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Volume 26, Number 4 — April 2019

January Jams is on stage in Abingdon

A. J. Croce kicks off January Jams Jan. 6 at Barter Theatre.
A. J. Croce kicks off January Jams Jan. 6 at Barter Theatre.
Additional photos below »

By Leslie Grace | A! Magazine for the Arts | December 28, 2016

Abingdon Music Experience presents the fifth annual January Jams at Barter Theatre, Abingdon, Virginia. The music series runs three weekends during January.

The Abingdon Music Experience strives to build a quality of place by connecting the community through innovative and high-quality events that attract, entertain and enrich diverse audiences, thereby promoting and increasing local tourism and Abingdon as an artistic and cultural destination.

Concerts start at 8 p.m., and prices vary for each concert. Weekend packages are also available. Call Barter Theatre's box office at 276-628-3991 or visit to purchase tickets.

The first weekend includes A. J. Croce performing Jan. 6 with opening act David and Mason Via. Justin Townes Earle and opening act If Birds Could Fly perform Jan. 7.

From his debut as a jazz influenced blues-based artist to his evolution into a pop music iconoclast, singer-songwriter Croce has traveled a circuitous musical road.

The son of legendary singer-songwriter Jim Croce, A.J.'s career began with his first tour at age 18 opening up for B.B. King. In the span of a 20-year career, he has headlined festivals, concerts and major listening venues worldwide. He has been seen and heard on Jay Leno, David Letterman, Conan O'Brien, Austin City Limits, Good Morning America, E! and CNN. He has shared the stage with eclectic artists Willie Nelson, Ray Charles, Béla Fleck, James Brown, Lyle Lovett, Morphine, Rod Stewart and Ben Harper.

David and Mason Via are a father and son bluegrass/songwriter/folk duo.

During his career, David has performed with Tony Rice, Curtis Burch and Ronnie Bowman, among others, but he is best known as a songwriter. One of his most cherished honors was Jeanette Carter's request that his song, "Lord Keep the Light On," be performed at her funeral, sung by Marty Stuart.

Mason is David's apprentice, himself a young singer and songwriter. Mason has received critical acclaim for his debut CD "Up, Up, Up," which is comprised of original compositions. Mason spent his childhood accompanying his dad to fiddlers' conventions, music festivals, concerts and jams, where he soaked up not only his father's music but that of countless others.

Since his debut in 2008, Earle has toured including performances at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Fest, the Grand Ole Opry, Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, Bumbershoot, as well as an appearance on "A Prairie Home Companion." Additionally, he won Best New and Emerging Artist at the 2009 Americana Music Awards and was named by GQ magazine as one of The 25 Most Stylish Men in the World in 2010. He has also appeared on HBO's "Treme" with his dad, Steve Earle, on whose Grammy Award winning record he also guested and on the David Letterman show (with Jason Isbell on guitar).

With inspirations as diverse as Townes Van Zandt (he was named in honor of the elder Earle's hero), Jimmy Reed, Kurt Cobain, The Replacements, Mance Lipscomb, Ray Charles and The Pogues, Earle forges his own brand of American roots music.

If Birds Could Fly hail from East Tennessee. Brittany and Andrew Carter make folk/Americana music together. Brittany's voice blends well with the harmonies Andrew offers, and together they pack in tight instrumentation, percussion and original lyrics.

Weekend two opens with the hardcore bluegrass of Del McCoury. McCoury is a living link to the days when bluegrass was made only in hillbilly honkytonks, schoolhouse shows and on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry. He got his first taste of the limelight when he joined Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys in early 1963; the Father of Bluegrass moved McCoury from the banjo to guitar, made him his lead singer, and gave him a lifetime's worth of bluegrass tutelage. Flash-forward to 1990s and the Del McCoury Band is on top of the bluegrass world.

With three-part harmonies and masterful instrumentation, Bill and the Belles breathe new life into the sounds of early country music. At the foothills of the Blue Ridge and the forefront of old-time music, Bill and the Belles (Johnson City, Tennessee) continue to further the music traditions of their region. From sentimental Southern ballads to the popular songs of Tin Pan Alley to regional fiddle breakdowns, a Bill and the Belles show is a celebration of the diversity country music once represented.

