“My name is Justin Trawick and I write songs and play them for people.”
The first line in Trawick’s Tumblr intro makes the 34-year-old musician’s life sound simple enough. But it doesn’t tell the whole story.
Justin Trawick is a working man. Fortunately for him, he gets to make money by making music. But this doesn’t mean he’s just sitting around collecting royalties. A Virginia native who currently resides in Arlington, Trawick has been making a living in entertainment since 2008. Getting paid to pursue his passion comes with its own costs – long days, lots of hustle, and the reality of having to draw lines between musicianship as an art and musicianship as a job – but Trawick will take it over sitting at a desk any day.
“The nice thing about DC is that there is a good, supportive arts community here, especially on the financial side,” he says. “There are a lot of events [and] companies that want to put on things. My band is busy all the time.”
Trawick and his band The Common Good have played up and down the East Coast since 2006, riding the wave of a resurgence of bluegrass and New Americana (think The Tallest Man on Earth, Shovels and Rope, The Wood Brothers). They’ve released five records, and with each one, Trawick says they’ve come closer to creating a defining sound.
“For me, I think I learned how to do this all by doing it the hard way. For the same reason, I know how to drive anywhere. I only know how to get somewhere in my car because I got lost the first 15 times trying to get there. Ten years later, I finally feel like I have a better idea of what I want to do just through the process of doing it. I have a group of songs that I think I’m really happy with and really proud of.”
And even with the traditional four-piece guitar, upright bass, mandolin and fiddle bluegrass combo, Trawick and The Common Good manage to surprise. The band’s cover of House of Pain’s “Jump Around” and impromptu street performances featuring Trawick’s rendition of the late, great Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” are crowd pleasers.
In fact, Trawick’s success as a musician seems to come as much from artistic talent as it does from knowing how to work a crowd and capitalize on opportunity. He is the mastermind behind “The 9 Songwriter Series,” in which he and eight other performers play sets together. Trawick started “The 9” in 2008 as a way for him and his “singer-songwriter friends to get into bigger venues where people actually care about what you’re doing.” Collectively, they “can pack a room.” This year, the series played their fourth annual Christmas show at the Kennedy Center.
Trawick also keeps busy producing a weekly podcast, The Circus Life, with friend and local sound engineer Sean Russell. Episodes feature interviews, stories and live performances by local, regional and national acts (along with some witty banter). The podcast’s third anniversary show will be performed live on August 27 at the 9:30 Club.
The musician praises 9:30 for embracing the local music community with open arms, steering clear of the snob factor noted at other reputable venues across the nation. Along with the opportunities for entertainment gigs that he says just aren’t as prevalent in other cities, it’s this kind of inclusiveness that has kept him in the area.
And Trawick isn’t slowing down. While he regularly records at Cue Recording Studios in Falls Church, he is excited about a new project in the works with Jacob Briggs – a friend and fellow musician he met while playing The Bluebird in Nashville. Briggs runs River Wash Recording in Richmond where they recently laid down a new track.
“It’s not reinventing the wheel or anything. It’s just an upbeat, positive, rock ‘n’ roll-ish kind of song, but I’m very happy with the feeling that we get from it. This was an experiment, the experiment worked out really well and I think that we’re going to record more with Jacob.”
Catch Justin Trawick on August 5 at Yards Park’s Friday Night Concert Series in the Capitol Riverfront, and at 9:30 Club on August 27. Learn more about Trawick at www.justintrawick.com.
Yards Park: 355 Water St. SE, DC; 202- 465-7080; www.yardspark.org
9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; 202- 265-0930; www.930.com