Americana, soul, bluegrass and funk are all in play for Jefferson Center’s 2019-20 Star City Series.
It begins Sept. 28, with Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors, and ends April 2, 2020, with Kathy Mattea. In between, the Wood Brothers, Del McCoury Band (celebrating its leader’s 80th birthday), the SteelDrivers, Booker T. Jones and a co-bill of Squirrel Nut Zippers with Dirty Dozen Brass Band will take the venue’s Shaftman Performance Hall Stage.
Jefferson Center’s Jazz Series, also at Shaftman Hall, includes piano prodigy Joey Alexander, Bela Fleck & The Flecktones (featuring brothers Victor and Roy “Future Man” Wooten and harmonica player/pianist Howard Levy) and bassist Christian McBride fronting a jazz orchestra. The swinging vocal group New York Voices, with opener Camila Meza, a guitarist, rounds out that series.
Jazz Club shows, in the venue’s more intimate Fostek Hall, include singers Quiana Lynell and Veronica Swift, the latter with family roots in Charlottesville. Saxophonist JD Allen Trio will likely deliver the most progressive jazz sets of the entire season, while drummer Ralph Peterson’s band for an Art Blakey centennial celebration will feature a world-class big band, Jefferson Center executive director Cyrus Pace said in an interview last week.
One-off shows booked to date include Parker Millsap and David Crosby & Friends.
Pace, 46, put together the lineup for each series, after former programming manager Jessica Taylor departed after about two years to return to her former employer, FloydFest.
“We’re always trying to find the balance [with familiar acts] of making sure that we introduce people to some new things that maybe they haven’t heard, particularly our subscribers, who buy in for exactly that reason,” said Pace, who has been at Jefferson Center for nearly nine years.
The venue recently hired a new programming manager, Donna Thompson, who was administrative and production assistant at the Rooster Walk festival. Thompson, 34, freelanced for multiple festivals, worked at Moss Arts Center and interned for Superfly, a producer of Bonnaroo. She received a Master of Fine Arts in arts leadership from Virginia Tech in 2017.
“I really wanted to take my career back into the performing arts world, … curating a season for the community,” Thompson said.
Thompson’s undergraduate degree was in classical voice, from Radford University, and her first exposure to Jefferson Center was singing in Shaftman with Opera Roanoke.
“So it’s kind of like full circle, coming home for me, which is really great,” she said.
Here are Pace’s thoughts on some of the acts scheduled for ’19 and ’20.
Booker T. Jones’ show will have dashes of history. In addition to playing some of the great music he was part of with Booker T. & The MGs, and in Memphis, Tennessee, studio sessions, “he will talk about the creation and development of those soul sounds, and his part in it,” Pace said.
Del McCoury and his band will revisit McCoury’s 65-year musical history, including his time singing and playing guitar with bluegrass music pioneer Bill Monroe. “It’s amazing to think of all the bands he’s played with, all the scenes he’s been in,” Pace said.
Kathy Mattea has a new album coming, produced by fellow West Virginia native (and Jefferson Center performer) Tim O’Brien. “She’s finding her voice again as a songwriter,” he said.
Joey Alexander was a “60 Minutes” profile subject at 12. In that piece, jazz elder statesman and Jefferson Center performer Wynton Marsalis said that Alexander was “easily the most important thing to happen to jazz music in generations,” Pace said. He’s 16 now, with two Grammy Award nominations.
Drew Holcomb in 2011 played the old Down by Downtown Festival, and the next year played Kirk Avenue Music Hall. He and his band have played Harvester Performance Center, as well. “I think he’s really at the heart of Americana right now, along with Parker Millsap,” Pace said.
The Wood Brothers played a one-off show at Jefferson Center in 2014, and have played the Harvester a couple of times since then. “I love that show,” Pace said.
J.D. Allen, a tenor saxophonist, will bring a trio including drummer Rudy Royster. “I think there’ll be moments where people are overwhelmed by how progressive it is, and I love that part of it,” Pace said.
Ralph Peterson’s Blakey tribute will include pianist Geoffrey Keezer and trumpeter Brian Lynch. “It’s going to be a killing band celebrating Art Blakey’s music,” he said.
Veronica Swift’s parents are the late pianist Hod O’Brien and singer Stephanie Nakasian, of Charlottesville. “She’s a great American jazz vocalist,” Pace said of the New York-based Swift, who performs frequently with Chris Botti.
Jefferson Center mailed subscribers, donors and season ticket-holders a book of information on the season, and is hoping to lure new subscribers with an “Explorer Package” that allows them to get a 10% discount on three-show combinations.
“Our message is that Jefferson Center’s goal is not economic development,” he said. “It’s really about making sure people have the opportunity to see great art on a great stage in a true listening room. Each of those shows will do that.”