Jake and The Burtones
Jake and The Burtones are a Loudoun County-based country group. That said, their shows consist of a little bit of everything: country, bluegrass, rock and roll, punk rock, and The Dead. The band started playing music together in 2008 and have been going uphill since then. The Burtones play thousands of shows and they have a giant fan base and several studio/live album releases under their belt. If you have not seen them, you can catch them playing most weekends at local breweries, restaurants, wineries, and other venues. The Burtones have had the pleasure to play on the same bill as the greats like Seldom Scene, Del McCoury, Chris Theele, and Peter Rowan. They have made a significant impact on acoustic music in Loudoun County and all over Virginia.
The current lineup of Josh Cava on guitar, Ian Fuze on fiddle, and Chris Griffin make up the core of the group. In the beginning there were ten different guitar players they were swapping out. It’s a bit of taboo to have more than one guitar player in bluegrass and old time music. “We learned that quickly,” Griffin mentions.
The Burtones have had many band members over the past eight years, but most of them are invited back to play gigs and get involved in the recording. Some of the other notable musicians are bassist/guitarist Jack Pugh and banjo player/fiddler/guitarist Timmy Griffin.
What is a Burtone?
A lot of groups in the 1960’s were calling themselves “Blank and The Blanks.” It made for a catchy and memorable sound. They decided to borrow from that idea and adapted their friend, Jake Burton’s, first name and adding an “e” to his last: Jake and The Burtones. The name is also a play on words for the word “baritone.” Jake Burton lives in NYC now.
“Chris came up with it: it comes from our good buddy, Jake Burton,” Cava said. “He was never really in the band, but he played in a group called VHS with Jack Pugh. They were way better than us, so we made this ploy to destroy their group and steal Jack’s beautiful man voice.”
“Nobody in the band is named ‘Jake.’ We’ve got ‘Jack,’ and ‘Josh,’ but no ‘Jake.’ People ask us all the time, “so which one of you is Jake? I eventually took on the pseudonym ‘Jake’ because people continued to call me that more and more.”
How They Got Started
The band started their career playing electric instruments in Cava’s parents’ basement. Griffin and Cava began where most young musicians start: early rock n’ roll. Cava played guitar and sang while Chris took the responsibility of bass. They played a lot of Buddy Holly down there.
“We did, yeah. Chris and I started playing atrocious versions of rock and roll songs together. After some time we moved down to acoustic instruments and learned from musicians who were better than us,” Cava said.
Once they settled in with acoustic instruments, they began going to the Round Hill jams. These jams supplied a place where musicians from all over the county gather to play music together. The music they played was mainly bluegrass, country, and folk songs. They are for all ages and created an opportunity for Cava and Griffin to meet other local musicians.
They met Ian Fuze; he was exclusively playing old-time music at the time, and they adapted to that. Fuze was a multi-instrumentalist and offered the versatility that The Burtones were looking for.
“All we had was guitar and bass at the time, and we knew we were missing something: a lead instrument,” Griffin said. They adopted to Fuze’s style and began rehearsing regularly.
Jimmy Martin, Jerry Garcia, Red Hots, Nirvana, Skynyrd, Clark Kissinger, Misfits, Metallica, jazz, rock and roll, bluegrass, old time music. One thing that keeps the band together is their mutual distaste for The Beatles. “That’s a big part of what keeps us together,” Cava says, “it keeps the blood pumping. It’s one of the only consistent influences we have.”
“We listen to a lot of different types of music, and it comes out at our shows,” Fuze said. “You can hear anything from old time, originals, and hip-hop covers.”
The Burtones started by playing outside of Food Lion and the park in Round Hill. They eventually booked their first gig at a farmer’s market out in Fairfax. That gig helped kickstart their careers because they booked another gig to open for Loudoun’s own Andrew McKnight. After that they started playing farmer’s markets, wineries, breweries, and private gigs. They have played at renowned venues such as The Franklin Park Arts Center, 930 Club, Cranberry Jam, and Watermelon Park Festival.
Round Hill Ruckus was made when most of the members of the group were still in high school. They toured a couple of states on the east coast and made their first mark outside of Virginia.
For Boogie Train, they made a bigger trip up and down the coast. The Burtones have played in a bunch of different places, but again they prefer to play around here. They have friends, fans, and are comfortable here.
Best Gig Stories
“It was terrible,” Fuze laughs.
