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WATCH & LISTEN: The definitive guide to the 2017 season of Friday Cheers

Friday Cheers’ 33rd season kicks off May 5th. We’ve got the complete guide to who to see and when along the beautiful Downtown Richmond riverfront this spring, along with some fresh tracks to check out from each of the notable artists from this year’s lineup.




Considering how warm the weather has been in Richmond these past few days, no one would fault you for thinking that it was just about time to take your favorite lawn blanket down to Brown’s Island to see a great concert in the renowned Friday Cheers series. Alas, it’s only March. The first week of performances is still a full two months away, but that doesn’t mean you can’t commence with bouncing in your office chair in anticipation for this year’s slate of artists.

This week, Venture Richmond released the full schedule for the 2017 season of Friday Cheers and it’s nothing short of jaw dropping. Granted, this concert series has booked some huge acts in the past, including The Alabama Shakes and The Head and The Heart; however, those bookings occurred long before those artists reached the zenith of their stardom.

In 2017, Friday Cheers has locked down a schedule of artists for their 33rd season that spans myriad genres and captures artists that might normally skip on by Richmond after shows in D.C on their way down to Raleigh. It’s a juggernaut of a lineup, which makes the value of a season pass that much greater.

Here’s a week-by-week breakdown of the artists scheduled to grace the stage along the picturesque banks of the James River this summer.

May 5th: Lee Fields & the Expressions (8:00) with Kings (6:30) – $5

The season begins on Cinco De Mayo, and while you might not be able to grab an ice cold margarita on Brown’s Island, trust us when we say that a wine slushie is a delicious substitute.

Cool refreshment in hand, you’ll be treated to the soulful sounds of Kings; a collective of Richmond musicians representing hometown label Jellowstone Records (founded in part by Reggie Pace of the infamous NO BS Brass Band). The group has recorded with the likes of Kendrick Lamar, but their smooth R&B is in a sphere all it’s own and is worthy of your attention. This could be the next band to break big out of Richmond, so make sure you see them on week one so you can say that you knew them way back when.

Take a listen to them perform their single “Perfect” and try and tell me it’s not oozing with the kind of funk we only thought possible from the purple one himself (R.I.P. Prince).

Next up, you might be asking, “What’s Going On?” when Lee Fields and the Expressions take the stage. That’s because their pop and R&B sound has clear influences in the vein of Marvin Gaye. You can hear it loud and clear in their single “Ladies.” Take a listen below:

May 12th: Con Brio (8:00) and Red Baraat (6:30) – $5

You better wear some comfortable shoes come Week 2 because the soul / funk train keeps rolling with two artists that will undoubtedly have you on your feet the entire evening.

Red Baraat seamlessly blend big band funk with some electronic flare. Some of their tracks are raucous, brass-heavy jams, and others add drum machines and electronic effects to remix one of their world-class grooves. The versatility of the band is undeniable, and you’ll likely see a few unfamiliar instruments on stage. Expanding your horizons is all part of the fun, and you’ll be having lots of it during their eclectic set. You can listen in full to one of their more recent albums “Big Talk” below:

The headliners for the evening, Con Brio, will unleash a set full of undeniably danceable riffs that have drawn comparisons to the likes of Bruno Mars and a sultry appeal akin to D’Angelo. Try not to clap your hands to their track “Money” below:

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May 19-21st: Dominion Riverrock, featuring Hardworking Americans and The SteelDrivers – FREE

Week 3 marks the arrival of the annual Dominion Riverrock Outdoor Sports and Music Festival to Brown’s Island. This year, the partnership between Sports Backers and Venture Richmond will bring a Grammy-winning bluegrass band and a rock and roll super-group to the shores of the James to accompany your outdoor adventures.

Hardworking Americans combines the talents of singer-songwriter Todd Snider and members of Widespread Panic and the Chris Robinson Brotherhood to form a collective that lay down the kind of roots-driven Americana that will make you want to don your American flag bandana and forget to wash off the mud from between your toes. Take a listen to “Stomp and Holler” below:

SteelDrivers are the 2016 Grammy Winners for Best Bluegrass Album for their collection, “The Muscle Shoals Recordings.” Their songs sound like they’d be indistinguishable among the wonderful tunes that adorn the “O Brother, Where Art Thou” soundtrack. Hear for yourself in “ Ghosts of Mississippi” below:

May 26th: RVA Music Night featuring Richmond bands: People’s Blues of Richmond (8:00), Angelica Garcia (7:00) and Ohbliv (6:00) – $5

Week 4 represents the annual celebration of local talent on the Friday Cheers stage. Attendees last year will remember being treated to rising star Natalie Prass alongside Lady God and Sam Reed.

This year sees one producer / beat maker, one forthright songstress, and a trio of rock musicians standing below the tracks leading into the historic Main Street Station.

