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photo by Dave Parrish
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Jason Isbell played Friday Cheers on May 8 with the local band Horsehead.
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J. Roddy Walston and the Business played in 2014.
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Photo by Steven Sebring
The Lone Bellow, which played Friday Cheers in 2013, was ranked the eighth most popular act at this year's Stagecoach Festival in California.
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Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers performed in 2014.
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Courtesy Venture Richmond
Alabama Shakes took the Friday Cheers stage in 2012.
For 31 years, Friday in Richmond has had a soundtrack.
Unless you have been living under a rock, you’ve seen the line-up for this year’s Friday Cheers summer concert series. With upcoming concerts like Hurray for the Riff Raff, Future Islands and the Wood Brothers, it is tough not to take notice. The music acts, a mix of national, regional and local, may seem random (a mix of country, soul, funk or bluegrass), but, in fact, have been carefully selected by festival manager Stephen Lecky and East Coast Entertainment since 2005.
Cheers hasn’t been without its ups and downs. In order to keep the series consistent, a fee of $2 was introduced in 2010 to offset costs during a tough economic climate and the occasional dwindling of attendance. A different band line-up was also introduced. The cost has risen during the last few years (to $5 or $10, depending on band) but so has the talent. With a little more money coming in, larger bands could be wooed to play the large venue.
“We started to charge so we could attempt to bring in slightly larger bands that might be a little more well known,” Lecky says. “By charging, we have been able to bring groups like the Head and the Heart, Neko Case, Jason Isbell … but still at a much lower ticket price than a typical show by those artists. There has been/will be ebb and flow."
Something that didn’t change is Lecky’s uncanny knack for choosing bands on the cusp of breaking it big. In 2007, The Roots (Jimmy Fallon’s house band) played for free on the island. Two years later, the Zac Brown Band lit up the stage merely a year after Brown released his first album that had the No. 1 spot on country music charts. In 2010, Grace Potter, Karl Denson and Railroad Earth joined the Friday Cheers ranks.
In 2013, The Lone Bellow, a trio out of Brooklyn, played a glorious two sets at Cheers. Fast forward to 2015 and the threesome has been ranked as the eighth most popular act at California's Stagecoach Festival, beating out music powerhouses like Merle Haggard and Blake Shelton. Rolling Stone selected Futurebirds, who played last June on the island, as one of “SXSW’s 21 country artists you need to see,” stating, “There's something uniquely satisfying about Futurebirds' mix of dreamy, offbeat pop and heavy twang.”
This year, look for the Wood Brothers, a spin-off of the jam trio Martin, Medeski and Wood, and Future Islands, whose David Letterman performance last year created some very real music waves.
Lecky, who grew up in Richmond, humbly says it might be luck that keeps them choosing the right music for Friday night. “Also, just plainly, how do they sound? A good band is a good band. Anyone that listens to someone like Zac Brown (2009), Alabama Shakes (2012) or Lone Bellow (2013) can hear the pure talent oozing through. The timing just worked out well for us on a bunch of these groups. We take risks and go with our gut.” says Lecky.
Friday Cheer Line-Up 2015
May 22: RVA Music Night with Bio Ritmo, The Milkstains & HonkyTonk Heroes
May 29: Moon Taxi with Sleepwalkers
June 5: Future Islands with White Laces
June 12: Hurray for the Riff Raff and Joe Pug
June 19: Snarky Puppy with Butcher Brown
June 26: The Wood Brothers and Son Little