For the fourth year in a row, musician Michael Clem will celebrate his Jan. 6 birthday with a concert at Jammin Java in Vienna. The Michael Clem Birthday Show on Saturday features the Michael Clem Trio and, of course, a cake.
“There is cake in it for those coming,” Clem assured.
A McLean native, Clem played his first birthday show at Jammin Java in 2006 to celebrate his 40th birthday and the release of his first solo album. After a four-year hiatus, Clem returned to Vienna in 2010 to restore the birthday show, this time with his newly formed trio featuring Rusty Speidel on guitar and Thomas Gunn on upright bass.
A songwriter and bassist for 20 years, Clem is a member of Northern Virginia-based folk band Eddie from Ohio. Formed in 1991, the band developed a loyal local following, winning four Wammies (Washington, D.C., Area Music Awards) and fans all over the country.
Clem was playing music long before joining Eddie from Ohio, picking up the bass in the fifth grade. After college Clem worked at nine-to-five sales job and played music on the side before the chance to play with Eddie from Ohio came up in the early 1990s.
“The pull from the music world was too strong and the opportunity was too great to pass up,” Clem said. “It was my passion and still is.”
In 2008, as Eddie from Ohio decided to take a break, Clem moved to Charlottesville.
“I had always been drawn to the more central part of Virginia, being a James Madison University grad,” Clem said. “I love the mountains and the Shenandoah Valley … I haven’t regretted it since I moved down there.”
Speidel is a member of Speidel, Goodrich, Goggin and Lille (SGGL), a Charlottesville folk band that Clem said served as “big brothers to Eddie from Ohio when [they] started out.”
Friends for more than 20 years, Clem and Speidel reconnected once Clem moved south. Gunn, another Charlottesville-based musician, soon joined the two to form a trio.
All seasoned musicians, the members of the Michael Clem Trio write and sing original songs in addition to covering other artists. Clem said the band is beginning to find its audience.
“We’ve done some club venues but we’re really finding a niche in the house concert circuit,” Clem said. “We prefer playing to a listening audience, so getting in someone’s living room without a P.A. … with a potluck dinner table, everyone goes home happy.”
Though at the moment the trio has only released a 5-song EP, Clem said the guys are working on original songs in the hopes of releasing their first full-length album sometime in the near future. The band will play a handful of new songs at the concert on Saturday.
Opening for the Michael Clem Trio is Ethan Schaefer. The teenager is the winner of the 2012 Vienna Idol competition and the son of Robbie Schaefer, another member of Eddie from Ohio.
“He’s opened for his father before,” Clem said. “He’s a star on the rise and I’m an old dog. We’re capitalizing on the youth element to spice up the show.”
Clem’s own 19-year-old son, James, also is into music. Though he lives in England, when James visits his father, Clem said the two jam together.
“There’s no greater joy than harmonizing with your kid,” Clem said.
Saturday’s show will serve as a primer for Clem’s return to Northern Virginia in February, when Eddie from Ohio plays at the Birchmere.
“Eddie from Ohio is barely playing these days so I take [those] dates when they come around and fill in the rest of the holes with things I find here and there,” Clem said.
Despite being a member of two bands and still working on his own solo career, Clem said the one question he continues to get without fail is: Is this all you do?
“I smile widely and say, ‘It is,’” Clem said. “And thank God for it.”