In Louisiana, music isn’t something that you listen to on your phone. It’s a glue that holds communities together, along with dancing, food and language. Mix them up and you get a culture that’s unique in the U.S., and even the world.
If you can’t be there, the next best thing is to catch a band like The Revelers, who hit Pearl Street Warehouse on March 23. No band is better at merging styles of Louisiana music – Cajun, zydeco and swamp pop – with other roots influences like blues and country. The result is both highly danceable – the Louisiana litmus test – and listenable.
Every member of the band writes original songs, which reflect the breadth of their background. Accordion player Blake Miller, a native Louisianan, writes in French. Fiddler Daniel Coolik comes from bluegrass. And guitarist Chas Justus cut his teeth on blues and old-time string band music.
When Justus moved to Louisiana as a teenager, he heard a bit of both blues and old-time. “I think Cajun music appealed to that (old-time) sensibility,” he said. “They are both community-based music made for dancing. It just had a different beat.”
As much as the music, the culture and community also attracted Justus. “I wanted to find my place in it, and playing functional (rhythm) guitar was a good way to do that,” he said.
A musician in Louisiana is part of the community, not apart from it. “There’s a connection between the dancers and musicians that blurs the line between audience and performer,” said Justus. “The musician isn’t a demi-God to film with your phone, they’re just one ingredient in an overall experience.”
This belief inspired The Revelers to start the Blackpot Festival, an annual event in Lafayette, LA that celebrates Louisiana food, dancing and all kinds of roots music. “The Revelers are part of the Louisiana community … as well as the larger roots music community,” said Justus. “We’ve made many friends and connections throughout the world, and we’re simply inviting them to a party we throw.”
Dead Men’s Hollow
Over 17 years, Dead Men’s Hollow built a loyal following with their tight three-part female harmonies and original songs. Now the group is disbanding, and it somehow seems fitting that some of its final concerts will be at the Congressional Cemetery on March 24, with two shows at 7 and 8:30 p.m.
“Our name is Dead Men’s Hollow, so we have a touch of the morbid about us,” said singer and guitarist Amy Nazarov, who lives on Capitol Hill. “And there are certain songs you can sing in a cemetery that you might not sing in a bar, and vice versa.”
The sets in the cemetery chapel will likely include a few murder ballads and probably some hymns as well, such as those on the CD “Angel’s Share,” one of three DMH records named Best Bluegrass Album by the Washington Area Music Association.
The other members of the band – Marcy Cochran, Jared Creason, Caryn Fox and Mike Clayberg – live in Northern Virginia, and most of the band’s shows have been there. But the group has performed around Capitol Hill at the Eastern Market, Hill Center and other venues. Another farewell show is set for the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage on March 29.
Seventeen years is a long run for a band, and when Fox and Clayberg announced that they are moving away from the area, the remaining members decided it was time to move on. “I’m at peace with it, because I’m proud of what we built,” said Nazarov.
The name Dead Men’s Hollow is a reference to an area on the Rosslyn side of the Key Bridge, which at one time was a center of unwholesome activity in the region. Nazarov’s new project will have a name that’s closer to home – Tiber Creek, after the tributary that once flowed from Capitol Hill to the Potomac.
“I didn’t know when I got to Washington 20 years ago what a creative music scene there would be, on Capitol Hill in particular,” she said.