Words and Photos by Liz Bogie
It was an unseasonably warm February night in Charlottesville, which made for an unforgettable evening with Cris Jacobs, the Will Overman Band, and The Vegabonds at The Southern Cafe and Music Hall. The venue itself was dark and intimate, yet it was full of energy from the lively crowd, ranging from gaggles of UVA students out on a Friday night to dedicated fans from across Virginia. And for those who initially weren’t familiar with the talent on stage, they were quickly drawn in from each acts’ unequivocal ability to get the room on their feet.
Once you have the opportunity to see CJ live, it’s easy to understand why Sturgill Simpson and Steve Winwood were drawn to him. Formerly the lead songwriter, vocalist and guitarist for The Bridge, Jacobs has received nothing but the highest praises from old and new fans alike. I had the opportunity to interview Cris Jacobs, which you can read here.
He kicked off the show with several songs off his critically acclaimed new album Dust to Gold. He drew the crowd in with his smooth yet robust croons and his band’s rousing rhythms. “The Devil or Jesse James” set the tone for the rest of the show, displaying his influences: New Orleans-style rhythm and blues with the fortitude of Southern roots rock.
The third song in his set, “Jack the Whistle and the Hammer,” quickly got the room rocking. The song’s rollicking guitar riffs and blues lines reminded me of “Get Rhythm” by Johnny Cash, ushering the room to shuffle their feet and tap their toes, but with the raw grit of Merle Haggard’s “Workin’ Man Blues.”
All bets were off as soon as Jacobs settled into a chair with his cigar box guitar, and got down to business tearing it up with “Bone Digger.” Bass player Todd Herrington performed a fiery solo that simply mesmerized, as Jacobs’ twangy melodies enveloped the room with his soulful, yet haunting lyrics. It sent chills down my spine, like I was being overtaken by a Voodoo spirit down on Frenchmen Street.
But what’s most striking about Cris Jacobs, in addition to his incredible voice and musicianship, is his ability to write songs that stir your emotions and make you ruminate. His performance of “Dust to Gold” was razor-sharp yet smooth as a silk sheet. He sang, “I know that the well I seek is bound to be the deepest of all been ever told / I know that to plant a seed is alchemy, we can watch the dust turn into gold,” and the room was entranced for the rest of the set. His performance was sensational, and I can’t wait to see him again soon. To check out his upcoming tour dates, head to his website for the latest info here.
WILL OVERMAN BAND
Will Overman Band was next up on the bill, drawing huge crowds as they played their hometown of Charlottesville. Will and I grabbed coffee before the show that night, and you can read our conversation here.
With a sound reminiscent of the Avett Brothers and songwriting chops reminiscent of Jason Isbell, Will Overman Band is an all-around cerebral experience. Mark my words, people are going to be talking about this band after their upcoming festival appearances this summer. Overman’s voice is so unique- I can’t explain. It cuts you like a switchblade at times, but in the same breath, it warmly wraps you up like a newly-knitted blanket.
His set began with “A.H.Q.,” a heart-wrenching ballad to his girlfriend, Janey, who recently battled and defeated cancer. In the song, he tells her, as she’s undergoing chemotherapy, “Darling, you’re still beautiful / A mix of Audrey Hepburn and Queen.” The sheer passion and devotion Overman put into this number set a high bar for the rest of the show- and he delivered.
The next song, “All the Women,” made the crowd go nuts. I personally love it, because as a woman, I know we’re always right- and Overman reinforces this fact. So thank you for that, Will.
Another song that really spoke to me was “Pilot Mountain.” Superficially, it describes the band’s life on tour, driving hundreds of miles to get from show to show. But the meaningful lyrics open up the interpretation that could speak to any of us navigating the twists and turns of life. Paying your dues, seeing the sun rise (or confusing it with a Shell sign), and wandering down windy backroads. This is the kind of songwriting to which we can all relate, depending on the direction our lives are taking.
Overman’s show takes you on a journey through your formidable years, as you abruptly skid into adulthood. His lyrics are moving. His passion is real. And he puts every ounce of his being into his shows, leaving it all laid out on the stage. To check out their upcoming tour dates, head to their website for the latest info here.
Finally, to complete the triple-threat of incredible music with powerful songwriting to boot, the Vegabonds hit the stage. Hailing from Nashville by way of Alabama, The Vegabonds describe themselves as “New South Rock,” incorporating the classic style of the Allman Brothers and Marshall Tucker, but with the fearless attitude of Chris Stapleton and Sturgill Simpson. I had a chance to chat with them before the show (which will be released on LMD soon!)
These guys are awesome and down to earth, even though they’ve earned every right to act like high-and-mighty rock stars. Every show they perform is unparalleled, because they’re so unique from other artists out there. From lead guitarist Richard Forehand’s shredding, to Paul Bruens’ incredible bass-slapping talents, to drummer Bryan Harris’s intoxicating beats, to Beau Cooper’s uncanny ability to tickle the ivories with the utmost enthusiasm, to Danny Allen’s incredible vocal range and on-stage persona that gets everyone singing along- these guys are the real deal.
They opened their set with “Where We Used to Go,” off their latest album, What We’re Made Of. Its free-and-easy rhythm accompanied with the story of driving around town with old friends is a song that everyone can relate to as they reminisce on their younger days.
The third song in their set, “Partyin’ with Strangers,” got the crowd moving and shaking for the rest of the night. It’s one of my personal favorites that is sure to become one of the band’s signature ballads. They’re recording it in the studio this week, so you can check it out on Spotify soon.
Once Richard got on the steel guitar, and Bryan grazed the cymbals for “American Eyes,” every single face in the crowd lit up with excitement and satisfaction. Danny crooned, “I want the girl with American eyes / with the sun-kissed skin that money can’t buy / she can’t tell me no / while she takes me home,” as everyone sang along. The voices echoed throughout The Southern as the crowd belted out their best versions of this legendary ballad alongside Danny.
In case things weren’t heating up enough, the Vegabonds’ rendition of Charlie Daniels’ “Long Haired Country Boy” had the crowd on fire. They closed out their set with other favorites like their classic hit, “Georgia Fire,” and their rendition of The Band’s “Atlantic City.” The Vegabonds drove the crowd berserk, leaving everyone wanting more.
If you’re looking for a fun night with some legends in the making, The Vegabonds are the ones to see. Their impactful songwriting accompanied with their sheer musical talent, tied in with ability to get folks up and moving, undoubtedly makes for an exciting, invigorating show to remember. If they’re headed to a town near you, definitely check out the Vegabonds. You’ll be glad you did. To see their upcoming tour dates, head to their website for the latest info here.