Jamestown Revival brings Americana to California

Dec. 2, 2014, 10:45 p.m.
Jonathan Clay of Jamestown Revival at the Troubadour in Los Angeles. Photo by Gabriela Groth.
Jonathan Clay of Jamestown Revival at the Troubadour in Los Angeles. Photo by Gabriela Groth.

Austin-based duo Jamestown Revival gave a warm, thoughtful performance of southern folk and bluegrass-inspired rock Saturday night at the Troubadour in Los Angeles. They primarily performed songs from their first full-length album “Utah.” Written by bandmates and childhood friends Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance, the album chronicles their move from Texas to Los Angeles to get Jamestown Revival off the ground. Speaking with the confident yet soft-spoken pair before the show, it thankfully did not appear that the blasé Los Angeles affectation had rubbed off on them in the few years they called California home before returning back to Texas.

Jonathan and Zach, accompanied by four touring band members, seemed to truly enjoy performing. Jonathan’s boot stomping and intensity on guitar kept the energy high during faster, punchier songs like “Fur Coat Blues” and “Revival.” Zach’s self-described “peacocking” on-stage brought a major Western vibe as he came out in a fur coat, felt hat, and bolo tie. Their bluegrass influences became more apparent during songs like “Wandering Man” when Jonathan switched out his acoustic guitar to pluck away twang-y melodies on a lap steel guitar instead.

Slower songs — “Heavy Heart” and a cover of “Kentucky” in tribute to The Everly Brothers — felt dramatic, as the duo hovered over one shared mic with the lights lowered. The audience quieted to hear their hushed vocal harmonies rise and fall. Many of the concertgoers were long-time fans of the band; Jonathan noted during the show how many familiar faces were in the audience. The last two songs before the encore, “California (Cast Iron Soul)” and “Home,” closed out the performance, as the crowd sang along.

The Troubadour, which has hosted folk and rock greats like The Byrds, James Taylor, and Bob Dylan, was the perfect venue, grounding the show in a sense of history and continued tradition. The intimacy of the venue paired with the approachable, humble nature of southern-tinged rock brought a warmth to the experience that isn’t often found in other types of musical performances.

Stage set-up for Jamestown Revival at the Troubadour. Photo by Gabriela Groth.
Stage set-up for Jamestown Revival at the Troubadour. Photo by Gabriela Groth.

Seeing musicians practice their craft with intensity and excitement while playing to an enthralled crowd — each movement of their hands and stomp of their feet creating a sound that washes over the audience — feels like you’re watching art being created. Zach explained, “A show is more like a shared moment, whereas festivals are kind of like an accomplishment.” Jonathan added: “A festival is less focused. You know at venues like this, it’s super focused, more intimate.”

When I spoke with the band before the first of their two sold out shows in Los Angeles, I wondered if they felt like they were part of a brewing folk, Americana cultural movement. Zach thinks “people just want honest music,” and Jonathan describes these shifting interests as “akin to people seeking out American-made goods […] I think it runs in parallel with that. I think people just want real music.” Perhaps bands like Jamestown Revival are part of a larger movement towards a renewed appreciation for craftsmanship.

Jamestown Revival’s look and lore, online and in videos, may be a bit heavy-handed; the band’s image is reminiscent of the “bespoke,” “hand-crafted” and“American-made” brands which have gained popularity in the past few years. But watching them skillfully practice their craft on-stage makes the nostalgic air of the band feel like the result of a genuine interest in creating an honest musical experience. Their music feels comfortable and comforting, and as Jonathan describes it “we’re not reinventing the wheel, we’re aware of that, but we’re just making good old-fashioned American music.”

Zach Chance of Jamestown Revival plays folk-inspired rock in an equally inspired outfit. Photo by Gabriela Groth.
Zach Chance of Jamestown Revival plays folk-inspired rock in an equally inspired outfit. Photo by Gabriela Groth.

The major themes in their music are things that most young twenty-somethings today can relate to: “no money, missing home, and mother nature.” When asked how their environment has affected their music, they share, “I don’t think we’ve been influenced so much directly by the geographical location, rather the experience of moving itself. I wouldn’t say we were heavily influenced regionally as much as you might think.”

At this point we reminisce about the confusion and almost betrayal we felt when we first learned that the closest thing to a bayou the members of Creedence Clearwater Revival grew up around was the San Francisco Bay. CCR highlights that sometimes physical location isn’t the biggest driving force when it comes to a band’s sound; the influence of a place, and an artist’s idea of place, can easily be confounded. While Jamestown Revival’s music definitely sounds like it came straight out of the heart of America, to a west-coaster, their music is probably most heavily influenced by the classics they consistently revisit: Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Guy Clark.

Before the show, Jonathan laid down what made a good show: “it starts and ends with this: making a connection with the people who come to see you play. If you get that right then everything else will fall into place.”

I think they succeeded.

Contact Gabriela Groth at gngroth ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Gabriela Groth is the Arts & Life Photo Editor and Music Desk Editor for The Stanford Daily, and she enjoys reviewing and photographing live music events. She has covered Treasure Island Music Festival, Austin City Limits, FYF Fest, and BFD. Born and raised in Los Angeles, Gabriela is a film lover, music enthusiast, and television aficionado. She is pursuing a Master’s in Computer Science. To contact her, please email gngroth “at” stanford.edu.

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