Transforming live music at U.Va.

Kendall Street Company reflects on undergraduate beginnings

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Louis Smith, U.Va. 2016 graduate and one of the founding members of Kendall Street Company, on the guitar

Richard Dizon | Cavalier Daily

When University students hear the words “Kendall Street Company,” their faces light up. They may think about the time they saw them play in the Kappa Alpha fraternity house, watching them jam on the stage of Boylan Heights or listening to their new album, “Earth Turns,” on Spotify. They may envision the invigorating energy radiating from the instruments and their players, or they may recall the mellow tunes reverberating throughout the venue. To many, the words “Kendall Street Company” evoke memories of good times with good people.

To the musicians of the band, the name represents the connection that the players established when they began to make music. “Kendall Street” is a street on the bay in Virginia Beach, where lead vocalist and songwriter Louis Smith and former saxophonist Andrew Drehoff met to play together. “Company” symbolizes the band members, the audience and the fans who come out to support the group.

“We’d hang out at the beach at Kendall Street — that’s what the name came from,” Smith said. “The Company is the people … A vibe, a home, a good feeling, good people, a good place. That’s what the band name is about.”

Smith and Drehoff were roommates during their first year at the University in 2012, and started playing at Durty Nelly’s, a local deli on Jefferson Park Avenue, before they began to pick up gigs at several different venues around Charlottesville.

During a set one night at Boylan, Robert Manion, a brother from the fraternity Phi Kappa Psi, approached the duo and invited them to play on the porch of their house, facing out into Madison Bowl. They grew in popularity along with the music scene in Charlottesville.

“This was when the live music scene wasn’t really in at U.Va., and so I think people kind of noticed that we were playing real instruments,” Smith said.

From there on, they played ceaselessly at fraternities, averaging about three nights a week, developing a new scene of student musicians at the University. They generated a fan base, as students became enthralled by their energy.

“Louis is so good at energizing the crowd and getting people riled up,” keyboard player Price Gillock said.

Smith describes one night in particular as a turning point, when the band was comprised of four players — Smith, Drehoff, bass player Brian Roy and drummer Ryan Wood — and they played at the Pi Kappa Alpha Bowl Party.

“That’s when we knew that there was something real happening. We ended up playing till about 3:30 in the morning, and we had started at like 10. We were just jamming and playing a lot,” Smith said. “That’s how it all started, just playing a whole bunch around U.Va.”

When composing songs, they try to capture the energy they initially had when they would jam in the basement of Old Cabell Hall, all bringing their own ideas of how the pieces will unfold. Each musician contributes his own input, and they build the song together.

“That’s the best aspect of the band,” electric guitarist Ben Laderberg said. “Everybody is so open to criticism, and we scrutinize every single part before it goes on the album. Everything you hear on the album — its volume, the depth of its sound, how long it lasts — is a decision that we made.”

What began as a duo in the local, dingy bar of Durty Nelly’s has evolved into a six-person band that performs throughout Virginia, as well as cities like New York, Washington D.C. and Annapolis.

“It’s cool to make some connections with bands of similar size all over the East Coast and sharing with them,” Smith said. “We’re sort of getting into that circuit of professional bands rather than being the U.Va. frat band, although those times were really fun, and they formed who we are and the music we’re making.”

Kendall Street Company plans to record another album this year and tour together this summer. Despite the professional status the band is acquiring, the musicians still regard themselves as a group of friends.

“We’re not really professional,” Gillock said. “We’re just a bunch of friends.”

Wherever it goes, from Kendall Street in Virginia Beach to the basement of Old Cabell Hall to the fraternity houses on Rugby Road to the Jefferson Theater, the band brings with it humility, positive energy and passion, elements that transformed the live music scene at U.Va.

“If it really was us that changed that, if that’s how it went, that’s pretty cool,” Smith said. 

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