It’s funny how some venues consistently offer life-changing experiences.
Maybe it’s the history of the room. Maybe it’s the quality of acts. Maybe it’s the sound system, the front of house engineer, the venue staff or the sight lines. Or maybe it’s just how it’s all put together. The legendary, 500-cap Troubadour is one of these hubs.
With the release of Rocketman, the venue is back in the public lexicon as one of LA’s most historic birthplaces of icons like the Eagles, Carole King, James Taylor, Donny Hathaway, Fleetwood Mac, Guns N’ Roses and of course Elton John. I reported how Theo Katzman and Joey Dosik (of Vulfpeck), joined these icons, making history selling out the venue for their first co-headline appearance.
Last Friday, I was back at The Troubadour for the alt-Americana, roots-rock band Jamestown Revival.
Founded by childhood best friends Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance, they got their musical start at the singer/songwriter venues around LA, like Room 5 (RIP) and the Hotel Café in early 2010s. I used to see them early on in the scene, struggling to get 25 people out to their shows. Last Friday, however, was their final sold-out show as part of their three-night Troubadour run.
Jamestown Revival, which has now swelled to a cohesive sextet, brought the room to spiritual heights. Kicking off their Summer tour promoting their beautiful new (self-released) LP San Isabel – their first studio release since leaving Republic Records – the band was tighter than ever. Laying down the foundation was Ed Benrock on the drums and Nick Bearden on bass. These guys have been in the band since the beginning and their pocket was unwavering. Hundreds of shows all over the world will do that to a rhythm section. Benrock’s kit had a deep, roots timbre with a heavy snare that cracked with soulful precision. One of the tastiest bass players in the business, Bearden kept the coals hot, stocked and stoked inside Benrock’s steaming locomotive. Bearden’s Bass (pro shop/musical instrument store name some day Nick? You can have this for 10%), had a rich, round tone that eloquently balanced out Chance and Clay’s penetrating vocals.
For years, I thought the co-lead singers/founders of the group, Zach and Jon were brothers. My buddy Jesse who set the record straight for me – literally yesterday – pressed with one eyebrow raised “their last names didn’t tip you off?” I’m a bit dense. But you’d think they were brothers by how well their voices blend. They sound like brothers. (Fun fact, Bearden and Chance are actually cousins!)
Dan Reckard on keys (and sax for a moment!) and Preston Wimberly on pedal steel and lead guitar fleshed out the sound that rumbled through the historic club. But the real MVP of the evening was their front of house engineer, TJ Elias. I’ve seen him mix these guys all over the country in all different environments and he always gets them dialed in beautifully. Few bands sound as good live as Jamestown Revival and Elias is a huge reason for that. Last night was no exception. Elias made the Troubadour shimmer. It was the best I’ve ever heard that room sound. The pristine sonic landscape was a big part in helping elevate the energy.
+9 Things Every Musician Needs To Know About The Sound Guy
The audience was connected. With the band and with each other. A communal, cathartic consciousness guiding us into a dimension outside the physical world.
As Art Garfunkel expounded at his show at Saban last month, “I do it for the goosebumps.” And last Friday, the goosebumps showered my body like a welcomed supernatural exposé.
You can’t underestimate the importance of a great front of house engineer. Too many bands leave their live sound up to the house engineer – which is the riskiest move you could possibly make. It doesn’t matter how much time you spend in the practice room or money you spend on gear if your sound is botched coming out of the system. The most important person that determines whether you’re going to have a great sounding show or a painful one is your front of house engineer – aka sound guy/gal. I always advise bands to invest in a great FOH. Find someone you dig and hire them like a member of the band for every show you play.
What was most revealing last night, however, was that Jamestown Revival is a career band.
No longer are people coming because they dig “that one song.” If ever. They’ve had two mild hits – which never really penetrated mainstream radio. And their biggest “hit” – which cracked the Triple A top 20, “Love is a Burden,” has been nearly abandoned from their setlist altogether. The fan favorite, “California” off of their first record, Utah, continues to be a high point at their shows and they’ve kept it fresh over the years by continuing to evolve the arrangement.
Even though their new album was released just days prior, people were singing along to every word of the new repertoire. Jamestown Revival have built a sustainable fanbase who ain’t going anywhere. Not because of hits on the radio, internet marketing tricks or gimmicks in music videos. But because of the music – and their road tenacity. These guys have played hundreds and hundreds of concerts – and it shows.
It was comforting to revel in the fact that this band had built an audience of music lovers, earned one fan at a time, one show at a time, one post-show beer at a time, who will stick with them for life. In the end, the music wins. Chance, in a moment of sincere appreciation, said “This is our dream come true. It’s what we imagined when we played house concerts and clubs to just a few people – hoping that one day we’d have enough people to fill a room like this.”
Leaving the major label system enabled Jamestown Revival to release their most breathtaking album to date.
Much more mellow than their first two releases – and without songs tailor made for radio (like “Love is a Burden”) – it’s a much more intimate glimpse into the hearts of Clay and Chance. Introducing “Killing You Killing Me” last night, Clay explained the song was inspired by seeing a couple who’d probably been together for 50 years, eating at a restaurant, both on their phones. “Heartbreaking,” he said. “Do you run out of things to say? We spend so much time on things that don’t matter.”
If you’re stressing about your low social media numbers, lack of engagement or missed opportunities, maybe it’s time to get back in the studio, write better songs, play a million shows and hash em out. The biggest reason for slow growth is not lack of marketing, money or connections, it’s because the music ain’t ready. It’s the hardest pill to swallow for every artist. I know early on in my career I put the cart before the horse and spent a ton of time, money and effort promoting music that was not quite ready for prime time.
You need people around you who will push you to write better songs and make better recordings. Who will tell you that the show wasn’t quite on and that you need to hash it out in the rehearsal space a hundred more hours.
“You never really know how good a song is until you play it live” – Zach Chance, Jamestown Revival
Yes, of course, you need marketing and creative PR for your music to find an audience. With 40,000 songs uploaded to Spotify DAILY, even the greatest music ever made won’t magically find an audience just by appearing on Spotify. You have to put in that work as well. But not too soon. Not before your music is undeniable or until you’re offering something special to the world.
More times than not when artists come to me asking me why things aren’t happening as quickly as they think they should be for them – after they’ve read my book, followed all the steps, have their business on point – I take one listen to their music or attend one of their shows and realize very quickly why. Their music just ain’t ready. And it’s not just the music. Everything you release has to accurately reflect you as an artist. The photos, the videos, all of it, is a reflection of you the artist.
Of course this doesn’t just happen overnight. It’s a process. But step number one is creating great music. Then great live shows. While releasing stellar photos and videos that accurately represent your project. And finally, showcasing it to the world through great, authentic PR and marketing with the sole goal of finding and connecting with an audience.
As someone who spends his life dissecting effective marketing techniques and career strategies in music, it was a refreshing reminder last night that at the core of it all, is simply great music.
All photos by Stefanie Vinsel and used with permission