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A time of bittersweet endings and fresh beginnings for Natalie Blue

The student and alumni band reminisces on their musical journey as their time on Grounds comes to a close

<p>Since their formation, the group has played at local house shows and venues including The Southern, The Whiskey Jar and Dürty Nelly’s.</p>

Since their formation, the group has played at local house shows and venues including The Southern, The Whiskey Jar and Dürty Nelly’s.

After over a year of performing and writing music as a group, student and alumni band Natalie Blue is taking in their final few days together on Grounds — their time playing at house shows and bars on the Corner has come to an end. While this alternative rock group has made their mark on the local music scene after playing countless shows and releasing original music, with graduation on the horizon and multiple members planning to move away from Charlottesville, the band is preparing to say their goodbyes. 

Natalie Blue currently consists of vocalist, guitarist and class of 2023 alumna Jamie Vandenheede, bassist and class of 2023 alumnus Liam Keough, drummer and fourth-year College student CJ Chidlow, and vocalist, guitarist and third-year Engineering student Sean Dunn. Despite the range of ages, the band members were drawn to each other because of their similar tastes in music and love for live performance. 

The band formed in the spring of 2023 when Vandenheede and Keough met in a bar and began to discuss their tastes in music. Having recently taken up guitar, Vandenheede was seeking a group with which to play. 

“Every new person I talked to, I was just like, ‘let's start a band,’” Vandenheede said. “Then me and [Keough] were talking about some of my favorite artists, and we were like ‘You know what? we can make it work.’”

Each member came to the band with vastly different amounts of experience playing music, ranging from only a few weeks to more than a decade playing their respective instruments. Chidlow, for example, has been playing the drums since he was only 10 years old, while Vandenheede did not learn guitar until the spring semester of her third year. These differences have not stopped the group from building an undeniably strong connection, united by their shared passion for music in any form. 

As a band and as individuals, each member is motivated by an intrinsic need to become a better musician. This is especially the case for Vandenheede, who said that when she began playing guitar, she refused to stop practicing until she met her own high standard of becoming a skilled guitar player. Vandenheede said that this standard pushed her to practice until she was confident in her guitar playing abilities. 

“I was just mad that I wasn't good at guitar,” Vandenheede said. “I've gotten good by playing a lot. I would play up to the point where my fingers would be bleeding.”

As a songwriter, Dunn said he also feels committed to his craft but has found his biggest creative successes when he stops trying to write the perfect song.

“I would just try out random stuff,” Dunn said. “And a lot of it is terrible, but you have to write a lot of bad music to find something interesting.”

According to band members, the band is primarily interested in playing the music they all consider the most fun to perform, which mainly consists of alternative rock.  Natalie Blue primarily covers and takes inspiration from 80s and 90s rock music, as well as some contemporary indie and punk rock tunes. 

Beyond the joy they get from playing the music they love, the band members agreed that seeing their audience members enthusiastically engage with their performances has been a highlight at their shows.

“I just want people to have fun,” Chidlow said. “It's more fun when you feed off the energy of the crowd.”

Since their formation, the group has played at local house shows and venues including The Southern, The Whiskey Jar and Dürty Nelly’s. Members of Natalie Blue said that the numerous unique shows the group has had the opportunity to play have been fulfilling. Each member fondly recounted a different favorite memory where the energy, audience or environment inspired them. 

In addition to their frequent live performances, the group released their very first single titled “Half My Mind” in April, the first installment in their soon to be released three-song EP. The members said that the experience of writing and recording original alternative rock music has been both challenging and rewarding, and they attribute their success largely to their cohesion as a group and willingness to hear each others’ ideas and opinions. 

“A big part of the songwriting process in general is just criticism,” Keough said. “Like self-criticism, killing your babies, but also letting other people kill your babies.”

According to Vandenheede and Dunn, while they have primarily led the songwriting efforts, they both credit their songs’ developments and evolutions to the entire band. 

“One of us will have an idea … and we'll play it a bunch of times and inevitably move stuff around and change stuff,” Dunn said. “I think that's really where [Keough and Chidlow] have really made a big impact on the stuff that we've made, just because we play it so many times.”

Beyond their EP, the group also plans to release several live recordings of their original songs, offering listeners the opportunity to experience a digital version of the live performances that are so core to the band’s identity and hear how their new songs have evolved since their initial recording. 

As the group’s time playing local gigs together as an official band is coming to an end, Vandenheede said that the bonds they have built through their music will never truly be broken.

“I don't think the four of us are ever gonna just call it quits,” Vandenheede said. “We haven’t really talked about this, but if anyone's in the area, there's no reason why we wouldn't keep jamming.”

Natalie Blue has already played their final few planned shows in Charlottesville. However, listeners can continue to engage with the band’s music on Spotify and can look for more information about upcoming releases and performances on their Instagram.


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