“We forgot a mic for the same place two separate occasions,” Griffin added. “I don’t think we’ve played there again since then.”
During their tour of Boogie Train, a man began vomiting all over the stage while they performed on his way to the restroom. It was all over the place: the bar, bathroom, floor, and stage.
“The weirdest one was on Fourth of July ’15,” Cava claimed. They played in the pouring rain at an opening for a high-rise, hired by an agent from Las Vegas, by the developer of the high-rise.
“We played for like 600 kids who didn’t care about us very much because their neighborhood was being demolished,” Griffin said. “Here we are playing country tunes to a group of angry and careless individuals on a rainy summer day.”
Booking Gigs and Promotion
Almost entirely self-promoted, the group relies on themselves for booking and show promotion. On a few occasions, they have used agents, but it has ended up very unpleasant.
“It’s mainly Cava that does the booking. On the venue side of things, it’s very antagonizing to work with agents sometimes. It’s very stressful,” Griffin said.
They like to take out the intermediary and work with the source of who is hiring them. “It may seem amateur, but it’s less stressful,” Cava said. “It’s truer to the independent artist, which is what a lot of groups are doing today.
They are super busy and just as booked as groups who do have managers/agents. In person, phone calls, emails: you name it and they’re doing it to ensure a busy performance season.
“People see us live, and that’s when it happens. We get a call from them the following week to book a gig at their party, wedding, or venue,” Cava said. “In-person interactions are the best because they can hear our music, get to know us, and gives us the opportunity to talk a little business. There is a ton of business coming through Facebook now, which is weird but I’m not complaining.”
Where They Play
Jake and The Burtones play all over the east coast, but they don’t like to sleep in weird places. They usually play in areas where the drive home isn’t all that bad. Sometimes they branch out to Winchester to play The Blue Fox Billiards or Bright Box Theater.
“We all just bought new mattresses actually,” Cava said. “For the most part, we keep it small time. We play a lot of small venues and parties but get involved in the festival some too. Our band has played Watermelon Park, The Bluemont Fair, and other local events. Occasionally we’ll get a gig as the music for square dancing or a rodeo. Those events get pretty rowdy but are a real time.”
The group plays mostly in Loudoun with some DC, Maryland, and various VA shows. You can find them performing regularly at Monk’s BBQ and Northgate Vineyard.
They would never play “Wonderwall,” or “Mary Jane’s Last Dance.” Certainly no Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, or The Eagles. “Wagon Wheel” is definitely on the ‘no play list’ too.
Where Can We Find Their Music?
Their music is available for purchase in person, on iTunes and Amazon, as well as streaming on Spotify and iHeartRADIO. The Burtones have been working with me at Groove: Music Lessons + Recording to cut their next studio album, Half-Dead: a compilation of fiddle tunes and Dead songs.
“To get the best stuff you want to encounter one of us in person. We do a lot of special packaging for releases and merch,” Fuze said. “A lot of our album covers are personally collaged by band members and honorary Burtones. They get pretty whacky, but we’re more craftists than artists,” he laughed. “I’d like to say that we’re putting out vinyl, but that’s just not happening right now.”
Kelley Wills designs a lot of their artwork for posters. The ideas for the art mostly come from the band members, and then Wills designs and works up a draft.
“If I want a turkey sitting at a bar, eating a rack of ribs, smoking a cigarette, drinking beer, she makes it instantly,” Cava said. “It’s a great partnership for us.”
Although they play a lot of covers and traditional songs, Josh Cava is the main songwriter in the group for originals. When they can’t find time to work on new material, it is usually due to time spent playing and booking gigs.
“Our constant state of financial turmoil keeps us striving high,” Cava reports. They can associate with the poor bluegrass and country musicians of the twentieth century. Emotional and economic turmoil along with excellent musicianship can lead to something great, and Jake and The Burtones have established exactly that.
They have a very busy spring, summer, and fall schedule for 2016. They’re expecting some traveling to weddings but nothing huge: no tours this year. They’re planning to release Half-Dead soon. “I was just listening to it,” Cava said, “Sounds excellent.”
Their banjo player just moved to Zambia, so they’d like to find another superb banjo player soon. “It’d be good to add a fourth Burtone,” they all agreed. For now they are content with playing gigs as a three-piece.
Jake and The Burtones standout as a remarkably talented group of multi-instrumentalists that accurately represent Appalachia, professionalism, and rock and roll.
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