A few years ago, Justin Trawick took a negative (getting laid off from his day job) and turned it into an opportunity (making a living as a musician). The talented singer-songwriter hasn’t looked back and is making a name for himself—both as a performer and as a connector in the Washington, DC, area and beyond.
The Leesburg native, who now lives in Arlington, keeps busy playing solo and with his band the Common Good. He’s also the founder and organizing force behind The 9 songwriter series, established to bring together independent musicians so they can play better venues. The latest installation of The 9 is Friday, Jan. 22 at the Tally Ho Theatre in Leesburg. [NOTE: This concert has been rescheduled to Thursday, Jan. 28 because of the snowstorm.]
“It’s enabled us to play in places we wouldn’t have been able to play on our own, to play in front of crowds we normally wouldn’t play in front of,” Trawick said of the series, which has touched down in DC, New York, Philadelphia, New Orleans and elsewhere.
The series brings a different line-up every time, and Trawick himself usually (but not always) plays the shows. As the organizer, he likes to mix it up—putting nationally known musicians like Jon Carroll (Grammy-winning vocalist from the Starland Vocal Band of “Afternoon Delight” fame) and Michael Clem (co-founder of the beloved ’90s band Eddie from Ohio) on stage with young talent like Lovettsville’s Teddy Chipouras and Leesburg-raised, Nashville-based Cassidy Ford.
“The inclusion factor—from a Grammy winner who’s probably in his 50s to a kid that’s still in high school—is a really cool feeling,” Trawick said.
Trawick encourages collaboration and stage-sharing, and has fostered a sense of camaraderie and mutual support among musicians with very different styles.
“It’s heart expanding. It’s an opportunity to show up and challenge oneself, being able to stretch out a little bit—even outside the boundaries of our own genre,” said alt-country songstress Janet Emma Garbe, who will play her second The 9 show at the Tally Ho and has planned on-stage collaborations with Juliana MacDowell, Carroll and Clem.
“Justin really throws his whole self into his music,” Garbe said. “He’s a lot of fun and as a connector he brings the encouragement to collaborate both prior to the gig and on the spot. It’s an opportunity to grow ourselves out of our comfort zone.”
For Trawick, who turns 34 the night of the show, discovering his father’s old guitar in a closet in the family’s pre-Civil War house outside Leesburg just before high school was a revelation.
“A guitar for me was a really great creative outlet that—as an only child living in the country—I didn’t have,” he said.
The Loudoun County High School graduate was a saxophonist in school but found that singing and playing guitar was where his heart lay. His interest in language led him to study communications at Longwood University, and he worked in that field in the DC area after college, while continuing to play music, finding his voice and building relationships with venues.
“When I was in college, my girlfriend at the time thought I had a bad voice,” Trawick said with a laugh. And it took him a while to overcome the nerves when he moved from songwriting to solo singing. But his imperfect (although engaging) voice and wry songwriting have won him fans around the region over the last few years.
When Trawick was laid off from an account executive job in 2008, it was a turning point.
“Not realizing it, I had actually created a sizeable network of venues that will book me and that will pay my rent,” he said.
Since then, music has become a full-time job. Trawick is busy playing around the Mid-Atlantic region (usually 15 to 20 gigs a month), recording (he’s released five records over the past dozen years) and hosting and producing a weekly cultural podcast—“The Circus Life”—featuring interviews and live performances from movers and shakers in the DC music scene. Not to mention his work to secure new talent and new venues for The 9.
The 9’s debut at the Tally Ho (where he watched movies as a kid in the theater’s former life) is a coup for Trawick, who says fans who come for one act can expect to find a great vibe and discover new favorites.
“It’s fun to be in a packed room with people who are all there for the same thing.”
The 9 songwriter series, featuring Justin Trawick and eight Loudoun and DC-area performers, comes to Leesburg’s Tally Ho Theatre Friday, Jan. 22, at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 in advance, $15 at the door. For tickets and information, go to tallyholeesburg.com. To sample Trawick’s tunes, go to justintrawick.com.