By Jan Mercker
Sometimes a band is all about looking for their big break. And sometimes the joy of playing local shows with good friends and great fans is more than enough. For Steve George and his crew of longtime Loudoun musicians, it’s all about doing what they love—and getting the dance floor going.
“We do the music that we love to play, which ranges from country to rock ‘n’ roll to Motown to blues, and we do it because we like to do it,” George said.
Formed in 2014, Steve George and Friends unabashedly revels in members’ baby boomer sensibilities and musical taste and has an impressive following because of it. This year, they’ll wrap up the year with another sell-out New Year’s Eve dance in Lovettsville.
George, a Lovettsville native who still lives in town with his wife Lori, remembers starting piano lessons at age 5 with Lovettsville’s legendary piano teacher Olive Johnson. Johnson, who died last month at 99, continued teaching into her 90s. George studied piano into his teens while teaching himself to play guitar. But George, now 61, has had an on-and-off relationship with music for the past few decades while raising a family and building his contracting business Pine Hill Builders. He flirted with the Nashville songwriting scene at one point but for the past six years has been focused on the joy of playing with the band.
The beginnings of Steve George and Friends came when he got a chance to play solo at Andy’s Restaurant near his home in Lovettsville, which turned into a regular Thursday night acoustic gig. Gordon Smith, another Loudoun native and an alumnus of longtime local favorite the Brandy Stills Band, caught George during a Thursday night show, and the two hit it off.
“He said he’d bought a bass and wanted to jam and I thought, ‘Here we go.’ It turns out he could play,” George said.
The “friends” expanded from there, as George’s former high school classmate Eddie Nelson (who has since left the band) came on board on keyboards, and Smith’s cousin Steve Boyd jumped in on drums. The newly formed collaboration debuted in the summer of 2014 and started playing local wineries. The band continued to grow as lead guitarist Jimmy James of the James Boys band officially joined after sitting in at winery show. James brought in his sister, Nancy James Rutherford, adding female vocals to the sound, and Gordon Smith’s cousin Chuck Smith replaced Nelson on keyboards and pedal steel. Gordon Smith makes his exit after the New Year’s bash and will be replaced by another Loudoun native, Eddie Lambert, on bass in 2020.
And while the band carries George’s name by default, George underscores that everyone contributes to vocals.
“That’s the best part about this band. We all sing—I just started it. We never thought of a name for the band, and since we’re all friends and a lot of the fans are friends, we decided to keep Steve George and Friends.”
The band’s eclectic repertoire, covering everything from Pink Floyd to George Jones, and sense of camaraderie has helped them build a robust following, especially among fellow baby boomers looking for daytime shows with a party atmosphere. The band’s fans are so devoted that George considers them part of the gang.
“We consider our fans part of the ‘friends,’ too. Without the fans coming year after year, we wouldn’t be doing what we’re doing,” George said. “We’re all having a good time and there’s no pressure.”
With a growing fan base, George and his bandmates set about reviving an old tradition in his hometown two years ago. The Lovettsville Game Club, one of the town’s social hubs, had given up on New Year’s Eve dances for more than two decades after attendance had dropped.
“They just couldn’t get a crowd,” George said. “We convinced them to let us try it, and it sold out. So that’s a tradition we’ve brought back.”
The third annual Steve George and Friends New Years Eve dance was close to selling out at press time. But the band is probably best known for daytime shows at area wineries, including a monthly gig at The Barns at Hamilton Station Vineyards. And unlike some other winery acts, they’re far from background music.
“When we play wineries, people are expecting to dance and there will be 25, 30, 40 people on the dance floor, which is not the case for every winery show. Some wineries have told us people expect dancing whenever there’s a show, and I think we started that,” George said. “People expect to have a party and dance and have a great time. That’s the experience people are expecting when they come to see us, and we give it to them.”
Steve George and Friends play Friday, Dec. 20 from 6 to 10 p.m. at ChefScape, 1602 Village Market Blvd SE #120, Leesburg. The band returns to Fleetwood Farm Winery for their annual Christmas show Saturday, Dec. 21 from 1:30 to 5:30 p.m. at 23075 Evergreen Mills Road, Leesburg.
The Steve George and Friends New Year’s Eve dance is Tuesday, Dec. 31 from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. at the Lovettsville Game Club. Tickets are $35, must be purchased in advance and are nearly sold out. To grab a spot, go to lovettsvillegameclub.com/events.