio stations WTJU and 106.1 The Corner to do some nominating. What exactly does it mean to be a "big thing"? For Charlottesville, it means more than just creating a cool sound– the musicians that are loved the most are those with a real presence in town.

"These musicians have grueling schedules, other jobs, lives outside of music, and play for us because of the joy and magic in it," says WTJU DJ Liz Rhodes (aka "That Darlin' Darling" and co-host of "Oogum Boogum" every other Saturday). "I hope they know they are all appreciated."

Borrowed Beams of Light

Expert view: Borrowed Beams of Light's full length debut, Stellar Hoax, proved to everyone that this little "creative outlet" was magic. The exuberance and heart-lifting vocal "ah ah ahs" and "whoa oh ohs" of the songs is fueled by decades of guitar rock. With every song you're gonna dance yourself into a pop frenzy and sing along until you're out of breath. I am still hoping they'll cover Sir Paul McCartney's "Wanderlust," hint hint. –Liz Rhodes, WTJU

Band love story: The band started with my good friend and ex-Nice Jenkins bandmate Nathan Walsh. We recorded a lo-fi powerpop kind of collection of songs in '09, then formed a band around that to play a release show– it's sort of grown since then. The initial line-up was the aforementioned Nate, Marie, and Jordan from local rock powerhouse Corsair, and Adam Smith on drums. Nowadays, we are rocking the wonderful Ray Szwabowski from pop band The Sometime Favorites on drums and, of course, the incomparable Dave Gibson on guitar and keys. Dave was a shared frontman of the recently deceased Hilarious Posters, and is a wonderful songwriter in his own right. Nate Walsh remains an important co-writer but stays out of the live show. –Adam Brock

Influences: Kinks, Fleetwood Mac, cats, Cats, Guided by Voices, Zep (Led) and Lynne (Jeff), Beatles, The Hobbit, Cats2, The Divine Comedy, Destroyer, Walkmen, Legos, GI Joe, Nice Jenkins, Invisible Hand, Brian Eno, Star Wars

Three words to describe the Beams: memory, sunlight, crazed

Highlight of 2011: Pressing our first full length, Stellar Hoax… doing some rad shows in support of that.

With 24/7 stimulation and inspiration out there, how do you keep your music fresh and yourselves challenged? I know that guitar rock is passé, and that sucks because that's what I wanna make; so I'm just gonna make it anyway.

Take us behind the scenes: What's it like playing the stage at The Southern? The Southern is a dope place to play– it's by far the best sounding small-med. sized room in town.

A mad-lib: You're writing a song. It's 9am, you're in a makeshift studio at a cabin in WV, two cups of coffee in, and a drum machine and 3/4 size acoustic guitar are next to you.

In 5 years, the Beams will be… huge in Portugal (if anyone can help with that, please do).

Borrowed Beams of Light play Charlottesville next on June 7 at The Southern, with Naked Gods and Lonnie Walker. Stay tuned for their upcoming EP this summer!


Wes Swing

Expert view: For anyone who likes the Andrew Bird/Sufjan Stevens/Iron & Wine type of sound... beautiful stuff from our own local master of the cello & looping pedals! –Jeff Sweatman, 106.1 The Corner

Band love story: There are two love stories. I fell in love with music as a young child playing violin and singing around the house, and fell especially hard when I first played a cello, feeling that it was the instrument I was always supposed to play. Playing music for a career developed from a love of performance and the support of some amazing friends and musicians who are my bandmates and management. The second love story is falling in love with my girlfriend and bandmate Sophia, who has been so encouraging and graced my music with her beautiful vocal harmonies and thoughtfulness.

Influences: I spent most of my childhood and college years listening to classical music and playing violin and cello in orchestras. I love the modern minimalist classical music of Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and others, and enjoy thoughtful and well composed music from all over the map. Lately, I've been listening to Townes Van Zandt and Neil Young on repeat... also Beach House and John Lennon.

Three words to describe Wes Swing: ephemeral, hopeful, soundscape

Highlight of 2011: Two highlights– a wonderful CD release at the Jefferson Theater and a month-long tour in Europe over the summer.

