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Fine weather, cheap gas, and a decent-to-above-average rotation of bands touring the mid-Atlantic: It’s a good summer for a concert road trip. Sure, D.C.’s got a nationally recognized jazz festival, the 9:30 Club’s convenient, and Radiohead isn’t around to lure you out of the city. They won’t even be touring—until August. In the Czech Republic. But that’s just the inertia talking: Pack a flask, roll down the windows, and start burning those fossil fuels. For funky summer offerings, you won’t have to stray too far from I-95.
A bit of traffic is a small price to pay to see the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. The group has recorded with Dr. John (Aug. 2 at Charlottesville Pavilion in Charlottesville, Va.), Robert Randolph, and Norah Jones, but they can crank out an amazing album and command a stage all on their own. Shredding New Orleans horn charts and merging James Brown-style drums with hip-hop beats, DDBB creates a Bourbon Street funk for kids raised on Dr. Dre. Never believed a tuba could do the work of a slap bass? It can, but just in case, the band has both. When they perform at Richmond’s Canal Club on May 27, they’ll make those Zeppelin-playing horn troupes that Trey Anastasio drags to Bonnarroo sound like high school marching bands.
If Medeski, Martin and Wood’s ubiquity at hippy-dippy fests has kept you away from them, cower no more. You can catch them June 4 at what should be a relatively granola-free venue—Richmond’s Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. These guys churn out legit three-piece jazz, with or without the machine-generated beats their guest DJs so ably provide. Parlor tricks, such as John Medeski’s theatrics on the B3 and Chris Wood’s use of a drumstick to get a slide-guitar effect on his upright bass, are window dressing, but the rhythm abides.
In 2008, critical darlings TV on the Radio got even cuter, releasing the universally extolled, instantly canonized Dear Science, and raking in the tour cash. Call them genre-benders, retro-poppers, yazz-fusionists—industry clichés can’t disrupt the stolid groove that characterizes even their most experimental work. If the 9:30 Club date sold out before you could get tix, try catching them at the National in Richmond on June 10.
What would summer be without nostalgia for the musical inheritance we’ve squandered? Without logging too much car time, you can find bluegrass, country, and folk acts of varying authenticity—and you don’t even need a Bible, or a hemp necklace, to dig most of them.
For bluegrass-lovers and anyone who finds Allison Krauss too cerebral, Old Crow Medicine Show is worth a ride to Richmond. The Nashville roots outfit, which plays the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden May 21, goes way deeper than downbeat, anthemic interpretations of Dylan—it’s a proper, unsophisticated string band without jammy aspirations that spits lyrics about Elijah Wood doing cocaine. Fans of more prototypical bluegrass will want to make the pilgrimage to see Del McCoury—he and his band have been churning it out for 50 years, and derivative acts have been basking in his reflected glory for nearly as long. This year, McCoury and his stately pompadour host DelFest at the Allegany County Fairgrounds in Cumberland, Md. The three-day event will bring together the crunchiest groups of the hippie-revivalist diaspora—including Leftover Salmon, Railroad Earth, and, yes, the Dark Star Orchestra.
Johnny Winter came to prominence as a blues-rock shredder, but his 1977 live album, Breakin’ It Up & Breakin’ It Down—recorded with Muddy Waters and James Cotton, among others—clarified his aspirations to anyone who hadn’t already gotten the joke. Here was a cross-eyed, albino Texan who wanted to be Elmore James. In fact, he did us one better, touring for 50 years behind a brand of music that starts with Robert Johnson and ends with Mike Bloomfield. And when he doesn’t get distracted by his own skills, he’s Elmore reincarnated. Catch him at Virginia Beach’s Sandstock Festival on June 28.
No band has defined the regressive joy of electric roots music like the Grateful Dead. There’s a reason these guys are still touring, and it’s not just to keep their roadies happy. Bob Weir may not be the most engaging surviving member of the Grateful Dead—that honor goes to Phil Lesh—but he’s turned Ratdog into the most convincing post-Dead project anyone has mounted. (Phil Lesh & Friends is still the better concert experience, but they’re less a consistent band than a protean touring unit. Plus, Weir’s amalga-mammals have been at it longer.) Govt Mule, meanwhile, is led by Warren Haynes, who guests with Lesh and has served for nearly a decade as the Dead’s Jerry Garcia stand-in. The whole family’ll be there, is what I’m saying. Compare and contrast when both pull into the Innsbrook After Hours in Glen Allen, Va., on July 8 and 29, respectively.
If all that tie-dye isn’t trippy enough for you, take in the Decemberists’ June 5 show at the National in Richmond, Va., where the Portland quintet will perform its concept album about a couple whose love gets thwarted by a shape-shifting psychobeast and a forest queen. Sure to trigger flashbacks to your first psychotropic experience in the summer after 9th grade.
The Dirty Dozen Brass Band at the Canal Club, Richmond, Va., Wed, 5/27, at 8 p.m. $12-14
Dr. John at Charlottesville Pavilion, Charlottesville, Va., Sun., 8/2, at 7 p.m. $27-50
Medeski Martin and Wood at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, Richmond, Va., Thurs., 6/4, at 6 p.m. $20
TV on the Radio at The National, Richmond, Va., Wed., 6/10 at 8 p.m. $20.
Old Crow Medicine Show at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, Richmond, Va., Thurs., 5/21, at 6 p.m. $25.
DelFest, Allegany County Fairgrounds, Cumberland, Md., Fri., 5/22-Sun., 5/24. $20-650
Johnny Winter, 31st Street Park, Virginia Beach, Va., Sun., 6/28, at 9:30 p.m. FREE.
Bob Weir and Ratdog at Innsbrook After Hours, Glen Allen, Va., Wed., 7/8, at 6 p.m. $17.50-35
Govt Mule at Innsbrook After Hours, Glen Allen, Va., Wed., 7/29, at 6 p.m. $12.50-30
The Decemberists at The National, Richmond, Va., Fri., 6/5, at 9 p.m. $28.