- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 2, 2006

What would cause someone to leave a promising acting career in Los Angeles and make haste for the Midwest? If you are Tim Grimm, it’s a matter of sensibilities — southern Indiana-style.

“Of course you can go home again,” says Mr. Grimm, who will perform at Baldwin’s Station in Sykesville, Md., tonight. “But when you come back, things aren’t the same.”

Why the move? In large part, for his children.

“We’re really pushing kids to where they shouldn’t go,” he says. “I wanted my kids to be exposed to the same values I grew up with.”

Even in southern Indiana, though, things are moving a little faster.

“Everybody feels entitled and empowered to pick up a cell phone anywhere, anytime,” says Mr. Grimm, who has managed to take on the issue of cell-phone use in song.

The singer-songwriter (he’s been writing his own material a lot more in the past six years) walks the line between folk and country with relative ease.

“My dad was a schoolteacher, so we spent a lot of time traveling to festivals in the summer,” he says. “And my grandfather was a school superintendent who hired Pete Seeger to sing even though he was blacklisted.”

A particular musical hero is Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, whom he met about 20 years ago. The two regularly perform together. He’s also worked onstage with poet Wendell Berry.

Much of Mr. Grimm’s original work has to do with the sense of place that emanates from his 80-acre farm near Columbus, Ind.

“I live about four miles up the road from where I grew up,” he says. “I write a lot about my neighbors.”

Mr. Grimm will split his Baldwin’s gig with Jason Wilber, the songwriter and guitarist who also lives in Indiana, in Bloomington.

“I always figured I would move to Nashville,” says Mr. Wilber, who is a regular with John Prine’s band and has also gigged with Carrie Newcomer and Iris DeMent. “But in Nashville, everyone’s a musician or in the music business. I like having friends in other occupations.”

Like Mr. Grimm, Mr. Wilber cites his father’s record collection as an important musical influence, one that is fast disappearing in the age of IPods and MP3 players. But it was when he picked up his uncle’s guitar that he discovered his passion.

“It was a real breakthrough,” he says now of the Yamaha Classical that he still plays on occasion. “Music always came very easily to me.”

And it didn’t matter what he was playing, whether it was the ‘50s music he was performing at the local VFW as the youngest member (by some 20 years) of a rockabilly band or the rock he played with his high school garage band. He even played in his high school’s jazz band.

“I was interested in playing any kind of music just for the experience,” he says. “That was my musical foundation. It was only afterward that I started to figure out how to deal with the subtleties of being an artist.”

Now, he gets inspiration from going to art museums. A recent trip to the Chicago Museum of Art while playing a gig there inspired him to write “Lazy Afternoon,” a musical take on impressionist painting.

“A lot of impressionist paintings are about people doing something outside while relaxing,” he says. “I wanted to see if I could do a kind of impressionist sketch like that in a song.”

• • •

Meanwhile, The Influence performs tomorrow at the Grog and Tankard in Northwest on the heels of a successful opening for Los Lonely Boys in Norfolk.

Their “roots alternative” sound has been evolving since the band’s founders decided to put together a group called Plan B back in high school in Norfolk. Since then, they’ve added bass player Chris Tully and drummer Collin Cogan. But even now, the band is more about originality than it is about “influence.”

“We’re really collaborative,” says guitarist Will Clarke, who admits that the band’s songwriting has gotten “a little heavier” since adding new members and gaining experience.

Mr. Cogan cites his dad, who had a cover band in Falls Church, as an early influence on him. Not that this band would ever do quite the same kinds of covers.

“We’re not a cookie-cutter band,” says vocalist Matt Stephenson. “People who have already heard us in D.C. may hear a lot of differences in our sound.”

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