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Playing with Time: The Desert Rose Band and Justin Jones

July 23, 2012

As an arts journalist who covers a very broad spectrum of musical genres, I feel like I have a pretty good understanding of the etiquette that surrounds the start times of various different concert-going formats.

Western classical musicians start playing right at the advertised time. Musicians who play in most other idioms take a looser approach to curtain up. If it says "doors open at 8pm" on a concert flier for a pop music concert (I'm using the word "pop" in the broadest sense of the word, covering styles from jazz to hip-hop) it's not unusual for the headline artist to appear at 11pm, after one or two warmup acts.

Every now and again though, I'm caught out by these general standards, making me think that promoters and venues should be more explicit about how they advertise particular events.

This happened, unfortunately, on Saturday night. I was scheduled to attend a performance by the songful, longstanding country outfit, The Desert Rose Band, which I was excited to experience at The Birchmere Music Hall, a seminal and lovely rock, pop, country and folk venue in Alexandria, VA.

The concert was advertised to begin at 7.30pm. I showed up at around 8.30, thinking I'd be more or less in time for the end of the first support band. How ludicrous of me to assume that there would be a support band, or indeed that the concert would not somehow start right at the advertised time! Apparently The Birchmere, or The Desert Rose Band (I don't know which having never been to the venue or attended a concert by this group previously) run according to a schedule more often found in the classical music world. By the time I showed up, the concert was reaching its final stages.

Luckily, I did get to hear two marvelous tracks the band, which played to a packed house, clearly proving that I don't understand something about the meaning of punctuality in Virginia music venues.

The first song was the group's big hit, "One Step Forward." It was a lyrical, energetic performance of a song that elegantly tells the story of a relationship that can't seem to get off the ground. Next, I heard the encore, a cover of Pete Seeger's "Turn! Turn! Turn!," which was equally melodious and easy-going.

And then the whole thing was over at just shy of 9pm and everyone went home to their Saturday night hot cocoa and pajamas.

To make myself feel better, I headed back into Washington DC to see if I could scope out some more live music. Luckily, my timing for indie rocker Justin Jones at the 9:30 Club couldn't have been more perfect. I arrived at the venue at around 10.15pm. A few minutes later, the main act came on stage. Happiness.

Jones, who looks to be in his early- mid-thirties and sports a hipster beard, has a round and full low tenor voice, a friendly stage presence and sings beautiful ballads that are at once punchy and melancholy.

The frontman and band communicated well with each other and they seemed pretty happy to be up on stage. There was quite a bit of smiling. This isn't common practice among indie rock musicians who play music as introverted as a lot of Jones' material seems to be.

I especially appreciated the turns by a handful of guest artists -- a singer/harmonica player, keyboardist and guitarist -- at various points during the show.

Between the two songs I heard by Desert Rose and the full program I caught up with by Justin Jones, I felt like it had been a wonderful musical evening all in all. I guess I'll be more careful to check in with unfamiliar venues about schedules in the future.

Oh, and the 9:30 Club is on my list of favorite places to hear live music. It's a warm, roundish space, with several easy-access bars and airy balconies which include risers for sitting. I hope to get back there again soon.

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