Ohbliv is a local producer that’s well on his way to attracting a following outside the limits of the River City. His beats have crept in behind the lyrics of several up-and-coming hip-hop artists and will provide a musically fashionable backdrop to the beginning of the evening’s festivities. Here’s a new production entitled, “Thanks Al:”

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The New York Times recently hailed Angelica Garcia’s debut album “Medicine for Birds” for it’s lyrical intricacy, stating that the themes offer a unique “blend of old-timey formalism and magical storytelling.” “Orange Flower” is a perfect example:

Finally, People’s Blue of Richmond will cap off the evening with their signature brand of psychedelic rock and roll. These three gentlemen are no strangers to the Richmond music scene and have been hitting the road across the country in support of their third album “Quit or Die.” Here’s the title track:

June 2nd: Conor Oberst (7:45) with Big Thief (6:30) – $10

Personally, this contributor could write a Ph.D. dissertation on the headlining artist for Week 5, but he’ll spare you the pages of adoration.

Up first are Big Thief, a folk-rock outfit whose debut album, “Masterpiece” garnered loads of critical praise in 2016. Fronted by the wispy-voiced Adrienne Lenker, the band tosses aside a lot of the tropes that have come to define the genre; opting for roaring guitars over the banjos and mandolins that proliferate the radio hits of their peers. Listen to the title track off of “Masterpiece” below:

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Conor Oberst has been recording music since he was 14 years old and has fronted more critically acclaimed bands than you can count on one hand. His predominate outlet for the last two decades has been the genre-hopping collective known as Bright Eyes. He’s been called the Bob Dylan of his generation (that was back in 2005) and his music and lyrics have only continued to mature. He’s now touring on the back of his 2016 solo record, “Ruminations” and his 2017 record, “Salutations.” The latter contains full-band versions of the stripped-down tracks from “Ruminations” as well as original material. Members of another popular folk band, The Felice Brothers, will accompany him as he graces the stage for the first time in Richmond since 2011. Raise your glass and listen to the full-band version of his new track, “Till St. Dymphna Kicks Us Out:”

June 9th: The Record Company (8:00) with The Congress (6:30) – $10

Chances are high that you’re going to enjoy Richmond-based country-rock / blues band The Congress much more than, well, you know, Congress. They certainly have much more harmony, which is prominently displayed on their track, “Home Again:”

Headlining the evening is blues-rock trio The Record Company. Their latest record, 2016’s “Give It Back to You” was nominated for a 2017 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues album. Their chops are undeniable, as evidenced on their single, “Off the Ground:”

June 16th: Rainbow Kitten Surprise (8:00) and Sleepwalkers (6:30) – $10

Richmond rock band Sleepwalkers have been a staple of the local music scene for a few years, but they’re working on a new album and there’s a good chance the Friday Cheers crowd might be the first to hear some fresh material. Check out their hit “Off on the Weekend” below, the video for which features a lot of local hot spots:

Rainbow Kitten Surprise sounds like the title of the best YouTube video you’ve ever seen, right? Well, they bring that kind of playful sensibility to their musical craft, which is an equal part bouncy and poignant. Check out “Wasted” below:

June 23rd: Galactic (8:00) with Future Prospect (6:30) – $10

Future Prospect, another Jellowstone Records artist based in Richmond, lead off Week 8 with their synth-wrapped brass styling. These guys are regulars at local haunt The Camel and even performed a tribute to Michael Jackson on that stage just last year. Here’s their take on “Billie Jean” from that very performance:

Headliners Galactic bend genres the way you and I bend the parameters of our New Years diets. Seamlessly blending rock, jazz, hip-hop, and soul, this New Orleans quintet will give you a workout. Give “Hey Na Na” a listen below:

June 30th: Car Seat Headrest (8:00) with Gold Connections (6:30) – $10

The final week of Friday Cheers brings with it one of 2016’s most well received acts to add the cherry on top of this incredible two-month concert schedule.

Charlottesville natives Gold Connections will take the stage first to lay the groundwork for a concert that will linger with you until next year’s Friday Cheers lineup is announced. They bring a methodical and nuanced approached to radio-friendly rock and they’ll likely be a band whose album you’ll look up immediately following their performance (if you aren’t already). Here’s “Faith in Anyone” off of their forthcoming EP:

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Finally, rising stars Car Seat Headrest, who have been making the rounds on late night T.V and the festival circuit, will descend on Richmond to close out a fantastic season of music. Hailing originally from Leesburg, VA, the band’s 2016 record, “Teens of Denial” sat near the top of countless “Best Albums of 2016” lists last year, and for good reason. Their haunting melodies adhere themselves to your inner ear and leave you deciding to just leave the album on loop for hours on end. Take a listen to “Drunk Drivers / Killer Whales” below and try your hardest not to replay it over and over again for the remainder of the day.

If you’re not excited about this monumental lineup after reading this and sampling a few tracks from the featured artists, you might want to check your pulse. This is going to be an amazing summer for live music on Brown’s Island courtesy of Friday Cheers. May 5th can’t get here soon enough.

Advance tickets for each of the performances are now available for purchase here. Just select “Brown’s Island” from the drop-down menu for “Venue Search” and select the individual tickets that you’d like to purchase. Or, buy a Season Pass! Season Passes cost $45 from March 2nd – April 1st, and are $55 thereafter.

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Scott Castro is a local politico, writer, and unabashed supporter of the Richmond music scene. You've probably seen his signature white hair near the front row of the last local concert you attended. If you ever want to talk at length about the finer points of Conor Oberst: he's you man. Follow him on Twitter at @ScottCastro.