Charlottesville to Santa Fe: Indie darling Dawes checks in on one of its favorite small towns

Los Angeles’ indie-folksters Dawes will be among friends at the Jefferson on Tuesday. “It’s a shared opinion you can have some special shows there [in Charlottesville],” says frontman Taylor Goldsmith (left). Photo: Dan Martensen Los Angeles’ indie-folksters Dawes will be among friends at the Jefferson on Tuesday. “It’s a shared opinion you can have some special shows there [in Charlottesville],” says frontman Taylor Goldsmith (left). Photo: Dan Martensen

Anyone who’s listened to the Dawes album All Your Favorite Bands could have guessed the folk-rockers would make Charlottesville one of their 2015 tour stops. Little old C’ville is, after all, right there in the opening lines of the title track.

“Late night drives and hot French fries and friends around the country/From Charlottesville to good old Santa Fe,” Taylor Goldsmith intones over a spare keyboard arrangement.

Turns out Goldsmith’s talking about a friend who lives just outside Charlottesville, and it’s a good bet Nate’ll be at the show along with the rest of the local fans when Dawes takes The Jefferson Theater stage on December 8.

“When I thought about the cities we go to, I thought, ‘Oh, I look forward to that trip,’” Goldsmith says. “Charlottesville always occupies that place in my mind. There are a couple really cool rooms there that you talk to other bands about on the road. It’s a shared opinion you can have some special shows there.”

“All Your Favorite Bands” is a pretty straightforward ode to friends—“making new friends with fellow travelers or people you’ve met in places you wouldn’t otherwise be,” Goldsmith says. But it represents something more, what the singer-songwriter says has been a shift in the way he writes lyrics. Where in the beginning he might have found poetry in the iconic (sunsets, bucolic landscapes, when one’s time inevitably comes), these days he’s finding the everyday prosaic (fake IDs, being on an airplane, a basketball game).

Goldsmith has certainly seen enough in the last six years to pad his prose. In addition to making four records with Dawes, he’s made another full-length with Middle Brother, a side project with members of Deer Tick and Delta Spirit, and he was tapped to assist on The New Basement Tapes, a collection of songs crafted using Bob Dylan’s unfinished notes. That probably-once-in-a-lifetime opportunity brought Goldsmith together with Elvis Costello, Marcus Mumford, My Morning Jacket’s Jim James and the Carolina Chocolate Drops’ Rhiannon Giddens.

“When I look back on it now, I have a hard time believing it happened,” Goldsmith says. “Just the fact alone that there are liner notes that say this was written by Bob Dylan and Taylor Goldsmith.”

Goldsmith says he hopes The New Basement Tapes crew finds a way to get back together in the future, but for now he’s focused on hitting the road to promote All Your Favorite Bands. Joining Goldsmith when he visits Charlottesville will be longtime collaborator and bassist Wylie Gelber, as well as younger brother Griffin Goldsmith (aka Griff, aka Young Santa).

Not joining Goldsmith will be Tay Strathairn, the man who supplies those lonely keys at the beginning of “All Your Favorite Bands.” Strathairn left Dawes in late September, citing creative differences, and is being replaced by Lee Pardini for the time being.

“We came to this realization that this is not how he wants to spend his time at the moment,” Goldsmith says. “But, it’s like you hear this stuff, and it seems like this big thing, but it’s all love.”

It’s not the first amicable breakup for the elder Goldsmith. He and buddy Blake Mills started the band that would eventually become Dawes in high school, calling it Simon Dawes, but went their separate ways in 2008. Mills has since had success as a session musician and solo artist. But this is not a Jeff Tweedy and Jay Farrar story, according to Goldsmith.

“I love Blake,” he says. “When we broke up…we weren’t shitty to each other, we just didn’t know how to talk. It’s hard to illustrate how non-dramatic it was. But it was sad; it was unfortunate. We grew up thinking it was going to be the thing we always did.”

Now at age 30, Goldsmith says he thinks he and Mills would have been able to work it out had they known then what they know now. And breakups are something he’d rather not see become the norm for Dawes. “We don’t want it to be that kind of thing where Dawes is a moniker and the cast and crew is constantly changing,” he says.

Indeed Griffin Goldsmith, at the tender age of 25, and Gelber seem to be in it for the long haul. The band has sold more records with each release since its first in 2009, and a steady if not world-beating career appears to be in the offing for the trio.

Goldsmith says he’d be all right with steady.

“I have so little sense of how to gauge it as this point…but if anybody thought we were going to be the next Mumford & Sons, that never happened,” Goldsmith says. “I’m not too proud to say I’d love to write a hit song, but the things I feel confident in doing aren’t necessarily consistent with the needs of pop radio.”

Goldsmith says that fortunately there are now more paths than ever to being a successful professional musician. And he thinks the fans you make over the long haul are more likely to stick with you than those who jump on the overnight success bandwagon.

With All Your Favorite Bands, he’s no doubt created a few new loyalists in Charlottesville.