Jamestown Revival Comes Home

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Imagine sitting in your Magnolia area den, watching Conan, when a couple of familiar faces appear on screen. Anyone who knew Zach Chance and Jonathan Clay when they lived in the area may have had that experience earlier this year.

If you missed that chance to catch Chance and Clay, collectively known as Jamestown Revival, maybe you caught them on The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson this week. Major network talk shows are interested in their straight-to-the-heart Americana music. So are some festivals you may have heard of, like Hangout Music Festival and a little gathering called Bonnaroo.

But, Houstonians don't have to head to Tennessee to see these singer-songwriters do their thing. Just show up to Jamestown Revival's show tonight at Dosey Doe.

"It's always great to come back home," said Chance. "There's obviously a lot of nostalgia that comes with it but it's also a different kind of support from folks. We get to see more friends and family which a lot of times is more frightening than playing for complete strangers. It's much more embarrassing if you screw up."

There was a time when few locals knew or cared whether the duo was hitting every note just right. As is so often the case, these musicians had to leave Houston to gain some appreciation and traction.

"We were living in Austin at the time we started the band and I'd venture to say hardly anyone in Texas knew who we were as Jamestown Revival," Clay said. "We'd played a handful of gigs but that's about it. A few months later we moved out west to California."

They found an artistic groove on the west coast and wrote the songs that would become Utah, the band's debut album.

"Utah was absolutely a labor of love. No one wanted to record us so we did it ourselves. We thought how hard can it be to record an album to tape doing live takes? And we soon found out it's much more difficult than we imagined, but somehow we managed to pull it all together. Luckily we have very kind and talented friends," Chance said.

"Utah was, in fact, recorded in a cabin all sitting around playing in the same room," he continued. "The idea was to capture not only the acoustics but also the emotion and feel that we get from playing together. We figured there weren't many better ways to do that than getting a cabin six thousand feet up in the mountains of Utah."

The collection of self-described "back-porch folk-rock" songs sound as pristine as a Wasatch snowfall. The record's breakout song, "California (Cast Iron Soul)" isn't simply a nod to the Golden State. The chorus recalls a place this music started, with a shout out to Magnolia.

"My family moved to Magnolia from Lubbock when I was fourteen and Jon and I became friends shorty after," Chance recalled. "I think we figured out pretty quickly that we both enjoyed music and ended up writing our first song together by the time we were fifteen. It wasn't the best work we've ever done, but we managed to create something and that sparked a fire."

The fire's embers were artists who came long before them.

"We reached a point where we were listening to a lot of older records and musicians all the time and that just really stuck with us," Clay said. "We liked the sound of the way things were recorded and how lyrics and melody both contributed to the songs. I'd say we've humbly tried to recreate that as best we know how. We're definitely still learning though."

Jamestown Revival is taking its place in a new era of American folk music. The music has had a resurgence and Chance guessed why.

"I think a lot of the folk rejuvenation can be attributed to the fact that people still appreciate honesty and good story telling in music," he said. "And, it just so happens that folk and Americana lean heavily on those two qualities."

Going back as far as they do, neither would suggest there's anything "overnight" about this new success they're enjoying. They're not taking any of it for granted, either. They'll be on North American roads until mid-July. No jet airliners or limousines to get them from gig to gig. They've converted an old prison bus into a touring vehicle. The irony, of course, is they're unchained to a conventional life. Not bad for a couple of kids from Magnolia.

It may be just the beginning of Jamestown Revival's story, but they have an eye to the future.

"If we can still be able to tour the country and share our music with people, we'll be pretty happy," Chance said. "Hopefully we'll put out a few more records within that time, that we're hopefully proud of, and I wouldn't mind playing a show with Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard or John Prine either."

Jamestown Revival plays Dosey Doe, 25911 I-45 North, tonight, 8:30 p.m. $15.

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