As a transplanted New Yorker, I was worried when I moved to Northern Virginia that what I would miss most would be the ability to see top musical acts in concert, reconnect with old favorites at small clubs or discover up-and-coming talent at a small venue.
Sure, I was told that Washington, D.C., would offer me plenty of options, but what I didn’t know at the time was just how easy Northern Virginia music establishments could fulfill my every need.
Thanks to Wolf Trap, the Patriot Center, Jammin’ Java, Jiffy Lube Live, the State Theatre and the theater at George Mason University, Northern Virginia provided incredible concert-going experiences in 2012.
Here’s a look at my top 10.
10. The Last Bison (Nov. 30)
There was no better way to discover Virginia-based band The Last Bison than at this mesmerizing performance at Jammin’ Java. Recently signed by Republic Records, the indie-folk band is definitely one to keep an eye on.
The seven-member ensemble led by Ben Hardesty has a unique sound, an awesome stage presence and a sure hit in “Switzerland,” which had the whole venue singing along.
9. One Direction (May 24)
Truth be told, my daughter enjoyed this concert a lot more than I did, but it was easy to see why One Direction is as popular as they are, oozing energy and creating a frenzy that reminds people of fellow Brits by the name of Paul, John, George and Ringo.
It was hard not to sing and dance along to songs such as “What Makes You Beautiful” and “Live While We’re Young” and their lively performance makes it’s easy to understand why this band sold out their 2013 tour so quickly.
8. Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo (June 9)
This summer, everywhere you looked it seemed another ’80s icon was popping up in Northern Virginia. Blondie wowed the State Theatre, The B-52s and Squeeze played a strong double bill at Wolf Trap, and Howard Jones dazzled at Jiffy Lube.
Still, it was Pat Benatar’s free concert, performing as part of Celebrate Fairfax, that truly brought memories of the decade flooding back. Playing alongside her husband and guitar/songwriter extraordinaire Neil “Spyder” Giraldo, the ’80s goddess was as strong as ever on hits such as “Love is a Battlefield,” “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” and “We Belong.”
7. Sutton Foster (Sept. 29)
GMU Concert Hall
I’m a sucker for Broadway so when I heard theater-vet Sutton Foster was heading to the GMU stage for cabaret-style show, I was first in line — and the “Bunheads” star certainly did not disappoint.
Choosing selections from both her Broadway career and favorites from the American Songbook, Foster provided a night of show-stopping entertainment with a powerful voice that will not be forgotten.
6. Paul Kelly (March 11-12)
The Australian rock star may not be a household name, but for those who have been lucky enough to follow the singer over the past three decades, you have been rewarded with some magical tunes.
For two nights at Jammin’ Java, Kelly played his entire catalogue in alphabetical order, showcasing his recently released 8-disc, 105-song live box set, “The A-Z Recordings.” Mixing the songs this way reminded true fans of what a gifted artist Kelly truly is.
5. Train (Aug. 21)
Wolf Trap’s Filene Center
After playing a few of their newest hits, Patrick Monahan asked the sold-out crowd if anyone knew the band had been around before “Hey Soul Sister” and was pleased to get such a strong reaction from the largely young audience.
The rock band then launched into their back catalogue, including hits such as “Meet Virginia” and “Drops of Jupiter,” with the entire venue singing along. They cast little doubt as to why they are one of the most popular bands of the last two decades.
4. David Cook (May 5)
The former American Idol winner made it clear why he took home the top prize, delivering a powerful selection of his hits, including “Light On” and “Come Back to Me.”
Cook was performing as part of A Night of Hope benefit, which raised awareness for brain cancer, something he saw his brother fall victim to. The singer shared his personal story and had many in tears as he dedicated a song to his brother. It was an emotional concert that will not be soon forgotten.
3. Jingle Ball (Dec. 11)
Anytime you can stand amongst thousands of people doing the Gangnam Style dance, thanks to YouTube sensation PSY, it’s going to be a memorable night.
Headliners Justin Beiber and Ke$ha didn’t disappoint, but it was really Flo Rida and Enrique Iglesias who stole the show. Both had a showmanship that just ignited the crowd and showed the two younger megastars a thing or two about swagger.
Short but strong sets by up-and-comers Ed Sheeran, Austin Mahone and Cher Lloyd added to a fun night that showcased today’s hottest stars.
2. Rush (Sept. 10)
Jiffy Lube Live
On this special night at Jiffy Lube, Rush gave its audience everything they could want and more: deep-cut classics, three drum solos and an intimate journey through the Rush catalogue. When the band brought out “Middletown Dreams,” a song not played live in over 25 years, you knew you were in for a special night.
After a 10-song set that included “Far Cry,” “The Pass” and “Force Ten,” Rush added a string section for another 14 songs, including the first-ever live performance of “Seven Cities of Gold.” By the time “Tom Sawyer” was being played as the first of a 30-minute encore, diehards agreed that it was as strong as the band has ever sounded.
1. Idina Menzel (Aug. 3)
From her first few notes of “Over the Rainbow,” sang while she was off-stage, transitioning into her popular “Wicked” arrangement, “The Wizard and I,” you just knew that the Broadway star was going to deliver something special on this night.
Playing with the National Symphony Orchestra, Menzel sang both “Rent” and “Wicked” tunes, but also showed her great range with nods to Cole Porter, Joni Mitchell and Bono.
What really made the concert stand out was the singer’s rapport with the audience and orchestra, as Menzel has great wit and provided as many laughs as cheers. Still, it was her incredible voice that reminded people why the Tony winner has had two iconic roles on the Great White Way.