Shannon Cleary and RVA’s commonwealth of awesome music

Musician, writer, and WRIR radio host Shannon Cleary presents the fifth annual installment of his popular live-music series, WRIR and the Commonwealth of Notions Presents, a multi-day event featuring more than 20 local bands performing across the city.

Musician, writer, and WRIR radio host Shannon Cleary is a busy man. I don’t know how he’s able to do all that he does for the Richmond music scene.

On top of performing with Clair Morgan and writing about Richmond music in various publications, his weekly radio program on WRIR 97.3FM, “The Commonwealth of Notions,” focuses on the music scene in Richmond. And that’s not including all the local shows he attends (nine times out of ten, if I’m at a show, Shannon Cleary is also there).

This year is the fifth annual installment of Cleary’s live-music series, “WRIR and the Commonwealth of Notions Presents,” where he features more than 20 local bands. Over five years, Cleary has expanded the festival from a one-day music show to a four-day, multi-venue event.

The weekend kicks off Saturday, August 15th, with a showcase at Gallery5 with Goldrush, Anousheh, Positive No, Lady God, Various Eggs, Way Shape or Form, and Manzara. The following week on Friday, August 21st, Strange Matter will host the reunion of Wow Owls! as well as Big No, Everyone Dies in the End, Ultra Flake, The Mad Extras, and Victorious Trees (featuring Dave Watkins and Samantha Pearl). On Saturday August 22nd, the event continues at Sound of Music Recording Studio with Toxic Moxie, Gull, Lobo Marino, and Among the Rocks and Roots. The weekend closes out with the reunited Canary Oh Canary along with Warren Hixson, White Laces, and Mikrowaves playing at the Broadberry on Sunday, August 23rd.

Cleary shares his thoughts on celebrating five years:

What’s been your favorite memory from the past Commonwealth of Notions shows?

SC: Picking a favorite memory is going to be a tough challenge. The thing that I was always setting out to do with this event was giving artists a chance to challenge themselves and take risks. If a band feels so inclined to play the best set they possibly can, that’s just as fantastic. But I always try and put it into the artist’s mind that this could be a spectacular opportunity to try out that random collaboration or cover song or debut new material.

As a result, this has seen a number of interpretations over the years. Some of my favorite moments have included Bermuda Triangles seamlessly transitioning their set into Canary Oh Canary’s set at Volume Two, the expanded line-up of Orioles at Volume One as a perfect way to say farewell to Richmond, the return of the Diamond Center at Volume Three as well as the debauchery that was seeing Wolf//Goat play their [at the time] last show. I think that’s the crazy thing I’m beginning to realize about Commonwealth of Notions Presents. It could mean the end in certain cases but it can also represent the return for others.

There are a couple of reunions this year. What made you go about getting Wow Owls! and Canary Oh Canary back together?

SC: After the third volume and successfully reuniting Baby Help Me Forget and getting the Diamond Center back together, the idea started crossing my mind about trusting my instincts and pursuing crazier ideas. Canary Oh Canary has always been a favorite of mine, and I think they are one of those groups that really engaged audiences and creative peers in a new way. There was no guarantee that the band would ever play again. When I was organizing the initial details for this year’s festival, I want to say Michael reached out to me and was excited that they were going to have a band meeting. I just knew that if this became a thing, I needed to get them on board for this year. And it happened, I can’t wait to see them play songs again.

Wow Owls! were a bit of a funnier spin. I put my iPod on random and “Destination: Pizza” came on. I started thinking about how I learned of Wow Owls! long after they were no longer a band and how I somehow missed each of their reunion shows. I asked [guitarist] Brandon Peck if the idea of a reunion would be insane. He didn’t see any reason to be opposed to it and if anything, he loved playing those songs and would take any opportunity to do so. After a few days, everyone in the band was down and I was able to tap into a bit more Richmond nostalgia.

What was your favorite act from the past five years?

I’ve been really fortunate to work with a ton of incredible musicians over the years of doing this festival. It’s challenging to single out one particular artist that really stood out. It’s really spectacular to write down the list of every band that has performed and just be in slight awe that I’ve had the opportunity to work with so many great people. But if you need an answer, I feel like Sports Bar could be the answer to every question you might ever need to ask about Richmond music.

How do you feel the scene has progressed from the first year of Commonwealth of Notions Presents to this year’s event?

I don’t think I’m alone when I say this, but I think Richmond is at this serious pinnacle as far as the music scene is concerned and it’s just continuing to rise. From what we witness on a local level to even what we are seeing on a national level, people are really finding themselves drawn to music created by the artists of this town. Bands from Richmond are going on huge tours with prominent national acts, being written about by well-read publications, having guys like Ryan Adams tweet about our music or even just being invited to drop by and perform at NPR, it’s crazy to think of how much further we could all take this. But whatever we are doing, it seems to be working in some crazy way.

How are you not dead after doing this event every year?

I wish there were a secret as to how I’ve somehow managed to live through every year of the festival. I think my goal is take this to 10 volumes and then call it. Honestly, I think the one thing that I know I would never do is not tell people it was going to be the last one and just have it vanish. In the case of the Commonwealth of Notions Presents, if there is a last chapter, everyone will know. Or at the very least it will be one of those Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday or Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare scenarios where it’ll come back and people will never trust a word that comes out of my mouth ever again.

WRIR and the Commonwealth of Notions Presents Vol. 5 takes place August 15th at Gallery5 ($5) and August 21st-23rd at Strange Matter ($5), Sound of Music Recording Studio ($5), and the Broadberry ($5-7). Information at

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Andrew Cothern

Andrew Cothern is the founder and editor of RVA Playlist, a music site that showcases events, concerts, album, show reviews, and opinion pieces that focus on the vibrant local music scene in Richmond.

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