Even after touring the nation and gigging coast to coast, there’s no place like home for Charlottesville-based band Kendall Street Company. The talented ensemble — all five of which graduated from the University between 2015 and 2020 — returned to their hometown this past Thursday to play at The Southern Café & Music Hall, kicking off their second annual Kendall Street is For Lovers Tour.
The genre-fusing band has dedicated the month of February to spreading local music love to legendary venues and bars across Virginia, zigzagging between Charlottesville, Blacksburg, Richmond, Harrisonburg and Virginia Beach. Kendall Street Company’s Charlottesville fanbase is particularly excited about their residency at The Southern, where they will be returning every Thursday this February.
To mimic the worn-out cries of a true jam-band aficionado, nothing compares to the live show experience. During their show at The Southern this past Thursday — the first of their residency this month — the band brought with them their usual spirit of spontaneity and disdain for setlists.
According to bassist and backing vocalist Brian Roy, the band chooses songs on the spot based on the crowd’s energy.
“Each show is really drastically different,” Roy said.
Roy — who graced the stage in a kaftan robe, accessorized with shimmering hair tinsel and a perpetual grin — looked and played like he just jumped off the cover of Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book record.
The band’s wide range of musical influences were dispersed all throughout their set, which featured notes of psychedelic rock, jazz, R&B, bluegrass and folk. It was a wild ride as the band transitioned effortlessly between complex key changes, thumping bass lines looping like a 70s disco track and solo serenades from lead singer and rhythm guitarist Louis Smith.
As if unhinged musical chops and syncopated stage lighting wasn’t enough, Smith’s on-the-fly comedy bits and crowd engagement add to the full scale of the Kendall Street Company experience, for which they have gained quite a reputation.
“Who’s even driving this thing, dude?” Smith said in the facetious voice of a 70s West Coast surfer to the giddy crowd.
After playing together for nine years, the band has learned how to communicate without words, a skill that aids their extended improvisational jams.
Lead guitarist Ben Laderberg and saxophonist and keyboardist Jake Vanaman alternated jazz-infused call and response licks as if they were having a conversation. The musicians may have learned a thing or two from the University’s Department of Music.
“I do use my degree every day,” Smith, who studied music at the University, said. “You know, I use it more than most people probably use their degrees.”
Laderberg quipped that Smith used his degree more often for “rolling papers” with a smirk as the band chuckled.
After meeting at the University nearly a decade ago, the five-piece moved into a house on 14th and Grady. Roy reminisced on the cramped stage set-ups that could barely contain the band’s sound and lighting gear.
“Pretty much any place on the Corner that had live music at any point when we were at the University, we played,” Roy said. “Thursday night, Friday afternoon, Friday night, Saturday afternoon, Saturday night. All between fraternities, live shows at bars and venues and downtown.”
Getting their start as a student band helped to build a foundation of loyal fans.
“It's great to be in a community that fosters that sort of togetherness on such a regular basis,” Roy said.
When members of their class graduated and moved away to places like Washington, D.C. and New York City, NY, their fans took with them memories of watching the band play, establishing fanbases for Kendall Street Company up and down the East coast.
Before fully committing to his career as a professional touring musician, drummer Ryan Wood recalled his Brewery shifts getting in the way of band practice.
“I was like, dude, 'One foot in and one foot out, There ain’t no way to live like that,” Smith said, quoting The Avett Brothers. “I think that that really got to him. He quit the job.”
With seven studio albums now under their belt, the band has come a long way from playing at fraternity parties and house shows on Grounds. Returning to Charlottesville to play for friends and fans that got them their start is a full circle moment.
“It's kind of like playing a home game,” Roy said. “You get to wake up where you live, and it's the same locker room and the fans all come out and it's a much more packed stadium with people that really are into what you're doing.”
As for the future, Kendall Street Company looks forward to returning to The Southern on Feb. 9, Feb. 16 and Feb. 23, where fans may be able to catch their new single titled “Lost Together,” out Friday.