Starting this October, The Barns at Wolf Trap opens another musical season. Located on acres of forest land in Northern Virginia, Wolf Trap is the only national park dedicated to the performing arts and is an outdoor venue featuring all types of music for all types of people. The Barns, situated in the southeast corner of Wolf Trap’s grounds, is exactly what it sounds like: two restored 18th-century barns dedicated to beautiful acoustics in a cozy setting.
This season, The Barns hosts artists that play music from all over the world. The trio Hot Club of Cowtown will play Western swing, Altan performs Irish folk music, Grammy-winning Eliane Elias showcases Brazilian jazz and Stephen Kellogg will put on some classic rock ‘n’ roll, among other fantastic artists set for the upcoming months.
We chatted with trumpet player Glenn Hall III of Rebirth Brass Band, a New Orleans-based classic, who will kick off The Barns’ season on October 6. Started in 1983 by brothers Keith and Phillip “Tuba Phil” Frazier, Rebirth Brass Band originally played the streets of New Orleans in the French Quarter. They blew up fast, earning Grammy awards in 2012 and 2020 and becoming a widely recognized sound. Keith Frazier still leads the band, and though some original members have since left, a new player is always ready to fill in.
Hall comes from a musical family, with relatives like Trombone Shorty and Glen David Andrews, who also played for Rebirth. Hall grew up playing the trumpet with his cousins, filling in for their shows when he was only 7 or 8 years old. Inspired by Rebirth’s sound — “I was a Rebirth fanatic” — Hall studied music like crazy and even started his own band after Hurricane Katrina. When 2016 rolled around, Rebirth was looking for a trumpet player and Hall took the spot.
“Throughout those 40 years, the band Rebirth rebirthed,” Hall says. “Listen to the records and you can hear the evolution of the band, from extremely traditional to funk music to rap. The repertoire evolves with the time.”
During its tenure, Rebirth Brass Band flirted with genre lines, embodying new concepts and infusing them with their classic New Orleans brass, bass and chants. The Rebirth experience is fitting for The Barns, where the atmosphere is specific but also adaptable to new sounds.
“I think the band has always been adaptive and evolving,” Hall says. “New Orleans people always keep the tradition. But we find ways to stay new.”
Tradition is important in New Orleans, a city threatened by disappearance. Hall says New Orleans is different from the rest of America in that way; as one of the oldest cities in the country, it still holds onto its beginnings in ways other cities don’t. And part of keeping tradition is keeping the sound — the stories and music that make the city what it is.
“It’s a musical city,” Hall says. “Music is embedded in the culture and the spirit of the people, even down to the way people talk. There’s a certain rhythm to it. It goes hand in hand; if you’re walking musically and creating music, it all comes together to this one thing.”
New Orleans music is based off chants and calls and responses, Hall says. A classic Mardi Gras song repeats the lyrics “Let’s go get ’em,” one of the many songs started through chants. That feel and cultural camaraderie embodies the New Orleans sound.
A song built out of a phrase, a piano solo taken over by a trumpet, a drumbeat keeping time for a rogue trombone player: Rebirth leaves room for improvisation.
“This music is totally based on improv,” Hall says. “We definitely have structure and we have set songs, but we’re also improvising and adding things not in the recorded version. A Rebirth song will never sound the same way the second or third time we play it.”
Rebirth also doesn’t have a setlist. Each show is different; the band just understands when to come in when the leader begins. Hall says this means audiences won’t hear the same songs if they go to several live shows; each time the show will have new elements, new improvisations from different band members.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow,” Hall says. “A hurricane could come and wipe the entire city out, and we’re going to come back and party again. We play shows with that same energy. We just want to enjoy this moment.”
The resilience, improv and energy Rebirth brings to their music will come together to create a new album, set to release soon. At The Barns, audiences can expect to hear some new songs mixed in with some of their beloved past work.
Looking forward to the upcoming Barns’ season, a similar energy from bands visiting from all around the world will grace the stage. Gathering in the intimate Barns gives music-lovers a place to disconnect from the outside world and listen to what else is out there.
“What better place to listen to music than a national park?” Hall says. “It just feels like a great place to enjoy something.”
The Barns at Wolf Trap’s season starts October 6, 2022 and continues through spring 2023. The season includes returning artists, debut artists, holiday performances, tribute performances and comedy nights, among other offerings. You can see the schedule and buy tickets at wolftrap.org.