News and notes from Fredericksburg's entertainment scene
Sounds: Love Canon
BY ANDREW LEAHEY
FOR THE FREE LANCE–STAR
Years ago, Jesse Harper and Adam Larrabee took a road trip from Connecticut to Charlottesville. It was a long drive, and the two friends decided to pass the time as musicians often do: by pulling out an instrument and plucking a few chords.
“We were listening to an ’80s radio station,” Harper told The Free Lance–Star, “and Adam had a mandolin in the car. We were just goofing around, learning the tunes on the radio to help kill some time.”
By the time they pulled into Charlottesville, Harper and Larrabee had been playing ’80s songs for hours, trading rootsy harmonies while Larrabee strummed away at the mandolin. Some of their friends were scheduled to play a show that evening, and the two decided to head over to the venue. Toward the end of the night, they climbed onstage and played Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” with the band, putting a bluegrass spin on the Reagan-era pop tune.
Later, when Harper’s band decided to take a break, he found himself thinking about that car ride.
“A few of us had been in Old School Freight Train, a bluegrass group that went on an indefinite hiatus after some of the guys moved away,” he said. “We were looking for another band to fill that void, and we wanted to keep playing the kind of material that Old School Freight Train had been doing.”
Harper and Larrabee began piecing together a Virginia-area supergroup, one that included mandolin player Andy Thacker and bassist Darrell Muller. Zack Hickman, a member of Josh Ritter’s band, became one of the auxiliary members who occasionally played with the group, as did Fredericksburg resident Jay Starling. Dubbing their new project “Love Canon,” the guys booked a weekly residency at a small Charlottesville bar, where they played twangy, revved-up bluegrass covers of ’80s songs to a steadily growing audience.
“We started off only knowing about 10 songs,” said Harper. “We’d do those 10 tunes, then we’d play them again during the second set. We’d just jam on them, like all bluegrass bands do, with everyone taking solos.”
Now, after two years playing together, Love Canon has amped up its firepower. The band’s catalog contains more than 60 songs, and the guys have graduated to bigger venues, playing to 800 people at Charlottesville’s Jefferson Theater and landing various festival gigs during the summer months. This Friday, they’ll make their second appearance at The Otter House.
“It’s kind of hilarious,” Harper said of the band’s repertoire, “but we’re taking it as seriously as we can, given that we’re playing Cyndi Lauper and Devo. We’ll take a song like ‘Whip It’ and learn how to play it without any drums or synthesizers, which is really bizarre. Everybody learns every part, and we’ll trade those parts around until we realize that the synth part sounds best on banjo, and the drum part sounds great on mandolin, and so on.”
As odd as Love Canon’s premise may be, Harper says that bluegrass music has often focused on the tradition of putting one’s own spin on someone else’s material.
“A lot of bluegrass is cover music,” he said. “For us, we’re using ’80s music as the source material, but it’s not so different from what other people have traditionally done with bluegrass. Ricky Skaggs can play “The Old Home Place” a million times with different people in his band, and it’ll sound different each time. It’s the approach and the instrumental virtuosity—the way people get in there and take different solos—that makes it unique.”
What: Love Canon
Where: The Otter House, 1005 Princess Anne St., Fredericksburg
When: 10 p.m. Friday
Andrew Leahey wants to start a band that plays ’80s versions of ’90s songs.