With 24/7 stimulation and inspiration out there, how do you keep your music fresh and yourself challenged? I'm a bit of a recluse, and wrote Through a Fogged Glass in a cabin in Nelson County. I often find myself inspired by a particular poem or idea and experimenting in a quiet and peaceful place. And I like to play music with my friends, always a source of inspiration.

Take us behind the scenes: What's it like playing the "stage" at The Garage? The Garage is a really warm and wonderful space, and definitely one of my favorite venues in Charlottesville. On a warm summer evening, I just love to build a cello loop, hear my band reverberate through the park, and simply vibe out. It's so rewarding to play music to a crowd of listeners dancing in the street and laying in the grass.

A mad lib: You're writing a song. It's after midnight on a wintery night, you're alone in a cabin in Nelson County, and a cello and a wood stove are beside you.

In 5 years, Wes Swing will be… living on a farm with a converted barn/recording studio, touring three times a year in the US and abroad, composing music for dance and film, and writing writing writing.  

Wes Swing will be touring throughout the summer– Charlottesville dates TBA.


The Fire Tapes

Expert view: Still fairly new to our local scene, they include a couple of DC-area transplants, and I hear a lot of promise in their Sonic Youth-esque soundscapes. –Jeff Sweatman, 106.1 The Corner

Band love story: We all moved to town around the same time: late 2009-ish. Todd and Betsy had already been playing together and found Mark through an ad on Craigslist. The band was a trio for about a year, until the lineup was completed with Rob (a co-worker of Betsy's at the time) on bass.

Influences: Sonic Youth, Velvet Underground, Television, Gram Parsons, Brian Wilson.
Three words to describe The Fire Tapes: Experimental. Psychedelic. Rock.

Highlight of 2011: Our album release show at the Southern in October. It was the culmination of lots of work, our first show at The Southern, and probably the best crowd we've ever played to.

With 24/7 stimulation and inspiration out there, how do you keep your music fresh and yourself challenged? We listen to each other.

Take us behind the scenes: What's it really like playing the "stage" at the Magnolia House? It's fun. The people of Magnolia are nice folks and they like to rock out, though it's less of a "stage" and more like "hey, watch out for that hole in the floor!"

A mad lib: You're writing a song. It's a full moon, you're in the woods, and a honeybear is next to you.

In five years, The Fire Tapes will be… on the moon!

The Fire Tapes play on May 11 at Random Row with Infinite Jets and Left and Right as part of the Tom Tom Founders Festival.


Left + Right

Expert view: These guys relive the hazy, heroin-addled '90s and deliver primo (not emo) (definitely not screamo) blasts of chunky, melodic fuzz with their hearts on their guitar straps. –Dominic Devito, aka DJ Baconfat on WTJU

Band love story: We're all bus drivers. Phil and Daniel were in a band called Caninos and started Left & Right when the other Caninos weren't around one summer. Once we made the first Left & Right record we decided to start going steady and recruited Andrew and Zak from the extended UTS/ southern VA family.

Influences: Phil plays guitar like he's in Pavement. Daniel plays guitar like he's in Superchunk. Andrew's bass is total Rancid. Zak pretends like he's playing drums in Sonic Youth.

Three words to describe Left + Right: Opposite of Bjork

Highlight of 2011: First out of town show. We did a one-off in Brooklyn via the Starlight Express [bus service]. Andrew used to drive for them up to New York and back, so we stowed away early one weekend and played a Saturday night. The show was an anniversary show for the New York Rockmarket blog, and it ruled. Tons of people were there to see this buzz band Yellow Ostrich– don't listen to them, they're not very nice!– and we got a really awesome reaction. Plus Andrew got paid the whole time. Thanks, Starlight.

With 24/7 stimulation and inspiration out there, how do you keep your music fresh and yourself challenged? Just tryin' to be louder than the next guy.

Take us behind the scenes: What's it really like to play at the former Martha's on Elliewood, the Pigeon Hole? It's a lot like being an audience member, just with everyone looking at you. Tons of people crammed into a small, smelly room brought to life by lots of energy and noise. We love small spaces. Makes us feel like we really packed the place.

