Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

Arlington has been home to many musical luminaries — think Kate Smith, Jim Morrison and Roberta Flack.

I have a feeling fans will someday add the name of Justin Trawick to our local all-star program notes.

I caught Justin and his bluegrass-y band “the Common Good” at the State Theater Nov. 22, and again when he emceed the “9 Songwriter” holiday music series on Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage Dec. 19.

The exuberant chatter and original lyrics of this 38-year-old Westover resident were so infectious, I had to book him for a Lost Dog lunch date to explore the current-day life of a not-yet-first-tier singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist.

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“This is Jean, who’s been playing with me for about 1,200 years and pretends to be a very good stage manager,” Trawick told the crowd of several hundred. “This is the biggest audience we get to play for every year,” he jibes from the stage wearing a sassy Fedora. “We will now become Instagram-famous in Arlington.”

The brisk patter, he confided to me, is his “A.D.D. running wild on the spur of the moment.” He evolved from a youth who was self-conscious on the dance floor to a performer who “developed the ability to no longer care.” Trawick strives to “be energetic, funny and self-deprecating, the best version of me. The music shouldn’t be a project but toe-tapping fun that tells a story.”

Trawick has opened for Sara Bareilles, Blues Traveler, Suzanne Vega and bluegrass star Dan Tyminski, once sharing the bill with the Avett Brothers. He has released six collections made up mostly of his compositions (one titled “How to Build Life With a Lemonade Stand”). His award-winning single “All the Places That I’ve Been” was inspired by his grandmother and their shared love for Americana tunes in the film “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”

Raised in a pre-Civil War house in Leesburg, Trawick created his first music on a saxophone in 6th grade, followed by riffs on the trumpet. Bored one day during summer before 9th grade, he happened on his father’s cheap guitar with broken strings in a beat-up cardboard case.

“I started writing songs quickly in a connection to creativity, like a diary,” he recalls. “I didn’t’ learn lots of covers — no Smashing Pumpkins or D.C. 101.” A first public performance was “My Pretty Angel,” a song for an unattainable girl. There followed a Catholic folk mass, then a bluegrass gig at a Loudoun County retirement community as a 16-year-old with guys “probably in their 40s or 50s.”

Attending Longwood University, Trawick toyed with conventional bands with drums and electric guitars, but soon morphed into leading a string band with a fiddle, upright base and mandolin. “The style didn’t really change, just the instrumentation,” Trawick says. But the Common Good is “kind of a fake bluegrass band” that plays mostly originals the traditionalist might consider “blasphemy.”

Trawick’s misses the late, lamented Iota Club in Clarendon, which showcased locals and national acts.

Since 2008, he’s been professional, now with an agent who helps book 10-20 gigs a month. The charming motor-mouth is grateful to have a Westover landlord who understands that musicians don’t make much money living their dreams.

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Dec. 16 brought the death of longtime Yorktown High School football and gymnastics coach Jesse O. Meeks. He was 92 and retired in Bon Secour, Alabama.

Meeks figures prominently in the school’s online sports history from the ‘60s through mid-70s. He mentored many Patriots even as they played against his own sons at Washington-Lee. He was also beloved as the summertime manager of the Dominion Hills pool.

Meeks taught me discipline on the gridiron that endured in later life. On the phone just a few years ago, I got to thank him.


Editor’s note: This column has been shortened since publication to better protect the musician’s privacy.

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