They’re a busy couple. He’s a traveling blues-inflected rocker on the road anywhere from 150 to 200 days a year. She’s a Richmond-native opera soprano and actor most recently seen in Virginia Rep’s “1776.” She also uses an old email provider that keeps dropping important messages. Like for gigs and stuff. Turns out the Richmond Symphony wanted her talents for a holiday special Dec. 3 and 4 at the Carpenter Theater at The Dominion Arts Center.
Thus, in October, Sarah Kate and J. Roddy Walston, who are also new parents, discovered that on Saturday, Dec. 3, they’ll perform in separate shows across the street from each other. Walston and his band, The Business, are holding their third annual holiday show at The National.
It sounds like a perfect Richmond weekend: Rock out at The National, stay up late, and then do Sunday brunch and see the 3 p.m. “Let it Snow” show of Christmas standards.
The evening is an unusual pairing. As Sarah describes it, “I’ll be over there in a sequined dress on a gilded stage, and he’ll be over there at the National in his leather jacket and jeans.”
J. Roddy and Sarah Kate Walston (Photo by Amy Robinson)
They made a mutual discovery of the conflicting date: “We were discussing schedules or babysitting,” Rod recalls, “and then we realized.”
Sarah is accustomed to singing with large musical organizations in big spaces, though these December dates are different. “This is the first time I’ve sung in the big symphony hall in my hometown.” Coincidentally, the Carpenter at Dominion Arts Center – when it was just the Carpenter Center – is the first place she sang in public, at age seven, for an elaborate church Easter production.
The dual-Walston evening came about due to scheduling. “We usually do a show around Thanksgiving,” Rod explains. “Everybody either wants to get the family out of the house, or they want to get away from their family.” He’s looking forward to the December gig at The National because, for the Thanksgiving show, Richmond and vicinity enthusiasts of the band were often out of town.
This year, the show went a week later, and that made it ripe for Christmas-themed tunes. A good thing, too. “I love Christmas music, I really do,” Rod says. In a family tradition, the Walstons make up usually fairly awful Christmas songs, which are then taken on the road for caroling. Sarah explains, “We’ll go to a friend’s or family house around three in the morning, and they’ll come to the door all groggy and the alarm is going off and the dog is barking, and we sing carols they’ve never heard of, then we throw cookies at them and drive away.”
Sarah Kate Walston performs with the Young Victorian Theatre Company in “Iolanthe.” Sarah sings at 4:55.
Sarah, who went to Douglas Freeman High and pursued her career first at Lee University, in Cleveland, Tennessee, then Rod’s home base. (This interview, conducted Nov. 21, was the 14th anniversary of their first date). “So I picked him out and took him with me when I went up to Baltimore,” where she completed her training at the Peabody Institute of John Hopkins University. Four years ago they moved to Richmond, “because he was in luhhhv,” Sarah says, chuckling.
Rod is a fortunate man of capabilities who can watch a YouTube how-to video and, well, go to it. Besides overhauling their house, he’s also in the recent months converting a Richmond warehouse into a recording studio. A new album, set for release in mid-2017, is about 80 percent complete. Some of that fresh material will be premiered at The National.
“In the last year we have had a kid, I’ve been working on a record and rehabbing a warehouse as a studio. The timing was kind of on purpose.” He drily adds, “We’d been thinking of a fertile time between record cycles.”
The J. Roddy Walston & The Business holiday concert includes special guests – last year No BS! Brass Band joined them on stage – so expect some surprises.
Which raises the question: Who is babysitting?
“We’re still trying to figure that out,” Sarah says, with a stair-climbing soprano laugh. “It’s kind of tough, because our family and friends want to see our shows.”
Rod deadpans, “We need to find someone we trust whom we don’t necessarily care about.”
J. Roddy Walston & The Business, with the Quaker City Night Hawks, performs Dec. 3 at The National, all ages, doors open at 7 p.m., $18.
“Let it Snow,” a holiday pops concert featuring Sarah Kate Walston with The Richmond Symphony Chorus and the Richmond Symphony Orchestra, at the Carpenter Theater at Dominion Arts Center, Dec. 3, 8 p.m., and Dec. 4, 3 p.m., $7 - $80.