Life has been in a bit of a funk (to say the least) for everyone the past few months. Those small, sanity-preserving pleasures such as a trip to the gym or a bar are now clouded by the knowledge that it could spread the coronavirus to someone more vulnerable to it. However, the open air appears to be the sturdiest firewall against the disease, and that’s allowed musicians like Sean Tracy Trio and Joe Barbee to take their acts from the main stage to the parking lot as they will tonight at the State Theatre.
The two artists are regular friends in Northern Virginia’s live music scene. Just a month ago, Tracy invited Barbee to the open mic he hosts at Falls Church Distillers, with it being Barbee’s first live set since the pandemic kicked off in March. Now they both have some pre-performance jitters about entertaining the crowd at the State Theatre.
“I’ll definitely be nervous,” Barbee said, whose show tonight will only be his fourth as a solo artist. “This will be the biggest show I’ve ever played, and it will also be the longest show I’ve ever played,” with the three-hour set expected to be split in half between Barbee and Tracy.
“This will absolutely be our biggest show in months, but we’re excited to play,” Tracy said separately.
Sharing seems to be a theme with these two. For one, they both work in education, with Tracy being a science teacher for Wakefield High School and Barbee working as a teachers aide for Fairfax County Public Schools when they’re not writing music. But more relevantly, they’ve both experienced the awkward transition to the “new normal” of virtual performances.
That meant taking some of Barbee’s wit and channeling that into writing a musical tribute to front line workers in his April jam, “Stay the F**k Home,” where his harmonica interludes fill the space between comedic verses. With the help of his nephew filming his performance on his phone and some musician friends based out of New York City, Barbee was able to make a music video during the initial lockdown.
Tracy had a hard time adjusting to the lack of human connection. He participated in some livestream events over the past few months, but without an audience to react to, he feels as if he’s been flying blind.
“It’s been strange to play for just a screen. You get no feedback on how you’re doing,” Tracy said. “Just figuring out how to get the sound right and software to work and investing the time in that, it’s kind of an eye-opening experience. I’ve been taking for granted the weekly, twice weekly shows I used to have.”
Still, tonight offers them a chance to give people a reprieve from all the bad news.
Tracy will be joined by band members Matt Rehfuss on the drums and Jomil Madrid on the bass to deliver their pure rock sound. The group mixes in original songs with covers from artists such as Weezer and Tom Petty, to name a few.
While Tracy jokes that he doesn’t get booked to play his group’s original music, nor does he even have three hours of original music to perform, Barbee’s own songs are the focus of his act. He’s written about an album’s worth of material in his own “folk punk” sound that he’s workshopped since becoming a solo musician in early 2019.
He’s able to finagle his way on stage because of all the odd jobs he’s worked over the years, such as at Clarendon’s Galaxy Hut and even at the State Theatre for a time, so he has connections willing to let him on stage.
Now with both artists well-rested from the public health-enforced hiatus from Covid-19 (one of its subtle perks for them), they’re looking forward to seeing some faces in the crowd tonight.
“I just hope we get a good, decent crowd and people have fun,” Barbee said.
The State Theatre is located at 220 N. Washington St., Falls Church. The free show starts at 7 p.m.