ALEXANDRIA, Va. — It’s one of the true live music gems in the D.C. area.
Over the next few days, The Birchmere will host the varied sounds of singer/songwriter Joan Osborne on Thursday, June 16, R&B and hip-hop star Angie Stone on Thursday, June 23, the alt-rock sound of 10,000 Maniacs on Friday, June 24, and classic rockers Three Dog Night on Sunday, June 26.
“We’ve played The Birchmere probably a dozen times,” Osborne told WTOP. “I really love it.”
What can we expect to hear from Osborne on Thursday night?
“I like to try to mix it up and do things off of the recent album ‘Love and Hate’ … stuff off of the ‘Bring it on Home’ album, which is the blues cover album, and I also of course dip into the ‘Relish’ record because we just did a 20th anniversary rerelease. … We recently did a residency at The Carlyle in New York doing nothing but Bob Dylan, so we’ll probably bust out several Bob Dylan songs as well.”
Osborne has come a long way from her youth in Anchorage, Kentucky, just outside of Louisville.
“I grew up in a very small town,” she said. “We had a wonderful music teacher, Carolyn Browning, and she really challenged kids to do some fairly complicated multipart harmonies. … But I didn’t really do anything in high school or college … I didn’t get into singing again until my early 20s in New York.”
She moved to the Big Apple to attend film school at New York University in the late ’80s.
“I thought I was going to become a documentary filmmaker,” Osborne admitted. “But I just kind of accidentally fell into the music scene that was going on there. There was a lot of great music happening in the clubs and small venues at that time. It was a total accident that I got involved in it.”
Wouldn’t you know it? Osborne got pulled into New York’s live music scene on an open-mic night.
“There was a guy in my building who invited me out for a drink [at] the Abilene Cafe,” she said. “It was late at night. There had been a band there and they were finished, but the piano player was still there playing just for himself and the handful of people still in this bar. The guy I was with dared me to go up and sing a song with the piano player and said, ‘I’ll buy these drinks if you go up and sing a song.'”
The song? “God Bless the Child” by Billie Holiday.
“The piano player was like, ‘Oh, that’s pretty good. You should come back on Tuesday nights. We have open-mic nights here every Tuesday,’ so I started doing that,” she said. “I went from doing open-mic nights for free to — after a couple years — playing five or six nights a week in New York City.”
Before long, she had founded her own independent label called Womanly Hips before signing with Mercury Records, which released her first full-length album with “Soul Show: Live at Delta 88.”
“It was the classic story of three years later you have an overnight success,” she joked. “But for me, I was having success every night as far as I was concerned. … For me, coming from this little town in Kentucky, just to get on stage in New York City and have people actually pay attention and like what I was doing, that felt like a big success even to me. So it’s all been success from that point on.”
Soon, her first studio album made her a household name. “Relish” (1994) went triple platinum and reached No. 9 on the Billboard Album Charts, largely off the strength of its massive hit “One of Us.”
“It invites people in and asks them what they think and what they believe,” Osborne said. “The images I keep coming up with are things like The good Samaritan, the person who stopped and helped someone by the side of the road who needed assistance. … It illustrates the proverb that ‘as you treat the least of my children, so you treat me.’ It’s an invitation to see the holy and godly in every person.”
The song was also nominated for three Grammys, including Best Female Pop Vocal, Song of the Year and Record of the Year, where it competed against “One Sweet Day” (Mariah Carey & Boyz II Men), “Gangsta’s Paradise” (Coolio), “Waterfalls” (TLC) and the eventual winner “Kiss From a Rose” (Seal).
“Night after night, I really feel like people connect with it. My musical partner Keith Cotton has created this beautiful, stripped-down, solo piano version, which is probably what we’ll be doing down at The Birchmere. … People really get carried away and choked up by it, so it still has a lot of power.”
The song ranked No. 54 on VH1’s Top 100 Songs of the ’90s and has since been used as the theme for TV’s “Joan of Arcadia” (2003-05) as well as on the “Vanilla Sky” and “Bruce Almighty” soundtracks.
“If there’s one song that you have to be attached to, that’s a pretty good one. You could have had something like ‘Rump Shaker’ that’s not super deep,” Osborne joked.
Since then, Osborne has explored a number of genres, including Motown by touring with the Funk Brothers, featured together in the documentary “Standing in the Shadows of Motown” (2002).
She has also dabbled in country music numerous times, touring with The Dixie Chicks in 2003, recording a Dolly Parton cover album in 2003 and performing live at the Grand Ole Opry in 2007.
And just when you thought she couldn’t master any other musical styles, her acclaimed blues album “Bring it On Home” earned her a Grammy nomination for Best Blues Album.
“The genre lines are a little bit arbitrary for me,” Osborne said. “I feel like soul music, which is what I try to do, that’s just music that reaches your soul. It can be R&B music or it can be country music or it can be pop music, it can be a lot of different styles, but it reaches down to your soul.”
Next up, Osborne will join Black Crowes drummer Steve Gorman to form the rock-soul supergroup Trigger Hippy, whose self-titled debut album will arrive later this year or early next year. Until then, she’ll be doing residencies at both the Blue Note Hawaii in Honolulu and the Cotton Club in Tokyo.
But first, catch her at The Birchmere.
“It’s a very intimate show, it’s a very special show for us to do,” Osborne said. “The audiences that we’ve done the show for have really, really loved it. It’s kind of a little bit more conversational. … It’s a little bit of a cliché, but it’s kind of like you’re all sitting around the living room together.”
After Joan Osborne, get ready for Angie Stone on Thursday, June 23. She came up in the late ’70s as part of the hip-hop trio The Sequence, which landed a hit with “Funk You Up” (1979), the first rap record released by a female rap group. It was sampled by Dr. Dre in “Keep Their Heads Ringin’.”
From there, she spent time with Mantronix, Lenny Kravitz and the R&B trio Vertical Hold before releasing her debut solo album “Black Diamond” (1999), which went gold off the strength of the single “No More Rain (In This Cloud”). She landed another gold-selling album with “Mahogany Soul” (2001), including the hit single “Wish I Didn’t Miss You,” arguably the biggest hit of her career.
Stone has been nominated for three Grammy Awards, including Best R&B Performance By a Duo or Group for “More Than a Woman” with Joe (2003), Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for “U-Haul” (2004) and Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group for “Baby” with Betty Wright (2008).
Then, stick around for 10,000 Maniacs on Friday, June 24. The band is celebrating its 35th anniversary after a career of hits on the Alt-Rock charts, including “What’s the Matter Here?” (No. 9), “Trouble Me” (No. 3), “These Are The Days” (No. 1) and a killer cover of “Because the Night” (No. 7).
The band featured the signature sound of lead singer Natalie Merchant from 1981-1993, before Merchant parted ways to release her debut solo effort “Tigerlily” (1995), which became a multiplatinum smash with “Carnival,” “Wonder” and “Jealousy” — some of the biggest hits of the ’90s.
Finally, get ready for Three Dog Night on Friday, June 24. The band landed 21 Top 40 hits, including three No. 1 hits with “Mama Told Me (Not to Come)” (1970), “Joy to the World” (1971) and “Black and White” (1972), as well as others like “Never Been to Spain” and “An Old Fashioned Love Song.”
The original incarnation ran from 1967-1976. The group reunited in 1981 and has been playing ever since, often at The Birchmere. It recently lost keyboardist Jimmy Greenspoon, who died last year.
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