Rolling on: Holy Smokes wraps up with a stacked Tom Tom showcase


The Black Twig Pickers approach the time-honored tradition of bluegrass with reverence and raw talent. The group performs on Friday at the Tom Tom Fest. Random Found Objects Photography. The Black Twig Pickers approach the time-honored tradition of bluegrass with reverence and raw talent. The group performs on Friday at the Tom Tom Fest. Random Found Objects Photography.

The Tom Tom Founders Festival has a dense schedule, seeking to offer something for everyone, from concerts to street parties to symposia on innovation. A glance at the calendar can be bewildering, and it may be tough to know where to turn. Although every attendee is sure to find something to enjoy, one event in particular caught the eye of this writer—consider it the “Feedback pick” of the line-up. Among the four ‘stages’ at the McGuffey Arts Center on April 12 is one curated by Holy Smokes Booking, offering an exciting combination of three live music acts: David Daniell, Black Twig Pickers, and Great Dads.

The event is something of a farewell send-off for organizer Matt Northrup, who moved to Charlottesville last year to take over booking duties at the Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar from the departing Jacob Wolf, inheriting Wolf’s Holy Smokes moniker. Northrup will soon be relocating to Durham, North Carolina in a matter of weeks. “Jacob and I are going to keep using the Holy Smokes name, but we’re going to divorce it from Charlottesville,” Northrup said. “I’m still going to be putting on shows at various places down there, but I’m cutting back a lot, just doing shows that I’m really excited about, maybe one a month. I’ve also started a tape label called Holy Smokes, and Jacob wants to continue booking tours under that name, so we’ll see how it goes. It will be less of a solid thing associated with a particular venue, and more of an amorphous umbrella entity.”

The Holy Smokes showcase might be a small cog in the larger machine of the Tom Tom Festival, but it’s also a stellar lineup, signifying the culmination of everything Northrup has achieved during his year in town. “The organizers at Tom Tom have labeled it as the Indie Rock Stage, and I guess the Tea House has a reputation as being a sort of ‘indie’ venue,” Northrup said. “But I’m not really interested in booking the sort of music that most people call ‘indie’—it’s not really related, apart from the fact that it’s independent.” Northrup’s selection is far more varied, offering everything from rowdy Appalachian traditionalism to artsy ambient drones to energetic experimental rock.

The Blacksburg-based trio Black Twig Pickers are one of two groups formed from the ashes of the semilegendary band Pelt, after the informal departure and tragic premature death of virtuoso guitarist Jack Rose. While the Spiral Joy Band trafficked in long-form avant-garde drones with a slight Appalachian flavor, the Black Twigs (comprised of several of the same members) doubled down on the straight-up bluegrass tunes, as pure and raw as home brewed moonshine. There’s a purity that comes from musicians who have never known anything but bluegrass, but the music of Black Twig Pickers is the sort made by folks who have tried plenty of other things and returned to this particular well out of affection, devotion, and commitment. It doesn’t hurt that the Twigs have the technical chops and musicological insight to back up its endeavors, with credibility to spare. The retro, rural flavor may make for strange labelmates among other forward-looking indie-rock peers on the Thrill Jockey imprint, but the stomping, small-scale charm wins the band admirers wherever they play around the Commonwealth.

David Daniell is a man known for his collaborations as much as his solo material. For several years he’s been tasked with assembling large and small guitar ensembles for the ‘maximalist’ composer Rhys Chatham, gathering players in cities around the globe (including members of Sonic Youth, Tortoise, and former locals USAisaMonster) to play Chatham’s punk-classical epics, in ensembles that can sometimes contain as many as 400 guitarists — a six-piece ensemble led by Chatham and Daniell in 2004 remains the single best concert I’ve ever attended. Daniell has also collaborated on a smaller scale, in duets and trios with a who’s-who of the contemporary cutting edge, including Austrian laptop-shoe-gazer Christian Fennesz, Australian drone-bassist Oren Ambarchi, experimental Chicagoan David Grubbs, and New Yorkers like romantic guitarist Loren Mazzacane Conners and powerhouse drummer Jonathan Kane. He’s long been part of the duo San Agustin, and even performing solo, he manages to find a surprising amount of common ground between the natural blues-based guitar traditions and the artificial texture of ambient minimalist abstractions.

Great Dads, as previously discussed in these pages, is the umbrella nickname for the more left-leaning endeavors of Invisible Hand frontman Adam Smith; currently, the Dads has become something of a Charlottesville art-rock supergroup, in which the ever-inventive Smith and tornado-powerhouse jazz-punk drummer Steve Snider conjure up concise and catchy noise-punk bursts, which they’re able to expand into expressive mini-epics with the help of the sturdy, thoughtful basslines of stalwart sideman Scott Ritchie and the sprightly guitar harmonies of Northrup himself, who in addition to organizing events is an accomplished performer with a budding solo career.

“It seems really all-over-the-place, but I think really clear lines can be drawn between all the acts on the bill,” Northrup said. “It’s three very different takes on different elements of modern or experimental music. It doesn’t represent every facet, but there’s a really big American primitive movement right now that the Twigs are a huge part of, and David Daniell’s been involved with some really heavy hitters, as far as modern minimalism goes.”

The Holy Smokes Showcase will take place between 9pm and midnight on Friday at the McGuffey Arts Center, as part of the Tom Tom Founders Festival’s School House Rock event. The concert is free, and open to the public.

Have something to say about the American primitive movement? Let’s hear it below.

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