Every record is a personal snapshot, a delving into the history, of the musician performing the music.
For Eric Brace, his latest release might be more personal, and historical, than most.
Prior to moving to East Nashville in 2004, when he founded Red Beet Records, Brace spent his formative years in the Washington, D.C. area, where he eventually became a writer for The Washington Post and was the guitar playing front man for Last Train Home, a long time staple on the D.C. folk rock scene.
Eric recently released C&O Canal, a collection of songs that harken back to his many nights in the clubs and venues around D.C., soaking in the sounds of many of the Americana world’s greatest artists. Recorded with long time songwriting partner Peter Cooper, who shares with Brace a long time connection to Washington, D.C., each of these tunes is a reminder of the rich, vibrant folk/country music scene that has long been entrenched in our nation’s capital.
Songs written by such luminaries as Emmylou Harris, Karl Stroub, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Alice Gerrard, Ralph Stanley, and more are given due diligence by Brace, Cooper, and their cadre of superb backing musicians.
I recently got the chance to talk to Eric about the Seldom Scene, the Washington, D.C. music scene, and the brand new record.
BRO – You have been in East Nashville for a decade now. What do you miss most about Washington, D.C.?
EB – From elementary school through high school, then most of my adult life, Washington was home. When I go back now to visit my family or to play gigs, it sometimes feels like a different city altogether, with all the changes since I left in 2004. But it will always be a place that triggers a million memories, from when I was 7, 17, 27, 37. In that way, no other city will ever compare to Washington. I miss the Washington Post, where I spent so many wonderful years. I miss hanging out at IOTA. I miss knowing 100 bartenders and chefs all over town. I miss knowing all the shortcuts to get anywhere in the D.C. area. I miss knowing the quietest place to lose yourself in an afternoon and the best place to get a bite at 3 in the morning. And I miss all the friends I made over all those years. These are things that come from knowing a city inside and out for years. I’ll never have that kind of relationship with any other city. But the biggest thing I miss is being a part of the Washington music scene. There’s so much talent there and such big hearts. I miss playing with all those folks and spending time with them. Reading their Facebook posts just makes me miss them all even more.
BRO – “Hi, I’m Eric Brace with the Washington Post.” That had to be useful in scoring the best tables in the hottest clubs.
EB – It is true, without a doubt, that I had the best job imaginable – “Nightlife Columnist” – for seven years. It still boggles my mind that the Washington Post gave me an expense account to go to clubs and bars and explore the city in a way very few would have been able to. I got to know most of the movers and shakers in D.C.’s nighttime world, but tried not to take advantage of that. I wasn’t allowed to take freebies, so I paid my way. Or, should I say, the Post paid my way. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t on a lot of guest lists.
BRO – What do you remember about your first show at The Birchmere?
EB – I’m pretty sure I was 15, so that was 1975, probably in the fall of that year. I went with my high school friend Steve Pierce, whose father was a big fan of the Seldom Scene. It was probably the three of us, on a Thursday night, when the Scene played every week. What I remember is being absolutely blown away by the band – I remember that they started with “Little Georgia Rose” – and feeling the immediate need to get back there and see them again. I remember a roomful of happy people with plastic pitchers of beer on every table.
BRO – We went with Joe Triplett’s “Been Awhile” on this month’s Trail Mix. What did you want to feature that one?
EB – I loved the Rosslyn Mountain Boys, and I had seen them at Desperado’s, a club on M Street in Georgetown, before their first record came out in 1977. That was when the drinking age was still 18, and folks weren’t checking IDs much anyway. That song, and their version of an old Moby Grape song, “Right Before My Eyes,” stuck with me. And then I’d hear them both a lot on good old WHFS and bought the albums as they came out. In 1999, my friend Peter Fox was producing a record called Americana Motel, which was a tribute to Washington’s folk, country, bluegrass, country rock, and alt-country scenes, but done by then-current D.C. artists. Peter asked me and my band, Last Train Home, to contribute a song, and I knew immediately we wanted to record “Been Awhile.” I thought we did a nice version of it for that release – it’s also on the Last Train Home EP Tributaries – but when we were picking songs last year for C&O Canal, I knew I wanted to rerecord it with Peter (Cooper) and Thomm Jutz singing. It’s just one of my favorite songs of Joe’s, and it has a lot of heart and depth and mystery to it.
BRO – Ben Eldridge just retired from the Seldom Scene. I am sure he is out there, somewhere, reading this blog. Anything you’d like to share with him?
EB – I’ve been lucky enough to have become friends with most of the original members of the Seldom Scene – not Duffey, but Ben, Tom Gray, John Starling, and of course Mike Auldridge, with whom I made two records: The Skylighters and The Master Sessions with Peter and Lloyd Green. Last year I had a beer with Ben and his wife after they’d come out to a show that Peter Cooper, Thomm Jutz, and I played in Fredericksburg. I was happy I got to tell him to his face what an effect he and the boys had on an impressionable 15 year old. I absolutely wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing in music now if not for seeing him and the band back then. I told him I even bought a banjo soon after I first saw them, but that phase didn’t last long. It’s amazing that he played with them for more than forty years. He’s an inspiration.
A number of dates Eric and Peter had scheduled to celebrate the release of C&O Canal got the keibosh due to the heavy snows that hit the Washington, D.C., and Northern Virginia recently. The duo will be performing a number of tunes from the new record in a couple weeks on Music City Roots in Nashville. If you can’t make it to The Factory, home of the show, you can catch the live stream right here each and every Wednesday.
For more information on Eric Brace, his recordings with Last Train Home and Peter Cooper, and all the great work going on at Red Beet Records, point your browser here.