Arts & Entertainment

Press Pass: Mars Rodeo

MARS RODEO (Courtesy Photo)

If you’re a musician who’s been kicking around the Northern Virginia music scene long enough, you know that it can be hard to find that one part of the area where every song you play resonates.

Blame it on the region’s transient population that’s either moving here for a job or leaving town for their next one, or the fact that a given venue’s clientele changes each night of the week, or the animal spirits that decide bands like Imagine Dragons are what we now classify as “alternative rock” (they’re not, just FYI). Only the most skilled artists are able to satisfy crowds wherever they go, and JV’s Restaurant will be lucky enough to welcome one such band when Mars Rodeo plays there on Saturday.

Finding that homeostasis of music tastes, however, wasn’t some predestination blessed upon the group’s vocalist and rhythm guitarist Nandan Kenkeremath. It’s been a labor of necessity to give Mars Rodeo the best chance to land gigs everywhere from Fairfax to Alexandria.

“We do a lot of variety, and we take on some sophisticated songs that maybe other people wouldn’t take on,” Kenkeremath said. “We certainly play some regular bar band songs, but we also pay a lot of attention to the song mix so we’re sure we perform music from multiple decades and styles.”

Some of the more off-the-beaten-path tracks featured by the band are Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” or songs by Fuel and Steely Dan, which are balanced out by playing some stuff from The Beatles. Kenkeremath said the group’s intention is to not just key in on biggest hits through each decade, but also to switch up the mood of their performances so it isn’t the constant, in-your-face energy of pop songs on repeat.

It’s also been a way to broaden the group’s appeal. That’s why Mars Rodo could be found opening for bands like Bowling for Soup back when the annual Alexandria Waterfront Festival was still around, or it could be entertaining upwards of 4,000 people for the town of Vienna’s Fourth of July celebration. They’ve been able to stand out, and people — and event organizers — seem to notice.

Doing that on top of the band’s changing construction is all the more impressive. Kenkeremath had a solid crew working with him, and then the Covid-19 pandemic hit, and he had to reconfigure who was playing what. Gradually members started joining up: Nick Gallagher on lead guitar, Jim Kress on drums, a rotating tandem of Greg Snyder and Roy Richardson on bass and even harmony vocals sometimes provided by Heather Peck. And Kenkeremath even adjusts the sets according to who’s available that night, so sometimes it will be a duo or trio playing rather than the entire band.

“This group has done very well in a relatively short time period,” Kenkeremath said. “It’s not an easy framework to jump into because we’re not going to play just five songs, we’ve got a pretty extensive list we draw from. But it’s fun because they get to perform songs they wouldn’t ordinarily do.”

Even with the diverse setlist, Kenkeremath said he’s learned to give audiences more credit. He feels that some bands limit their music selection in order to avoid losing the crowd, but Kenkeremath has seen younger listeners bobbing their heads to songs that predate them.

It’s moments like that where Mars Rodeo’s leading man is emboldened to infuse some of his own original songs into a show — which are also well-received.

Mars Rodeo will be performing at JV’s Restaurant (6666 Arlington Blvd., Falls Church) on Saturday at 4 p.m. For more information, visit JV Restaurant’s website.