Growing up, AJ Smith spent lots of time listening to music at Jammin Java as a high school student at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria.
Now, he’s returning for his second show headlining the venue.
“It’s really cool that I’m coming back and get to play there,” Smith said. “Last year was the first. It’s more exciting this year because I think the music we have is even cooler.”
Smith will play the Montgomery County Fair Pepco Community Stage at 2 p.m. on Saturday in Gaithersburg, followed by Jammin Java on Sunday with a 7 p.m. show in Vienna.
Smith released an EP last year, and said he was in the process of putting together a full-length album. In the meantime, he’s put together the tour as a means of road-testing some new material.
“We got in my friend’s studio and recorded some stuff and put it together,” he said. “Now that it’s a year later, I’ve really had a chance to sit with the tunes that I’ve wrote, and work on my craft of writing. And I think it’s time to get things really professionally done and show people what my music can really be.”
The tour takes the band through five gigs in seven days, and was built around their show as part of Bethlehem, Pa.’s Musikfest. He added the show at Jammin Java a week later, and began building the tour from there.
“There’s nothing more exciting in the world than saying ‘Let’s go pile in the van and play a bunch of new cities,’” Smith said.
Smith said he wanted to return to his hometown audience to show them how his music has grown since last year.
“As an unsigned, unrepresented artist, I have to do a lot of it myself but, it’s a really great learning process,” he said. “ ... [We] end it with a hometown show at Jammin Java. I’d like it to be an annual thing — treat my hometown so they can see where I’ve been.”
Smith said playing for his hometown audience is a good motivator. He joked that his mom sat with him as he learned to play the piano and the violin, and would let him know when she could tell he hadn’t been practicing — and that he wouldn’t want to hear her tell him that after the show.
“To a certain extent it is a little bit of pressure,” Smith said. “You want to do really well for our friends and family. They did grow up listening to you. My mom and dad and sister hear my music all the time. In my mind, I would assume since they hear this all the time,
“I have to do something really extraordinary to get their attention.”