On Jan. 14 John Cowan with Darren and Brooke Aldridge perform. Cowan, known as the "Voice of Newgrass," has been singing his heart out for 35 years. An innovator, Cowan applies his pipes to genres from country, bluegrass and gospel to soul, jazz and rock-n-roll – often within the space of a single concert.

Cowan's rise to fame began in 1974 when he auditioned as the bassist for the then up-and-coming New Grass Revival. It wasn't until he'd accepted the job that the shy 22-year-old mentioned that he could sing. With his distinctive, rock-tinged tenor vocal and heart-thumping electric bass, he, along with fellow New Grass Revival band mates Sam Bush, Courtney Johnson, and Curtis Burch, and later Bela Fleck and Pat Flynn, introduced a new generation of music fans to an explosive, experimental and ultimately, eponymous brand of bluegrass — Newgrass.

Zoe and Cloyd open for Cowan. They spring from deep roots in American music. Founding members of the acclaimed Americana trio, Red June and long-time veterans of the Asheville, North Carolina, music scene, Natalya Zoe Weinstein and John Cloyd Miller shifted gears to their duet project after the birth of their daughter in early 2015. Their debut recording, "Equinox," features original and traditional repertoire spanning bluegrass, old-time and folk and showcases the elegant simplicity of two instruments and two voices.

The Infamous Stringdusters perform Jan. 15 with opening act Billy Strings.

At the helm of today's bluegrass advancement stands The Infamous Stringdusters. Composed of Andy Hall (dobro), Andy Falco (guitar), Chris Pandolfi (banjo), Jeremy Garrett (fiddle) and Travis Book (upright bass), this acoustic quintet combines a collective skillset seldom rivaled.

The Stringdusters' resume includes six studio albums, four International Bluegrass Music Association awards and a Grammy nomination. Intricate harmonies, cleverly composed arrangements and their profound commitment to presentation induces traditionalists and newcomers to stomp their feet on common ground.

Billy Strings' acoustic music has a punk edge and youthful enthusiasm. Strings covers a wide variety of classic tunes and songs in his show, from a slow-burning cover of "Wild Bill Jones" to a raw cover of "Cocaine Blues" or picking delights like "Red Haired Boy" and "Soldier's Joy." "Dust in a Baggie," a cleverly written mountain song about methamphetamine, manages to take a current, destructive issue and translate it into the bluegrass vernacular.

Mandolin Orange, an Americana/folk duo based out of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, performs Jan. 20. The group consists of the group's songwriter Andrew Marlin (vocals, mandolin, guitar, banjo) and Emily Frantz (vocals, violin, guitar). Mandolin Orange has produced five albums of Marlin's original works bearing the stamp of folk, country, bluegrass, gospel and pop, all mingled in a mélange described as modern American roots music. Their music is characterized by strong, tight harmonies and virtuoso musicianship. In the last three years, the group has toured to general acclaim throughout the U.S and Europe, including appearances at Austin City Limits, South-by-Southwest, Telluride Bluegrass Festival, Newport Folk Festival, Pickathon and Merlefest.

Parker Millsap brings his blues, country, alt-country/Americana and folk music to the stage Jan. 21. Named one of Americana Music Association's 2014 Emerging Artists of the Year after the release of his self-titled album, Parker garnered attention with his popular song "Truck Stop Gospel," which has been featured on NPR's music program "The Record." Playing with childhood friend Michael Rose on bass and Daniel Foulks on the fiddle, Parker plays guitar with a style that has drawn comparisons to Elvis. He also plays the harmonica and slide guitar. He attributes his musical influence to growing up in a Pentecostal Church and listening to blues with his parents. He has opened for Patty Griffin, Old Crow Medicine Show, Shovels & Rope, Lake Street Dive, John Fullbright, Jason Isbell and Sarah Jarosz.

Topics: Music

Justin Townes Earle

Del McCoury

Bill and the Belles

John Cowan

Zoe and Cloyd open for Cowan.

The Infamous Stringdusters

Mandolin Orange

Parker Millsap