- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 15, 2002

Walking barefoot down a Georgetown side street on a hot August afternoon, Geoffrey Stokes Nielson is almost giddy with anticipation.

Mr. Nielson, long-haired singer and guitarist for local band The Lost Trailers, wants to play tracks from the group's upcoming album, as yet untitled and heads for the stereo system as soon as he's inside his brother's Georgetown apartment.

"You've got to listen to this," he says in his Georgia drawl, putting on "Reasons," a highlight of the band's live show. He smiles as the song cues up.

It begins with a sinister guitar riff that quickly turns power-chord heavy, as bassist Cam McElroy and drummer Jeff Potter hold down a tight rhythm. A two-point harmony that skillfully matches the voices of Mr. Potter and keyboardist-singer Ryder Lee, kicks off with the line "I see the writing on the wall."

The writing on the wall for the Lost Trailers looks good. Two years ago, Willie Nelson discovered a demo by Mr. Nielson and Mr. Ryder, and invited the then-Nashville group to perform at his Fourth of July Barbecue.

That gig, in front of 10,000 people, convinced them that it was something worth pursuing. They added old high school friends Mr. Potter and Mr. McElroy to the group, relocated to the District and began touring.

They are set to open for the Allman Brothers Band and Galactic at Merriweather Post Pavilion Sunday.

"The best thing we've learned is to play a good live show and treat the people who like your music with respect," Mr. Nielson says.

The band has a 70-minute debut out ("Passport") that captures the breadth of the group's catalog (keyboard- and guitar-dominated country, funk and hard rock), even if it doesn't match the energy of the Lost Trailers' live show. In contrast, the new songs are heavier and tackle some of the rough times the band has faced in the past year.

"Where Are We Now?" addresses September 11 and the loss of a close friend in the attacks on the World Trade Center. "Birds of Boston" is about the depression the band felt after losing all its equipment in a trailer theft in November.

"This will be the kind of album you listen to start to finish," Mr. Lee promises, and Mr. Nielson nods in agreement. "We just want to get our music out to people."

Though the band has had some rough times, Mr. Lee and Mr. Nielson feel people might be able to gain something from their songs.

"It seems to me that every time the stock market goes down, people start to want to listen to real music again," Mr. Nielson says.

•••

He won an honorable mention in a Billboard Magazine songwriting contest before he was 10 and had a major-label deal by the time he was 16, so what does Ben Kweller do now that he's a solo artist at 20?

The answer is "Sha Sha," a classic rock album that drops the heavier sounds of his band Radish in favor of the early pop music he was raised to love.

"As you get older and you get turned on to more music, you open your mind to more instruments," he says via cell phone from Minneapolis. "The big difference is I feel like I'm finally finding my voice as a songwriter."

Mr. Kweller, who plays the 9:30 Club tomorrow night, grew up in a musical household ("My parents were total hippies from the '60s," he says), listening to Jimi Hendrix and the Beatles, and learning drums, piano and guitar at a young age. He mimicked those Lennon/McCartney songs in his early writing, before forming the more punk Radish in his teens.

"At the time it was really hectic and crazy," Mr. Kweller says, interrupting the conversation to let his bandmates know Indian food is a good bet for lunch. "But I'm really good at going with the flow."

"As long as I could write songs and play on stage or in my bedroom I was happy," he says.

If Radish demonstrated his love for the Clash, the Sex Pistols and Nirvana, then his solo work is modeled after classic rockers such as Neil Young. "Sha Sha," his first full-length album for ATO Records, features "How It Should Be (Sha Sha)," a tune that molds Beach Boy harmonies onto an upbeat piano melody and Mr. Kweller's sometimes silly lyrics.

Other standouts include "Wasted and Ready," with its power-pop chorus and the country folk of "Family Tree," which is one of Mr. Kweller's favorites. Its theme of leaving a hometown to go to a new city fits with Mr. Kweller's often nomadic lifestyle.

For someone who has tasted success at such an early age, he remains rather modest in his goals.

"I'd like to have some land somewhere, maybe a little pond I could stock with fish," he muses. "I don't need to fill Madison Square Garden. If I get 500 to 1,000 kids at a show, I can have a comfortable career."

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