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Review: Grace & Tony perform at Jammin’ Java

Written By | Feb 24, 2014

WASHINGTON, February 24, 2014 – When discussing the duo of Grace & Tony and their live performance at Jammin’ Java in print or on the web, it is absolutely vital to include the ampersand.

Traditionally, the ampersand is generally accepted as indicating a closer collaboration than when just “and” is often employed in the title of a company or a movie, when naming collaborators in a musical stage show (Gilbert & Sullivan), and, of course, in a music duo or band.

But wherever you see the ampersand, particularly in the entertainment world, it always means the same thing: the two people involved in the project have a pretty close working relationship.

Considering that Grace & Tony are a husband and wife duo—Grace (nee Schultz) and Tony White—the closeness suggested by their band’s name makes perfect sense. And it’s easy to see their close connection on stage.

Their unusual musical story starts off with the fact that together, they span a musical chasm that seemed a bit too far to cross, the seemingly uncomfortable duel between bluegrass and punk rock. Tony didn’t let the difference in musical preference stop him from developing a crush on Grace. Eventually, they not only married but also were able to develop their own unique sound in the process.

This literal marriage of musical opposites largely explains how the duo’s signature “punkgrass” style evolved. In a way, that term is a bit of a misnomer, because what they play isn’t that dissimilar from what bluegrass normally is. Their approach and style revolves around the deployment of quick tempo string instruments – guitars, mandolins, banjos, and the like – all of which are played, plucked and strummed with a distinct country flavor.

Still, you can take the kid (in this case, Tony) out of punk, but you can’t take the punk out of the kid. This band’s bluegrass orientation differs from the norm, largely due to the subtle punk flavor thrown in for good measure. Much of this flavor is added into the mix for aesthetic value, but also for the energy Tony adds to the proceedings.

In terms of their actual musical output, much of it is based around the couple’s ongoing relationship. This is exemplified not only by what they’re performing, but also in the way they interact on stage. They radiate an inherent warmth and closeness, and the fact that they’ve been able to adapt their individual musical roots to harmonize with one another is a big part of their personal and artistic relationship.

This relationship, whether it involves music or the dynamic of their marriage, is very much at the heart of their entire performance, so it’s important to understand the two people involved, meaning that to understand them and what makes them tick also helps to understand their music.

This focus often casts the spotlight on Tony, because on a surface level, it feels as if he’s the odd part of the pairing, since Grace’s preferences seem more closely aligned with this ensembles essentially bluegrass approach. Tony’s thick country-punk-like brashness, played off against Grace’s soft bluegrass warmth is what sets them apart from nearly everyone else. It’s this intimate, up-close-and-personal approach that largely drove their recent Jammin’ Java to be a success.

Adding to the complexity of their sound, each artist deploys different vocal techniques during the band’s set. Each artist gets his or her fair share of solo opportunities. This they alternate with consistent harmonizing, quickly switching between these vocal dynamics.

It’s not difficult to imagine a duo that doesn’t have the relationship Grace & Tony have pulling off a similar style act. On the surface, their performance wasn’t uncommon in technical terms, as opposites in any field often attract. But the closeness of their marriage and relationship inform their entire output, adding an extra layer of depth every time they sing about how they found each other or just love in general.

This positive energy gives the audience a lift on the personal level, creating a sense of hopefulness in the room that reflects the artists’ closeness to each other and to the music they create together.


Stephen Bradley

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener and an occasional writer. He grew up in the Washington DC area and has been embedded in the local music scene for years. Currently he lives in Vienna, VA. He enjoys bands that have been broken up for at least a decade.