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A Birchmere-like music venue in Fredericksburg?

Joe Newberry opens for Pretty Gritty at the first Music & Spirits concert on April 5.

Pretty Gritty opens for Joe Newberry (above) at the first Music & Spirits concert Saturday, April 5. (PHOTO BY BEN MILLER, COURTESY OF PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION)

A new concert series is coming to the A. Smith Bowman Distillery. The Music & Spirits series will feature American roots music—blues, jazz and rock—in a listening room environment with food and beverages available during the show. The opening concert is Saturday, April 5 and will feature award-winning bluegrass songwriter Joe Newberry and the rocking Americana country duet Pretty Gritty.

Music & Sprints is the brainchild of husband-and-wife team Bryan Blakemore and Laura Cooper—a local couple who were tired of traveling an hour to hear good roots music.

“What we’re trying for is a listening room, sit-down experience that is more like The Birchmere,” said Cooper. “We want to have more events here so we don’t have to drive so far—you have to drive to Charlottesville or Richmond or Alexandria—there isn’t anything like that here.”

Blakemore has some impressive musical connections. He grew up with brothers Otiel and Kofi Burbridge, both successful professional musicians. Otiel is the bass player for the Allman Brothers Band and Kofi plays keyboards and flute with the Tedeschi Trucks Band. Blakemore said a conversation with his friends gave him the idea for the concert series.

“I was sitting backstage with them and they said ‘Hey, we’re kind of tired of the big stadium type of thing. I wish a musician or somebody in our group would put together an intimate setting so we could get closer to the fans. Because these big stadiums are so cut off from the fans that people don’t get a chance to see us with security and all this other stuff,’” Blakemore said.

Blakemore liked the sentiment, and thought Fredericksburg’s rich historic ties would provide the perfect environment for American roots music.

Blakemore teamed up with Joe Showers, a former track coach at George Mason University who had experience organizing large events. Their original idea was to hold a citywide music festival, similar to the South by Southwest event in Austin. Smaller groups would play at restaurants and bars in town, headliners would play larger venues. But after considering the logistics, they scaled back the idea to a more manageable concert series. They contacted the A. Smith Bowman Distillery, and the company was interested in the idea. The distillery happened to have a space suitable for a large audience.

“It’s kind of a tourism promotion thing,” said Cooper. “In addition to music, they’re very connected to tourism in Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania, so they’re getting some great opportunities to connect to those different industries to try and bring folks here.”

Another mission of Music and Spirits is to promote music education. Many of their featured performers will provide master classes prior to their performances.

“Joe Newberry will be doing a songwriting master class,” said Blakemore. “He’s doing that from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Joe will help students focus on making their good songs even better, or get them started if they only have a trunk full of ideas.”

“We’re going to give two kids scholarships to go to the songwriting workshop,” said Cooper. “It’s the same day as the show. That’s our objective. When we can, we want to get some of these musicians that are coming from afar to offer up some sort of class that we can make available to the community. We want to always keep two slots open for scholarships for young people.”

Blakemore and Cooper hope that their new concert series will take off and provide a venue with good music, food and drinks.

“Come on out and enjoy it,” said Blakemore. “It’s going to be fun.”

What: Music & Spirits Concert Series presents Joe Newberry with Pretty Gritty

When: Saturday, April 5, 7:30 p.m. Doors open at 5 p.m.

Where: A. Smith Bowman Distillery, 1 Bowman Drive, Fredericksburg

Cost: $15 online, $18 at the door


Stephen Hu is a true Virginia Gentleman.

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  • FixFred

    I hope this is true and gets some momentum! The city could certainly use something like this to diversify itself. I, too, am often driving to Richmond, Charlottesville, & Alexandria for shows so hopefully that can change soon and I can spend my money locally instead.

  • Rae Lynn Boyer

    Yes! I can’t thank you enough! This is long overdue….

  • Stephen Hu

    One small correction to the photo caption here: Pretty Gritty is opening for Joe Newberry.

  • Penni511

    This looks amazing and I can’t wait to get tickets!

  • Ruth

    As a live music producer, this news is very exciting and yes, long overdue. Kudos to Laura, Bryan, and Joe for knowing what we need and making it happen!!!

    Tickets can be found at the website

    Oh, and the second para opening words should be “Music & Spirits,” not “Music & Sprints,” though we can hope it will catch on quickly!!! Thank you.

  • cwspy

    I am so excited to hear this! My hubby and I will certainly attend events like this. Unfortunately, we can’t make the 5 April event, but look forward to seeing the schedule for the rest of the year.
    A Fredericksburg scale of the SXSW festival would be great to see in the future. I have never thought of that before and it would be a wonderful annual event for our town. I believe that our city should look to pursuing this idea in the future.