During his first year at UVA, Louis Smith felt homesick. He missed his hometown, Virginia Beach, and places like Kendall Street, a beach access road where Smith and friends lit bonfires and watched fireworks.
Fast forward five years, and Smith, still in Charlottesville, feels right at home. While studying music at the University of Virginia, he started Kendall Street Company, the alternative rock jam band in which he sings lead vocals and plays guitar alongside musicians he met at UVA.
“The name Kendall Street Company represents a home place and good people. It’s kind of here for me now,” Smith says.
Over the course of the past few years, the band performed at venues ranging from private events to sorority and fraternity parties, before headlining Fridays after Five. Electric guitarist Ben Laderberg recalls one gig at a VCU sorority that featured a giant bucket of crab dip.
The band released its first full-length album, Earth Turns, in 2016 and is just finishing recording Space for Days. As the group’s popularity has grown, Laderberg says he’s still getting used to people recognizing him in the grocery store. Backup vocalist and bassist Brian Roy says everyone is excited and nervous to go on tour this month, but ready to face any gig ranging from “fun,” to “strange,” to “disastrous.” In songs like “Cars,” it’s clear the band can jam: silky guitars bounce between head-bobbing percussion and saxophone crescendos to Smith’s smooth vocals.
After making it to the final round of the fourth annual Rockn’ to Lockn’, a competition showcasing Virginia bands, Kendall Street Company heads to Infinity Downs, where Mighty Joshua, FeelFree, Virginia Man, Sun-Dried Opossum and Anthony Rosano & The Conqueroos join the bill on Saturday, June 17, and fan votes will determine three winning bands. Each receives $500 and an opening performance slot at Lockn’ in August.
Richmond-based reggae act Mighty Joshua is honored to “be mentioned in the same sentence” as Lockn’, says frontman Joshua Achalam. In 2015 and 2016, the Virginia Reggae Awards named Mighty Joshua Virginia’s reggae ambassador. He says few are familiar with the state’s “rich” reggae culture, and he promises an empowering, reflective and high-energy experience. “We come with an energy and message that is very much needed,” says Achalam.
D.C.-area band FeelFree also draws inspiration from reggae. FeelFree vocalist, guitarist and trombonist Andrew Pfeiffer, drummer Bryan Frank, guitarist and vocalist Evan Hulehan started jamming as middle schoolers in 2004. The band’s sound is laid-back jazzy funk peppered with big horn-lines reminiscent of a soulful New Orleans second line.
Last year, FeelFree performed as a finalist in FloydFest’s Fandango competition, but came up short in the final voting round, Pfeiffer says. This year, he and his crew want the chance to “leave it all on the stage at Lockn’.”
“Lockn’ is the gatekeeper,” says Kristian Lietzan, lead vocalist for the Fredericksburg-based poppy folk band Virginia Man. “It’s the thing that would send all of our careers to the next level, like maybe as a full-time job, which still sounds insane in my head.”
Virginia Man’s 2016 single, “Paper Shields,” has nearly 250,000 listens on Spotify. The group recorded the tune from a dining room, after removing tables and chairs, hanging palettes and setting up dozens of pillows for sound. The resulting track mixes heavy percussion with electric guitar, banjo riffs and crisp lyrics.
“We’re looking forward to playing a bigger stage,” says Virginia Man songwriter and keyboardist Jacob Keller. “I think the most people we’ve ever played for is 600, and Lockn’ is like 40,000.”
After playing 100 shows annually for a decade, rock group Sun-Dried Opossum is no stranger to big crowds. Based in Lyndhurst, the band played FloydFest and opened for The Dead, The Allman Brothers Band and more. Guitarist and vocalist Steve Sutton says the band stepped back in recent years to “let everybody regroup,” focusing on improving show quality and musical skills.
“We’ve been together a long time and would really like this opportunity [to play at Lockn’],” Sutton says. “Even if we don’t make it, the support we’ve had from our fans has been incredible and makes us love them even more.”
Though Sutton would rather play with musicians than compete against them, he’s thrilled to make the Rockn’ to Lockn’ bill with “monster guitar player” Anthony Rosano and contemporary blues rock band Anthony Rosano & The Conqueroos.
Vocalist and guitarist Rosano says the band has paid dues for years, playing everywhere from small dives to a festival stages and opening for acts such as G. Love and Train.
“A show like Lockn’ could really help put us over the top by exposing our stuff to the world,” Rosano says. “That and I am a huge Gov’t Mule fan,” (the band is on the Lockn’ bill).
“It’s our favorite festival. Every band is really deserving,” Kendall Street Company’s Roy says. “We’re going to the festival either way.”