Last Friday night, Joshua Hedley packed an audience into DC’s Union Stage for a no-bullshit, back-to-basics country show. Accompanied by his backing band, the Headliners, playing mostly acoustic guitar and switching occasionally to fiddle, Hedley played a tight one-hour set. Hedley’s consisted of originals from his album, Mr. Jukebox (2018/Third Man Records), and his recent single, Broken Man. The show, which started at seven, ended at nine with the title track from the former, as Hedley and his bunch had a long drive to Tennessee ahead of them Saturday.
Hedley presents as a contradiction. A traditionalist with a musical style that harkens back to the ’60s, his attitude and appearance are thoroughly contemporary. Tattoos wind down his arms to his hands, all the way to his knuckles, and a thick, light-brown beard covers his face.
As for his attitude, midway through the performance, Hedley dismissed his backing band, the Headliners, and told the audience that he considers the encore “one of the stupidest traditions in music.” Using blunt language, he described himself as “that kind of asshole,” and said there would be no encore. Instead, with just his acoustic guitar, he played three songs. Two were Johnny Paycheck songs; Hedley said he considers Paycheck the greatest country songwriter. The last of these three songs was the class Guy Clark song, “L.A. Freeway,” and it was the first time I’d ever heard it, and maybe any Guy Clark song, performed live. As Hedley strummed his guitar and sang the well-known words, I found myself singing along and deeply moved by one of my favorite songs.
Hedley, a native of Naples, on the southwestern coast of Florida, began playing fiddle at the age of 8. At age 19, he relocated to Nashville, where he became an in-demand player, and eventually frontman. He toured with artists such as Justin Townes Earle and Robert Ellis, and was featured in the 2015 documentary Heartworn Highways Revisited. Curiously, Hedley didn’t start writing his own songs until he was about 28 years old. The dams of creativity burst open for Hedley, and Mr. Jukebox has received critical acclaim, including a four-star review from AllMusic. For more info and tour dates, look here: http://joshuahedley.com/
Union Stage, located on the Wharf in on the Potomac River, opened in 2017. The Wharf, long a site of urban decay, recently underwent massive renovation. Last year, three new music venues opened there: Union Stage, Pearl Street Warehouse, and the Anthem. The Union Stage is an owned and managed by the Brindley family, brothers Daniel, Jonathan, and Luke. The Brindleys have, for nearly 20 years, owned and managed Jammin’ Java in nearby Vienna, Virginia. The two venues offer different experiences: Jammin’ Java is a suburban coffeehouse, while Union Stage is a standing venue in the heart of the city.