It was a cold night in January when Americana Highways made a pit stop at the Wind Up Space in Baltimore to watch three generations of Americana bands sharing the bill: Big Mama Shakes from Richmond, Virginia; Baltimore’s own June Star; and, from the DC area, The Linemen.
The Wind Up Space is a beloved intimate venue located off the beaten path in Baltimore on North Ave. Its stage is an aesthetic pleasure with lights glowing against the backdrop of its red velvet curtain. The stage floor’s zigzag pattern is reminiscent of the waiting room floor in David Lynch’s show Twin Peaks. There’s permanent framed art glowing above the bar, a current installation lining the walls and plastic owls stand watch from their lofty perches onstage. Yet even with all the artistic embellishments the room retains its understated, welcoming vibe. It hosts a variety of community artist-supportive events. So, in addition to hosting great bands, it’s not pigeonholed as a straight-up music venue; it offers regular community access, including game nights; and for proof, there’s a ping pong table folded up against one wall as a reminder.
Big Mama Shakes opened the night and definitely warmed up the crowd with its blend of rock and alt country songs, highlighting their recent single release, “Coming of Age.” “Weight of a Heavy Heart” was a fun number with antics from frontmen Chandler Matkins, and Brady Heck and bass player Peter Carson. Throughout the merriment and alt-country rock, the band kept the audience’s attention and buoyed their spirits with nonstop musical optimism, oftentimes blending folkier beginnings into strident rock songs.
The Linemen ascended the stage like the region’s royalty they are. Guitarists Kevin Royal Johnson and Jonathan Gregg have been playing in the area for decades—in various incarnations—along with Bill Williams. In case you were in doubt over the value of a kick ass bass player, Scott McKnight (formerly of Last Train Home) reminded you from his spot in the dark corner of the stage, in the groove with drummer Antoine Sanfuentes. They rocked the crowd with songs like “Way Down Down” and several songs from their recent album Close the Place Down. “I keep breaking the news and you keep fixing to leave,” made the fans tap their feet; and “Cold Water” is an Americana music lover’s dream with “you been lookin’ in his direction.” They also played powerful songs from Jonathan Gregg and the Lonesome Debonairs’ Blue on Blonde, shaking up the crowd from start to finish.
June Star closed the night accentuated by the grace of Greta Thomas on violin and Katie Feild on guitars and perfect vocals; while front man Andrew Grimm kept the crowd smiling with wry banter and then lulled them to weep with his poignant lyrics, paired Creston guitars, and magical voice. June Star songs are always moving poetry. Ryan Finnerin on bass and Kurt Celtnieks on drums kept the toes tappin’ amidst the air of general sincerity. Songs cradled the fan’s hearts, songs like “Tether,” with the lyrics “I’ll keep comin’ around ‘til we wear each other out,” and “Feathers” with the line “even in my weak condition, you were always over me,” from the recent album Pull Awake. And then there were songs from June Star’s upcoming release East on Green, like “Hang On,” with “hang on, you’re sinking fast, you’re nowhere near me now.” And Baltimore fans were clearly familiar with June Star’s outlaw adventure song “got a call last night, it was from my brother, he said ‘I need your help bring a pistol and a shovel’ uh huh;” the song “Pope of Mexico” from Lower Your Arms closed the night to rousing applause.