The Return of Dispatch
Reggae-hued roots-rock act Dispatch emerged from Boston in the late 90s and in a short time became an independent music phenomenon, building an impressive loyal following with minimal mainstream attention. The short-lived group, known for lean grassroots grooves and socially conscious lyrics, initially disbanded in 2004 but not before drawing more than 100,000 fans from around the world to its home city for a farewell show. Reunions have since been sporadic but on June 2 the band will release America, Location 12, its first full-length album in five years. The record blends airy, free-spirited anthems like lead single “Only the Wild Ones” with pointed politically charged protest songs, including the aggressive “Skin the Rabbit.”
Ahead of a big summer tour, founding member Pete Francis announced he’ll be staying off the road to deal with depression. But in a statement released about the new record, main songwriter Chad Stokes said the members of Dispatch have committed to becoming a full-time band again: “We didn’t want to turn into a nostalgia act that just plays every now and then.”
The band will bring the reunion run to the Southeast in June with shows at Charlotte Metro Credit Union Amphitheatre in Charlotte, N.C., on the 23rd, Chastain Park in Atlanta, Ga., on the 24th, and Iroquois Amphitheater in Louisville, Ky., on the 26th.
Sounds in the City
Many Southern cities host concert series in the summer with impressive line-ups for little or no cost. In Richmond, Va., the three-decade-old Friday Cheers features top national acts along the James River on Brown’s Island for no more than 10 bucks. Through the end of the month catch sets from Conor Oberst (June 2), the Record Company (June 9), Galactic (June 23), and Car Seat Headrest (June 30).
In Asheville, N.C., locals enjoy free shows at the monthly Downtown After 5 concert series, which takes place on the third Friday of the month from May through September. This year the bands include versatile blues musician Cedric Burnside and bluegrass picker Billy Strings.
The U.S. National Whitewater Center is a fun outdoor playground, located on the north end of Charlotte, N.C., that hosts a range of festivals and events, including River Jam, a twice-weekly music series that takes place on Thursdays and Saturdays between May and September. The free series features an impressive array of independent roots music acts from the Southeast and beyond. Some highlights on this year’s schedule include bluegrass expansionists the Jon Stickley Trio on June 22, long-standing North Carolina roots-rock pickers Acoustic Syndicate on July 1, indie rock outfit Bombadil on August 5, Pennsylvania string crew cabinet on September 7, and zany jam-blues visionary Col. Bruce Hampton on September 16.
Modern Outlaws on the Rise
It’s been refreshing to see Nashville outsiders in Americana and country-rock get some well-deserved recognition. Authentic tunesmiths like Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson have amassed huge fan bases without conforming to any kind of Music Row formula, and this summer all three are moving into big sheds. Simpson will play at the Charlotte Metro Credit Union Amphitheatre in Charlotte, N.C., on July 7 and the Koka Booth Amphitheatre in Cary, N.C., on July 8, before headlining the 19,000-seat Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Md., on September 15. Isbell, who’s releasing a highly anticipated new album, The Nashville Sound, this month, will also take top billing at Merriweather on June 30 with support from North Carolina indie favorites the Mountain Goats.
Following the May release of his second solo album, From a Room: Volume 1, Stapleton is taking a multi-act revue across the country. Many of the Southern stops on his “All-American Road Show” took place in May, but he will bring the tour to Jiffy Lube Live in Bristow, Va., on July 22 with support from fellow dusty troubadour Brent Cobb and soul singer Anderson East.
American Acoustic on the Road
Last year mandolin innovator Chris Thile, formerly of Nickel Creek and now fronting the versatile string quintet the Punch Brothers, curated a weekend-long series of acoustic music events at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. The mini-festival culminated with a show that featured the Punch Brothers collaborating with I’m With Her—a super group trio of Americana songstresses featuring Sarah Jarosz, Aoife O’Donovan, and Sara Watkins (also formerly of Nickel Creek).
After some undeniable chemistry, the two groups have decided to hit the road together this summer on the American Acoustic Tour, which will also feature guitar virtuoso Julian Lage. Expect the Punch Brothers usual quick-finger string acrobatics combined with angelic harmonies.
Southern dates on the tour: August 1 at the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, N.C., August 2 at the Wolf Trap Filene Center in Vienna, Va., August 8 at the Sprint Pavilion in Charlottesville, Va., and August 11 at the Atlanta Botanical Garden in Atlanta, Ga.