A mad lib: You're writing a song. It's 11:45am, you're at the Lollapalooza 5th stage brought to you by Budweiser, and our dog Pheneas is next to us.

In five years, Left + Right will be… at the Lollapalooza fifth stage brought to you by Bud Light. 11:45am. We made it.

Left + Right plays an album release show on May 11 at Random Row as part of the Tom Tom Festival.

The Cinnamon Band

The experts say: Staunton duo that has played many of the best venues in the country as an opener for Handsome Furs on separate jaunts the past couple of years. And they've got a great series of covers they are doing through their website this year called 12 X 12 (one cover per month) to keep fans interested while they work on their own new album. –Jeff Sweatman, 106.1 The Corner

Band love story: We've known each other for years and played in various bands together. So when I wrote the first batch of Cinnamon Band songs, Neil was the inevitable guy to try to execute them with.

Influences: I just really love great pop songs, whether it's a classic from the American songbook or the latest club banger. I love cleverness and well executed productions, but I don't get too excited unless there's some kind of real emotional punch in there somewhere too. That kind of thing comes in many forms.

Three words to describe The Cinnamon Band: simple, ambitious, classy.

Highlight of 2011: Hearing Richmond's Low Branches cover the Cinnamon Band's "Call Me a Doctor." They did a great job, and Christina is a great singer. It makes me feel good as a songwriter to have a great singer sing my song. Hopefully, Rod Stewart will next.

With 24/7 stimulation and inspiration out there, how do you keep your music fresh and yourself challenged? I'm a very slow and picky songwriter generally, and it takes even longer for songs I write to filter out through the Cinnamon Band. So we're keeping the juices flowing for 2012 by recording and posting one cover song per month on our website. So far it's been songs by the Roches, Nick Lowe, Handsome Furs, and T. Rex.

Take us behind the scenes. What's it really like to play the stage at The Jefferson? I'm sure the backstage atmosphere can vary a lot from show to show. But all the people who work there are super nice, and we've had a really fun night there every time. For us anyway, there's lots of standing around joking, eating tacos, trying not to bang our heads in the underground passageways.

A mad lib: You're writing a song. It's past quitting time, you're still at the desk and a page full of funny but terrible ideas is next to you.  

In five years, The Cinnamon Band will be… The Cinnamon Band is here to stay... at least that's what our buttons say.  

The Cinnamon Band is releasing one free cover song a month for 2012– check it out at

Dwight Howard Johnson

The experts say: I can't resist the Paul Westerburg styling of Drew Carroll's voice, and the easy comparison to The Replacements with their beats and riffs. In 1994, my sixteen-year-old heart would have swooned if these guys played in my home town. –Liz Rhodes, WTJU

Band love story: The three of us answered the call for an audition for producer "Cool" James Walsh independently who was putting together a house band for his swinger parties. If you've never met him, he's a lot like Suge Knight. You can't cross him.

Influences: Elvis Costello, Greg Dulli, Chris Elliott

Three words to describe Dwight Howard Johnson: Black. Hole. Sun.

Highlight of 2011: Laser show at the Pavilion, New Years Eve.

With 24/7 stimulation and inspiration out there, how do you keep your music fresh and yourself challenged? We record an EP every month. We have to or else.

Take us behind the scenes. What's it really like playing the stage at Random Row? Heaven. It is exactly what Belinda Carlisle sang about.

A mad lib: You're writing a song. It's nighttime at the Penthouse penthouse and sky high stacks of cash are next to you.

In five years, Dwight Howard Johnson will be… Katmandu, that's where we're really really going to.

Dwight Howard Johnson plays on May 11 at the Main Street Arena as part of the Tom Tom Festival.

Read more on: charlottesville music


Awesome list. I also heard a local band of high school aged folks, Winston Cup 1981, is having a CD release at the Tea Bizarre Friday night (April 27th) at 8:30 - this town is the best city in the world for encouraging young musicians to pursue their dreams - MRC, excellent school programs, BRIMS, on and on.
Thanks for promoting the new guys.

crap, where's the damn rock in this stupid town?