Ready To Rock & Roll
Singer Julia Kasdorf at the Top of Her Game
Julia Kasdorf’s powerful vocals are well known to area music lovers through her decade-long collaboration with the alt-country group One Horse Town. As the singer entered the new decade, she put
together a new band—with an accent on rock and roll—and embarked on a thriving solo career.
Kasdorf shared the stage for years with her friend and fellow vocalist Janet Emma Garbe in One Horse Town. Both singers moved on to new projects a few years ago, and Kasdorf is now a regular on the local winery circuit with her acoustic solo show and takes things up a notch at gigs with her band The Ready Boys.
Julia and The Ready Boys will get the joint jumping at Purcellville’s Catoctin Creek Distilling Company Saturday, Aug. 16, the latest in a series of concerts at the craft distillery’s base of operations on Main Street. Kasdorf’s rock show includes lots of familiar rock covers, from the Eagles to the Beatles to David Bowie, given a new twist by Kasdorf’s rich vocals. For the singer, it’s all about giving the audience a chance to let loose and have fun.
“To me, going out to hear live music is really fun, and I like to provide fun,” Kasdorf said. “I want people to be moved to get up and dance and get out of where they’re at. There’s so much fun in dancing and responding to live music. It kind of takes you away. It’s kind of like the way adults play.”
Kasdorf was a military brat who moved around as a kid, but she graduated from high school in Baltimore, MD, and has always considered the DC area home. After a dozen years in San Francisco, where she spent much of the ’80s and ’90s playing in new age and punk bands, Kasdorf returned home to Silver Spring, MD, in 1997 to regroup. Her plans to take off again for the thriving music scenes of Austin or Seattle were nixed when she met her husband, Lynn Kasdorf, at a guitar retrospective at the Smithsonian.
Her husband worked for AOL, and they were living in Fairfax County at the time, and the couple decided to buy a farm in Loudoun. After a few years on a farm near Oatlands outside Leesburg, they moved to their current home outside Waterford in the early 2000s. Kasdorf jumped into the local music scene right away. She was playing at the now-defunct Borders bookstore in Sterling when she met Garbe, then an enthusiastic new performer who was itching to play, and One Horse Town was born.
The group got its start shortly after Kasdorf’s first son was born, and Garbe was driving a bus for Loudoun County Public Schools. The women found time to practice at Kasdorf’s house between bus runs.
“We started right out of the gate. We’d only been playing together about two weeks before she booked us at Starbucks,” Kasdorf recalled. That first gig led to a 10-year collaboration. The group broke up in 2011, but Kasdorf and Garbe are still close.
“We really miss playing with each other,” Kasdorf said. “We knew how to work with each other.”
Kasdorf’s husband is also a frequent musical collaborator: he played pedal steel for One Horse Town and currently plays bass with The Ready Boys. The Kasdorfs have two sons, Ranger, 14, and Emory, 12. The musical inclinations of contemporary teens and tweens are a little perplexing to Kasdorf, but she’s doing her best to embrace the wave of the future.
“What kids are doing nowadays is remixes. You go to Sound Cloud and somebody’s song is up there and you download it and you import it into some kind of sound editor and you rearrange it and that’s where your creativity comes in,” Kasdorf said. “I’m trying to appreciate it. What I constantly wonder is, did our music sound this unfathomable to our parents? It’s hard to imagine.”
But Kasdorf said the popularity boost that her son’s recent remix gave a friend’s original song opened her eyes to the importance of social media for musicians of any age.
“I don’t understand social media so I didn’t really participate in it,” she said. “But that little example demonstrated to me the power of it. Just because I don’t understand it is not a reason not to use it.”
Kasdorf now has a solid online presence, but playing live is still what it’s all about for her. The Ready Boys are rounded out by Tom Briner on lead guitar and Jim Hayden on drums. Kasdorf plays rhythm guitar but says playing lead guitar has always been a dream. The aggressive quality involved in playing lead guitar in a rock band can be intimidating to women, she said, including herself.
“There are some exceptions, but most of us women are lacking the gene,” she said. “I’m working really hard on overcoming that. I don’t know if it’s cultural…It’s a source of interest to me all the time.”
The Catoctin Creek show is particularly exciting for Kasdorf because of the layout of the venue, with its “steampunk” distilling equipment and old-school vibe.
“You know you’re in a different place when you go in there,” she said.
Distillery owners Becky and Scott Harris have been offering a wide range of live music in recent months, working with concert organizers Bill and Cheryl Bunce and, separately, with Scott Kinney of Shamrock Music, across the street. (Kasdorf teaches music at Shamrock, and Kinney helped organize the Aug. 16 show.) The concerts take place on the distillery side of the operation, while patrons can buy tastings of spirits and cocktails in the adjacent tasting room. The distillery’s ambiance, with its large glass doors backing up to Main St. makes for a great show.
“We’ve been told [by musicians] how excited they are by the quality of the sound,” Becky Harris said. “It’s very intimate.”
Kasdorf said she generally plays plenty of covers in the interest of providing familiar, danceable tunes that get the audience moving, but she has also noticed a real receptiveness to original music by Loudoun audiences.
Kasdorf is involved with the booming local singer/songwriter community, and regularly joins fellow singer/songwriters like Lenny Burridge and Jason Frye at open mic nights at King’s Court in Leesburg and Jose’s Pub in Purcellville. Her Aug. 16 show will include a new original song, “Cliff”, co-written with her friend and fellow local songwriter Harrison Sherwood.
“Sometimes I play covers because they’re reliable, and when I play my originals, I’m usually pleased that people respond to them as well,” she said.
Kasdorf’s voice and style have been compared to alt-country legend Lucinda Williams. Kasdorf is a fan, but avoids covering Williams’ material because of their vocal similarities.
“I strive to be as powerful as her and as simple as her. She can take something really simple and make it so evocative,” Kasdorf said. “On purpose, I don’t listen to a lot of Lucinda. I want to keep a little distance.”
Comparisons aside, Kasdorf’s vocals hold up well on their own merit, and the singer is moving into her 50s with lots of creative fervor and excitement about performing live.
“The reason I play music is, of course, because its so much fun but also it’s a challenge that will never end,” Kasdorf said. “I keep trying to play better, sing better, write better. And playing live is when this all comes together, for good or ill. I learn so much about myself and what I’m capable of (and need to work on) in the glaring immediacy of a live show. To get better, I have to keep playing out.”
Kasdorf has a number of upcoming shows scheduled, including a Sept. 12 gig at Vino 9 in Paeonian Springs and a daytime show at the Bluemont Fair Sept. 21. Her Aug. 16 show at Catoctin Creek Distilling Company features opening act Kiti Gartner and the Deceits and runs from 7-10 p.m. Tickets are $17 in advance (available at Shamrock Music in Purcellville) or $20 at the door.
Jan Mercker, Leesburg Today ,2014
One Horse Town Thrills Young and Old
Julia Kasdorf’s performance by itself – whole-hearted, unabashed, sincere, unself-concious – kept me on my feet even after chairs opened up. And it got some folks nodding to the beat who probably rarely even turn up their car radios. She so completely and clearly loved what she was doing that we had no choice but to love it too – everybody in the room. She gave us all she had, left everything onstage. By the end she barely had enough voice left to say Good night. If she’s that good when she’s under the weather, I’d like to see her when she’s well.
Mark Dewey, Blueridge Leader, 2007