Since childhood, Nathan Colberg has nurtured the same, secret dream. It’s one shared by many born-and-bred Charlottesville musicians, but few ever see it realized. On February 28, Colberg, along with fellow local acts Grant Frazier and Spudnik, will take the stage at The Jefferson Theater.
“It’s going to be new territory for everyone on the bill,” Colberg says. “We’ve all got an excitement right now, and I think that excitement is going to carry into the show.”
Colberg has been traversing a lot of new territory since his 2017 graduation from UVA. A longtime member of a cappella group The Hullabahoos (you might remember their cameo in Pitch Perfect), he started putting out original music with the 2016 EP Barricade.
This five-song collection included the hometown love letter “Charlottesville”—his first hit, which cemented his status as a local musician. To foster a Charlottesville following, Colberg set up a studio in his parents’ basement. “I started writing a lot of songs with the intent of making a full-length album,” he says, adding that he launched a Kickstarter to support his project. The campaign was a success, and Silo was released in spring 2018.
The 11-track album is an expansion of the sounds and themes of Colberg’s first EP. Across all of his music, he sings—in clear, effortless vocals reminiscent of The Head and the Heart and Vance Joy—of universal ideas like wanting to find a lasting home and being disillusioned by misplaced ambitions. “Chasing money, chasing dreams / And chasing hearts and everything in between,” he laments on “Calm,” a single that strives toward the title emotion.
As a recent college grad in Charlottesville, Colberg has practiced what he preaches in his music—a simple, unassuming way of life. For him, that has meant part-time jobs at MarieBette Café & Bakery and Christ Episcopal Church. It’s also encompassed getting married, which he did last fall. “[Rachel and I] dated from the fall after our senior year,” he said, citing the life change as one of several major influences on his songwriting. “I’m kind of writing different styles of songs, and I think a lot of that has been because of romance.”
Colberg stresses that various post-grad experiences have shaped his music into something markedly different than his first two ventures. Whereas Silo feels like Barricade’s natural next step, “Could You Ever Find Another Word for Love” and “Sunset Eyes” foray into new territory. On both tracks, Colberg’s voice dips unexpectedly through octaves, and the instrumentation is more impressive too, with “Sunset Eyes” utilizing what sounds like a full string section.
Colberg says he has made enormous strides in the songwriting process in the past few years, a journey that started with the misaligned expectations and realities of his first album. “I think I was really naive,” he says. “I thought that opportunities would just open up.” When they didn’t, he says, “I had to kind of reset my expectations.”
Although he emphasizes how he has changed since Silo, he doesn’t scorn any of his thoughts and feelings from that period, saying that it was an opportunity to “start believing in myself a little more.”
Colberg cites the desire to take himself less seriously. Even though his music career is reaching new and fairly serious heights, he wants the music itself to give the listener less of a melancholy vibe. “There’s kind of been this change of tone,” he says. “It’s a little bit more light-hearted and whimsical. It’s fun, too, which is a change.”
He could be describing the music of opener Frazier, a fourth-year at UVA whose tunes, while peppier than Colberg’s, are created in the same earnest, acoustic vein. It’s worth noting, though, that both musicians have been hard at work on new material—Frazier dropped a single earlier this month, and an album is on the way—so the night promises to be full of sonic surprises.
And Spudnik, heroes of the local scene, will be there to hold everything together. As a band whose stated mission is to “create community-based music for our community,” they’re certain to fit in with the theme of the show.
It’s people like the five who make up Spudnik, a group devoted to supporting and collaborating with fellow locals, who give Colberg the conviction he needs to continue singing and songwriting in a town admittedly stuffed with singer-songwriters. “I’m not unaware of how awesome this opportunity is for me,” he says of the upcoming show. “I’m also not unaware that I couldn’t do this without the support of so many friends of mine.”
Spudnik will be his backing band onstage, but Colberg also has a backing band on a daily basis, one far greater than five people—a network of friends and family members, fellow churchgoers and coworkers, who want him to keep doing what he’s doing. He has become a local musician in the truest sense of the word, someone who actively participates in the community instead of just occasionally performing for it.
And the community is reciprocating. “I’m good friends with everyone on the bill, and I just love that,” he says. “I feel like the luckiest dude ever.”