Johnny Artis Band

The Johnny Artis Band will play its first gig since the pandemic began

Johnny Artis is well known to music lovers in Northern Virginia as the Alexandria-based musician has played virtually every local club or venue there is in the area over the past 35 years as the leader of the Johnny Artis Band.

The group is known for playing jazz, blues, Southern rock, funk, swing, reggae, country and depending on the night, can be a two-piece acoustic duo or a full-fledged 15-piece band—always with Artis on vocals.

Earlier this year, Artis was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and a number of local bands held a fundraiser for him in Old Town’s The Light Horse Restaurant, showing how much the singer is beloved in the community. 

There were more than 400 people in attendance. Over the band’s lifespan, Artis noted he’s done hundreds of fundraisers and was just so moved that people would do it for him. It was something that meant the world to him.

“I grew up in Old Town, and I had a lot of people help me out and I’m just glad I still get to do what I do,” Artis said. “I am just grateful I get up every day so I can help someone else.”

On Sept. 4, The Johnny Artis Band will head to the Birchmere to play its first gig since the pandemic began, and first since Artis was released from the hospital.

“I feel better now that I have in a long, long time, and I’m really looking forward to playing this show,” Artis said. “I’ve wanted to play the Birchmere for a long time.”

He’s spent the past few months at home recovering and writing music, stuck inside due to the pandemic.

“I had heart surgery in February, and I was just getting out of the hospital when all this COVID stuff happened, and I’ve been doing a lot of praying and lot of rehabilitation, and doing what I had to do,” he said. “I started writing more and writing about what’s going on today, and I came up with a song, ‘Six Feet Back,’ which I just finished recording.”

Growing up on “both sides of the tracks” in Alexandria, Artis worked at several restaurants, which is where he listened to different genres of music, plus his family would play music from artists such as Sam Cooke, James Brown and Otis Redding—all of which influenced his band’s style today.

“I’ve done a lot of listening and eventually I had a sound where I could mimic—I could sound like Louis Armstrong, I could sound like Frank Sinatra, I could sound like The Temptations—and I never thought about doing my voice,” Artis said. “But then I started thinking about doing my own songs, and that’s when my own voice came out.” 

So, at the Birchmere, Artis will do a tribute to the musicians he grew up listening to, and all the music that fans of the band will expect.

“I can sing R&B just as well as I can sing country, and there are good songs in every category, you just have to listen for it,” he said. “I love all kinds of music.”

One of his most popular songs is called “Down on King Street Road,” named in honor of Alexandria, and Artis is proud to have lived in the city all his life.

With his new single, Artis’ band all wrote their own parts while separated and they put it together mostly over the phone. The Birchmere gig will be the first time it’s played live in front of an audience. 

“We want to give them something they’ve never seen before. The song is about hope and has a positive message,” Artis said. “I just want people to have fun. There’s so much negativity in the world—and I think this too will pass—but people deserve to have fun again and forget about their problems for a while.”

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