By Jan Mercker
Chris Timbers and Juliana MacDowell have big plans for 2021.
But as COVID continues to impact the local and national music scenes, these two very different singer/songwriters are taking time to enjoy a new collaboration—to the delight of their shared local fan base. They’ll wrap up a surprisingly busy fall season with a joint show at Leesburg’s Tally Ho Theater on Thursday, Dec. 10.
“We are definitely different when it comes to our musical styles, but I still think when it comes to shows, we attract a common crowd,” MacDowell said.
Timbers’ blues-inspired alternative soul and MacDowell’s pop-infused Americana strike different chords. But the two musicians are friends and musical collaborators who describe themselves as kindred spirits. Both have put together solid bands and have big plans for the year to come. But for now, they’re thinking locally and enjoying each other’s musical company.
“We realized that people enjoyed us sharing the stage together and singing songs together. That’s part of what geared us into bringing our bands together for shows,” Timbers said.
And while the two musicians approach their art from different places, they celebrate a shared joy in the creative process.
Timbers is a Loudoun-native with a long performance history—and a brush with fame with the jam band Less Traveled in the ’90s and early 2000s. But struggles with substance abuse, the death of his brother from cancer at age 40, and a stint in prison put his music career on hold a decade ago. With support from friends and family, Timbers returned to Loudoun and has focused on relaunching his musical career.
MacDowell started her musical career later in life but has been catching up with a vengeance in the past decade. She hit the local music scene with Joey Bauer of Joey and The Waitress Band in 2012 and launched her solo career two years later. MacDowell, who usually splits her time between Key West and Loudoun, took the music scene in Key West and beyond by storm, cranking out two acclaimed albums of original material with a third in the works.
MacDowell and Timbers met at MacDowell Brew Kitchen, owned by MacDowell’s husband Gordon, which has become a live music hub thanks to its popular outdoor “beach” in downtown Leesburg. Timbers, a frequently featured act at the venue, showed up when MacDowell was hosting a jam gig.
“I just walked in and introduced myself to her,” Timbers said with a laugh.
That meeting has led to frequent collaborations including a livestream performance during Virginia’s COVID shutdown last spring and a joint show at B Chord Brewing in October.
“Any time we sit down together, it’s always magical,” Timbers said. “I’ve admired and loved Juliana since I first heard her play. I love her songwriting, I love her singing, I love her presence and her storytelling.”
For MacDowell, learning from Timbers’ career of nearly four decades and his extensive network of DMV musicians has helped her move forward.
“There’s nothing better than playing with a friend. There’s nothing better than finding a kindred spirit,” MacDowell said. “Chris has been at this for so long. It’s interesting for somebody like me to collaborate with a veteran, a local legend in a way.”
Timbers is known as a connector on the DMV music scene and has helped MacDowell build relationships with top musicians in the region. When MacDowell was rebuilding her band in the wake of the pandemic, Timbers jumped in to help her find just the right mix.
“Chris has been hugely kind,” she said. “I’ll tell him I need somebody and he’ll throw a couple phone numbers at me and say tell them I sent you.”
The Tally Ho show will be a debut for MacDowell’s new band, which features guitarist Mike Ault, drummer Andy Hamburger, bassist Sonny Petrosky, Dave Hadley on pedal steel and Benjie Porecki on keyboards. MacDowell is recording her third album in Nashville with legendary producer Bil VornDick, with a scheduled release this spring.
Meanwhile, Timbers has put together a stellar band of his own, featuring his longtime friend and collaborator Mike Tony Echols on bass, Pete Thomas on guitar, Paul Dudley on drums, Natalie Brooke on keyboards and Eli Gonzalez on saxophone.
Timbers has a new management company and has been focused on songwriting and expanding listenership on streaming services while planning for a return to touring after the coronavirus restrictions are lifted. Timbers is slated to release his new song “Loving You” for Valentine’s Day 2021 as a single.
“I’m just approaching [new songs] one at a time,” Timbers said. “I look forward to being able to get out there and get on the road again.”
Both artists have had unexpectedly busy summer and fall seasons after a very uncertain spring.
“We all thought things were doomed for the year, but things started falling into place” MacDowell said.
One of the highlights of a busy season at Loudoun’s wineries and breweries for both artists was their October joint concert, organized by the Barns of Rose Hill at B Chord Brewing.
But both artists are bracing for a slowdown this winter as opportunities for outdoor gigs fade away. The socially distanced indoor show at the Tally Ho will feature new material for both bands, along with some holiday tunes.
MacDowell has played the Tally Ho with other acts, but the Dec. 10 show will be a first for Timbers after months of dialog with the venue’s owners. The two bands will take the stage separately, with Timbers’ band performing first. But there may be room for a joint appearance from the two songwriters, in the kind of laidback improvisational style that both musicians love.
“[The Tally Ho] is able to bring in all these touring acts, but now with COVID, we can play the stages that are slightly bigger that we couldn’t get on,” MacDowell said.
Both Timbers and MacDowell anticipate a renewed shift to livestreams this winter, similar to the model many musicians adopted in the early days of the pandemic.
But they’re also both intently focused on helping keep local and regional venues afloat.
“It’s tough because you want them to survive, and so many places have already shut down,” Timbers said. “I know some places I’ve played in DC will never open their doors again. …You want to make sure everyone’s safe. It’s kind of a battle sometimes.”
Juliana MacDowell and Chris Timbers play the Tally Ho Theater Thursday, Dec. 10. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets for the seated show are $20-$30. For tickets and information, go to tallyhotheater.com.
For more information about Juliana MacDowell, go to julianamacdowell.com.
To learn more about Chris Timbers, go to christimbers.com.