By Jan Mercker
For singer/songwriter Chris Timbers, the past two decades have been a roller coaster: a brush with fame, a downward spiral, rock bottom, a rebound and redemption.
The Loudoun-native is back home and gigging like mad after a tumultuous time that has included some musical highs—and the lows of a stint in prison. But thanks to family and friends, he’s rebuilding his personal and musical life.
“I’d been preparing [to return to music] the whole time,” Timbers said. “I was able to play guitar and write music and that helped me tremendously”
For the past three years, Timbers has become a familiar face on the Northern Virginia music scene, with regular gigs in Loudoun and beyond and the release of a recent album, “Keep Moving.”
Twenty years ago, Timbers was on a musical high, touring the East Coast with the rising star jam band Less Traveled. As he rebuilds his life, Timbers is working toward touring with his own band in his new role as frontman.
Timbers, now 47, grew up near Middleburg and graduated from Loudoun Valley High School in 1990. He started singing as a kid at the tiny Willisville Chapel United Methodist Church in Upperville. Timbers started guitar lessons in elementary school and continued playing in western Loudoun’s public schools before heading off to Fairmont State University in West Virginia.
With music on his mind, Timbers left college after two years and returned to Loudoun in the early ’90s. He reconnected with his high school classmate Jake Phillips, and the old friends created Less Traveled. The project snowballed as the young musicians snagged two talented collaborators: world-class Baltimore-based bassist Gary Grainger and drummer Bruce Guttridge, both of whom had toured nationally before joining Less Traveled. The band toured regionally and recorded an album before breaking up in 2003.
Timbers had fallen in love with New York City while touring with Less Traveled and moved to Brooklyn after the breakup with the hope of igniting a solo career. He worked as a session guitarist in the city and became a regular on the Brooklyn music scene. But life as a musician in NYC became tougher and Timbers returned to Loudoun with the intention of writing music.
Back in Virginia, Timbers struggled with substance abuse and the loss of his beloved older brother to cancer at age 40. Timbers became involved with the Northern Virginia Outlaws motorcycle gang in Prince William County. He was arrested as part of a sweep by federal agents and convicted on conspiracy charges related to the gang’s racketeering activities in December 2010. He served six years in federal prisons in Ohio and West Virginia.
While prison wasn’t a cakewalk, Timbers said, it led to a return to his creative life, giving him time for writing and reflection and a chance to put struggles into words and music.
“I was going down a bad path,” he said. “Prison saved me.”
On his release from prison in 2016, Timbers returned to his parents’ home in Loudoun with a renewed focus on making music.
“I literally went home,” Timbers said. “I owe a lot to my family—my parents and my good friends who stuck by me. You realize how few there are.”
With a new outlet for his inspiration, Timbers jumped into creating original material for his 2016 album “Keep Moving.”
“I said I was going to record an album the first year I got home and I did,” he said. “I raised the money and I made it happen.”
Timbers now lives in Ashburn and routinely plays multiple gigs every week across the DMV while working a day job in construction. With a signature style that he calls alternative soul, Timbers blends the R&B sounds he grew up with, from Sam Cooke to Al Green, with’90s influences like Phish, Dave Matthews and Big Head Todd & the Monsters that brought so much to the Less Traveled sound. And Timbers, always recognized as a guitarist, has embraced his new role as lead singer and frontman.
“That was scary for me. When I got home, I’d never done a solo gig in my life. I’d never led a band before,” he said. “[My voice] has kind of come into its own … I can hear it even more in the last year or so. It’s getting stronger and stronger.”
Timbers’ local shows range from low-key acoustic covers with a duo or trio to a high-energy evening with his full band playing originals. His upcoming show at Monk’s BBQ in Purcellville July 27 promises the warmth of a local crowd and a chance to mix it up with his band.
Timbers recently signed with Charlottesville-based Rockfish Music and is working on material for a new recording. He also plans to start touring again with his new band by next summer.
“My vision is this time next year to be out on the road again,” Timbers said. “I’m happy with where I am now, but I still have a long way to go,”
Chris Timbers and his full band play Monk’s BBQ, 251 N. 21st St. in Purcellville, Saturday, July 27 at 8 p.m. Admission is free. For details and more upcoming shows, go to christimbers.com.