Thursday night, in the pretty spring air at sundown, the communal musical design intended by the planners of the developing Wharf area in Washington D.C. was on full display. With the Southern Avenue band at Union Stage (owned by the Brindley Brothers, who also own Jammin’ Java over in Vienna, VA), and Sarah Shook and the Disarmers diagonally across the cobblestone square at Pearl Street Warehouse (owned by Bruce Gates and Nick Fontana, formerly of Cantina Marina), the idea that music could be spilling out onto the streets as people stroll along going in and out was casually demonstrated.
Pearl Street Warehouse has tables out on the street and the bar’s moving wall opens up to the outside for service outdoors. You can hear the band, but not as well as you will once you come inside. People are drinking and talking breezily in the waning daylight, one couple has their beagle in its red harness seated underneath their table. Writers are getting ready to review the shows and having drinks together with photographers while they wait. One of the fans reported he had been part of the film crew for the band’s documentary to be premiered in Boston three days later: What it Takes (Gorman Bechard). Sarah Shook’s manager, and Disarmer guitarist Eric Peterson, stepped outside and people gathered for some selfies with them.
Inside, a few steps away, Union Stage has a projector featuring an entire wall of Tom Petty and Mike Campbell video footage, which is apt since people are still mourning Tom Petty’s death last year, and Mike Campbell, his longtime guitar player, is about to hit the road touring with Fleetwood Mac. This is the place to get some really nice pizza, flat crust, at the bar for a very reasonable price; along with your slideshow dose of music history. The salads are equally divine, as is the beer selection, and you can access the bar without yet paying the cover charge for the band. There are more writers gathered here chatting at the bar as well.
The two venues are aesthetic complements. Union Stage is down a flight of stairs with a wooden floor. Pearl Street Warehouse opens to the outdoor air and has fresh brand new black and white tiles. Both of the venues feature great musical calendars, perfectly lit raised stages for photographers, and amazing state-of-the-art sound. It’s immediately apparent that the design of this new area, modeled after other iconic musical spaces like Austin’s 6th Street, New Orleans’ Frenchmen Street, Memphis’s Beale Street and Nashville’s Music Row, is working out effortlessly as intended. The cover charges are reasonably low enough for a person to be able to afford attending both shows without hesitating, but respectable enough to pay the bands too.
Speaking of significant Americana musical scenes, Memphis’ Southern Avenue has inspired its own namesake: the Southern Avenue band. Opener Bencoolen rocked the crowd hard, and then the Southern Avenue crew came on like gangbusters with “Steadybeats.” They launched into “What Did I Do?” and the universally relatable “It’s Gonna Be Alright,” and “Slipped, Tripped, and Fell in Love,” songs from their debut self-titled release last year. There were also some songs from their upcoming release on Stax Records, like “Freedom.” Lead Singer Tierinii Jackson exuded high energy and was a photogenic focal point in her rock ‘n roll clothing and raspberry red hair. Blues guitarist virtuoso Ori Naftaly commanded the room along with Jeremy Powell on keyboard and Daniel McKee on bass. Drummer Tikyra Jackson, sibling of Tierinii Jackson, rocked steady with a power drum heartbeat, and when there were some equipment challenges with the stool for her drums, it only provided more connection and community feel to the evening as bartenders pitched in to resolve the problem. The crowd was good and grooving to the blues rock country vibe with the Southern Avenue band, allowing their music to cleanse their collective souls.
Across the intersection at the Pearl Street Warehouse, Zephaniah Ohora had the crowd warmed up and was a high talent, commanding performer. For Sarah Shook and the Disarmers this was opening kickoff night because they are headed out for a three month tour. Shook has been having a burst out in the media since South by Southwest and her new release Years (Bloodshot) came out last month, and it showed in the size of the crowd turnout. People had come to see what all the fuss was about and Sarah Shook and the Disarmers were prepared to show them in mighty fashion. We ourselves recently interviewed Sarah Shook, you can read it by clicking these bolded words right here. Rhythm section Kevin McClain (drums) and Aaron Oliva (stand up bass) drove the country-rock groove home, while Shook & Peterson rocked on guitars and Adam Kurtz provided pedal steel ultra vibes behind Shook’s party-friendly lyrics.
The band played hop stomping songs from the new album Years like “Damned If You Do,” “Good as Gold,” and “Parting Words,” and some from their earlier release Sidelong (Bloodshot) too, like “Dwight Yoakam,” “Fuck Up,” and “Sidelong,” “a song about taking chances on someone because you just never know,” Shook said to the crowd. The audience pressed forward toward the stage and the energy was palpable. The night was a fun night of alt-country bad-assery all around.
It goes without saying that this night was a sign of the times, it’s the dawn of a woman’s world out there in Americana music. Summer’s coming and it’s time to check out the wharf if you’re making your travel plans or if you live anywhere in the Capitol district.
Read our interview with Bruce Gates of Pearl Street Warehouse, here.
Read our interview with Sarah Shook, here.
Keep up with Southern Avenue’s goings on, here.
Follow Sarah Shook & the Disarmers, here.
Find Zephania Ohora, here.