With airplay picking up in Seattle and the Northeast, a new CD taping wrapped up this week and a nationwide tour, the Richmond-based Carbon Leaf could find itself far away from the colleges and bars it’s played in Virginia for the last 10 years.
Of course, that has been the story ever since the five-man bluegrass-rock-Celtic band won an American Music Award last year and then beat 2,400 songs to win the Pontiac Summer Sound Off contest for its hit “The Boxer” to be played in a car commercial.
“The trick now is getting out of Virginia,” said lead man Barry Privett. “We’re just going to keep working and building our fan base. Whatever happens as far as the label thing we’re not going to sit around and wait for it.”
All but one of the members are native sons of Virginia. Privett sings with Celtic inflections but is from Norfolk. Guitarist Terry Clark was born in Hawaii but grew up in Annandale.
Many people in Manassas and Prince William probably heard them play at local colleges; the group formed at Lynchburg’s Randolph-Macon College in 1993.
The group can go from the Irish traditional “Mary Mac” to a saxophone jam in “Wandrin’,” follow up with 1970s funk guitar in “Follow the Lady,” and then give fun covers of the Beach Boys’ “Sloop John B” or Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train.”
The group’s fun sound has acquired them a rabid fan base in the D.C. and Baltimore area. Carbon Leaf has received a lot of attention on DC101 and played at the 9:30 Club. Their performances show off well electric and acoustic guitar parts, deep solid bass lines, vocal harmonies, mandolin,bagpipes and harmonica.
Last week, the group got back from a three-week tour of the Northeast, Midwest and Texas playing side stage for Counting Crows and John Mayer. On the way back, the van broke down and the band had to scramble back to Richmond two days before its fourth annual Summer Luau on Brown’s Island in Richmond last weekend.
The group is playing in Cockeysville,Md., this weekend in Walther’s Grassroots Music and Arts Festival.
Heavy touring picks up again in September and October with a circuit in the Northeast and Midwest, with cities targeted for the same day of the week for a month that can rapidly build fan base, Privett said.
Privett said shows are really developing in Boston, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Chicago, New York and even in Seattle, where the group has traveled twice to play for between 500 to 1,000 people.
Seattle takes time and money, “but it’s worth it because we’re getting heavy play out there,” he said.
The new CD is scheduled to be released early next year.
The traditional elements are perhaps more subtle in the new songs, more balanced, he said. They give snippets at concerts, but fans will have to wait for the release so there is some surprise.
“It just continues to be a positive direction for us trying to keep fresh and keep it real and make music that sounds a little different than what’s out there but still has a heart,” Privett said.
Staff writer Chris Newman can be reached at (703) 878-8062.