The Woodshedders are going places—in every sense of the phrase.
The Loudoun/West Virginia-based band, a fixture on the local Americana scene for a decade, is taking things to the next level with an evolving sound, a well-received 2013 album and an expanding tour schedule. The quintet takes the stage at Waterford’s Old School on Saturday, May 3, the latest in the Waterford Foundation’s Old Schoolhouse concert series, which brings contemporary music in a range of genres to the venue well known for its classical concerts.
The Woodshedders features Harpers Ferry-based Dwayne Brooke on guitar and lead vocals, Loudoun native and popular Leesburg dentist Ryan Mayo on upright bass and piano, Richmond’s Jared Pool on guitar and mandolin, Jesse Shultzaberger of Shepherdstown, WV, on drums, and Bluemont’s David Van Deventer on fiddle.
The band got its start 10 years ago at a regular Thursday evening gypsy jazz jam at the historic Hilltop House in Harpers Ferry, which closed in 2008 because of structural problems. The group’s focus was initially on playing jazz influenced by the great Belgian-French guitarist Django Reinhardt, whom lead singer Brooke describes as “a guiding light in our sound.”
The group took its name from the concept of woodshedding, a jazz vernacular term for working hard to improve technique (i.e. practicing in the woodshed) before one’s music is fit for public consumption. “You have to do a lot of work to get proficient [in jazz],” Brooke said. “We’re always trying to hone our craft so it seemed fitting.”
The Woodshedders’ first record “Catch That Yardbird” was released in 2009, followed by “O Dig” in 2011. Since its gypsy jazz beginnings, the band has since gone through a few personnel changes—original members Chance McCoy and Stuart Orser have moved on, with McCoy now based in Nashville and performing internationally with the Old Crow Medicine Show—and has let its members’ diverse musical influences take it to new places.
The resulting changes have created a sound that band members call Indie Roots Americana, giving the music an alt-rock edge while maintaining traditional elements. Moving from an acoustic vibe to a more “plugged in” sound and bringing in a drummer in recent years has given the Woodshedders a danceable vibe that has created a solid fan base in the tri-state area and beyond.
“They’ve evolved from a swing-oriented group to a new sound,” said Roy Chaudet, a member of the Waterford Foundation’s board of directors and one of the Old Schoolhouse concert series’ organizers. “It’s original and it’s fresh.”
“We did a traditional repertoire for a while and we started adding originals and people really responded,” Brooke said.
The band’s most recent album “Wildfire,” released last year to critical acclaim, is a breakthrough of sorts for the band. A Washington Post review, a major coup for the band, had high praise for Brooke’s vocals and his band mates’ musicianship and referred to the group as “Americana shape-shifters.”
“It’s getting out in the world pretty well,” Brooke said of the album. “We’re all pretty proud of it.”
Brooke does most of the songwriting, but all band members work on arrangements and collaborate on songs. Songwriting is an organic process for Brooke: “[The songs are] already out there, you just have to catch them…just keep your mind open,” he said. “Sometimes you sit down and try to write and that never works. It’s mostly about being present in the world.”
The group’s bonds of friendship and collaboration are still going strong after 10 years.
“We’re all friends first, really,” Brooke said. “It makes for good music.”
The band has a devoted following among the arts and university communities in Shepherdstown and has a solid following in Loudoun, thanks in part to Mayo’s and Van Deventer’s longtime musical history here. The band has been selling music across the country and internationally and has garnered radio time in the UK (where traditional Americana is in high demand) via the BBC. The band has not yet put together a UK tour, Brooke said, in part because the band doesn’t fit the usual bill for straight up traditional music.
“We’re outside the box. All of us are into so many different types of music,” Brooke said. “We decided we weren’t going to pigeonhole ourselves.”
However, the Woodshedders’ eclectic style is in demand for festivals up and down the East Coast. The band recently played a string of shows in Georgia, and Brooke recently spoke to Leesburg Today from the road before hitting the stage at Big Pappa’s Spring Ball festival in Bentonville. The group is scheduled to play the Boogie on The Banks festival in Shannondale, WV, April 26 and will be heading to New York for gigs at Hill Country Barbecue in Manhattan and Brooklyn later this spring.
Fiddle player Van Deventer is an organizer of the annual Watermelon Park Festival, a mecca for fans of traditional music and Americana, where the Woodshedders are the host band every fall. The band will also play the inaugural River and Roots Festival, also organized by Van Deventer and his collaborators, this June. For Van Deventer, who is also a member of the traditional quartet Furnace Mountain, the Woodshedders is a chance to let his playing loosen up.
“It makes me a little more creative,” he said, adding that the Woodshedders’ freewheeling style is also a favorite with his 6-year old daughter, Ava.
The Waterford Old School is a comfortable space for most of the band’s members who have played the venue at weddings and benefit concerts over the years. The Old Schoolhouse concert series launched in 2012 with a performance by Austin-based blues musician James McMurtry, and has featured a number of other popular local acts since then. Chaudet and fellow members of the Waterford Foundation are looking to expand the series, initially focusing on local musicians, but also looking to bring in national acts down the road. Organizers are planning a CD release concert with local mandolinist Danny Knicely this fall and have a number of other projects in the works.
“It’s a great venue and there’s great music we can bring in,” Chaudet said.