There’s a long history in the music world of artists coming together and pooling their individual talents to create something that’s bigger than what any one of them could do alone.
Through the years, so many amazing musicians and performers have found success not through a big break in the record industry, but through each other’s love and support. From the Elephant 6 group out of Athens GA in the 90s, to the formation of Sub Pop Records, to integrated collectives like Odd Future out of LA, there is a common thread of artists banding together out of shared ideals, mutual inspiration, and also necessity.
This kind of support networks for artists is something Ive been seeing happen more and more in Richmond through my ~9 years making and experiencing music here. This past weekend at Everybody’s Birthday VII, that feeling of community and mutual love and respect was as strong as it ever has been.
Jordan Fust and Hunter Graham started Everybody’s Birthday a number of years ago, and while I wont get into the history of the event here, Dust Up put out a lovely interview and history article with both founders last week which you can read here.
This was my fourth year attending Everybody’s Birthday, so I had somewhat of an idea of what to expect, but the amount of fun I had exceeded all expectations (and I was prepared for a pretty crucially awesome time to begin with).
This is the first year that the festival was two days and nights, so it was much more expansive than last year, which was the first year it was held outside of Richmond. The property hosting the event in Amherst, VA (near Devil’s Backbone Brewery) was stunning; on the drive up, I arrived right about at sunset and was greeted by a spectacularly gorgeous view of the mountains from the driveway of the festival site.
Upon entering the grounds, hand painted signs directed us to areas for camping, parking, bathrooms (they graciously provided us with rented portapottys ♡), wristband signups and the stage. I was really impressed at how well organized and easily accessible everything was, as it made the experience much less stressful than other small festivals I’ve attended in the past.
Friday night kicked off with Basmati (Featuring Matt from Fat Spirit subbing on bass) playing a raucous set of their signature angular and wonky tunes, and ending with a broken string and an off the wall cover of Song 2 by Blur.
Following Basmati was an absolutely gorgeous acoustic set from Matteo of Toy Cars, and then Richmond prog mainstays Night Idea. The boys in the band played a little looser than their usual super tight songs, and being a big fan, thats something I always love to see from them. In between their usual tunes, they smoothly interjected little bits of improv and things you don’t hear on their albums, and with musicians of that caliber, the energy created by that is really tangible. Night Idea closed out their set making me laugh harder than I have in months by debuting two songs from their side project, Cold Brew Boys, which includes the likes of Carter Burton as “Maurice” on lead guitar and Reid LaPierre as “Cold Bruce” writing rowdy southern blues rock tunes EXCLUSIVELY about Cold Brews, as only they can.
After Night Idea, we were treated to another phenomenal acoustic performance by Jeff Lane of the band dollys from NJ (who graced the festival with their appearance last year as well) and Buddy List‘s killer closing set, which included favorites from their debut EP released earlier this year and a couple of exciting new tunes.
The post music dance party then lasted until the generator died at somewhere around 4 in the morning; I have a distinct memory of giggling while smooth jazz was being blasted at 2 when I was getting my things ready for sleep in my tent.
Saturday started off in the best possible way with a home cooked pancake breakfast prepared by some absolutely amazing and generous volunteers. There was a spread on a table of virtually every pancake appropriate fruit and topping ready to be baked into your own personal pancakes. I can still taste my chocolate chip banana pancakes if I try hard enough…
After breakfast was an arts and crafts fair featuring a number of works by different VA based artists, including beautiful works by Noelle Choy, Kasha Killingsworth, Kenzie Cason, and Vivian with Friends of Nelson, a group that works to combat Dominion Power’s environmental policies for which the organizers of Everybody’s Birthday were collecting donations all weekend.
During the craft fair, there was also a group game of kickball! (which I sat out on due to being ridiculously full of pancakes). When you arrive at the festival, you were required to pick a wristband color, Mango Tango or Jazzberry Jam (Mango Tango ftw). These were the teams that were broken into through all the games that occurred throughout the weekend.
The bands started surprisingly on time on Saturday with Colin Phils playing an awesome set featuring duo versions of their material. I hadn’t seen them before, and getting to hear their accessible but very technical spin on catchy tunes with lots of looping and vocal harmonies was an absolute pleasure.
My band, Private Cry, was up next, marking our first show outside Richmond and the debut of a new tune for us. I also had a blast closing the set joined by our multi instrumentalist/vocalist Elizabeth with a cover of Andy Shauf’s “To You”.
Up next was a favorite of mine, Blush Face, featuring the voice and songwriting of Allie Smith. Every time they play “Divine Games” I swear I get the biggest lump in my throat; Allie’s song writing and lyrics always really strikes a chord with me.
After Blush Face, we were treated to a rollicking set from one of the cooler bands I’ve recently discovered, Harrisonburg’s duo Iliterate Light. They rolled through an extremely full and well rounded set that sounded more like 4 people than two, playing songs with exceptional vocal harmonies and composition that touched on many subjects from love and longing to not letting our differences split us away from each other.
The music paused just as it was getting cooler around 5 o’clock to give us a break to play capture the flag, hold an intense volleyball game and eat the delicious pasta dinner with a sauce-making competition to boot. So it was definitely nice to get a chance to refuel for the evening!
Acts for the night time got to a very fun start with Richmond indie twee pop darlings Big Baby, whose music was perfect for soundtracking the setting sun and starting the final stretch of a day filled with wholesome fun and laying in the grass looking at the sky.
Next up was pop weirdos from New Jersey, newt., who were a brand new treat for me. Their off kilter dynamic spin on pop music translated perfectly to the inside of the giant scenic barn at night. The wild drum and bass duo of Aaron Prieto and Anders Johnson was given melodic direction by the guitar playing and voice of Natalia Stevenson, resulting in a totally unique nd exciting sound that felt like it was falling apart at times, only to picks itself up and put itself immediately back together.
Soulworm (Brooklynite and former Richmonder Mallie Sanford) was next up, encompassing the entirely moonlit farm with beautiful sample and reverb soaked songs. I’ll confess this is the only act I didn’t see, only because I couldn’t seem to pull myself away from sitting by the fire and letting their music be the perfect soundscape to all those stars I can never see when I’m in the city.
I wandered back over to the barn in time to see one of the more powerful sets of the weekend performed by Anneliese, who some of you may know from their other musical roles as the singer for Richmond group The Folly and half of the fresh duo Museum District. Anneliese performed alone on stage to her tracks, which slipped through various different styles of electronic music seamlessly. Singing with operatic range and precision, she crushed songs that were very personal for her in a way in which the audience could really feel the emotion behind what she was saying.
The closers of the festival were another one of the few Richmond acts I’d never seen perform, B.CKWRDS HAUS OPS. This group did everything and then some, the multitude of extremely talented musicians and producers in their group is really incredible. They took the reigns and commanded the festival through the night, starting with a set of solo songs by BN before moving into some incredible raps by Alfred (Aaron Brown). MNLV (Han Mairead) sang some fantastic soulful hooks to Alfred’s tunes with some additional guitar accompaniment as well before breaking out some of their own songs.
I was really blown away by the combination of so many unique voices into a collective that really supported one another artistically and musically. This really in my opinion made them the perfect act to close out this event built around artists, musicians and those who are passionate about both, coming together to create something bigger, and in this case (in the words of an attendee/performer I talked to Saturday night) “one of the best and most well done DIY events I’ve attended.”
I would totally agree; I love Everybody’s Birthday more than my own birthday.
Check out photos of the festival by Ashley Travis below: