They call themselves Exiles From Main Street. Expatriates of the mainstream. They're all singer-songwriters who have escaped the middle-of-the-road category and pursued what's often called "alternative" country music.
"It's for people who are a little disenchanted with mainstream country music," says the Exiles' co-host and founder, country-rock musician Tom Russell. "Major country radio is so middle-of-the-road and strict. This proves that there's something else out there, like Steve Earle and Lyle Lovett. People you hear a lot about but don't necessarily hear on the radio."
Russell gathers them together and puts them on one stage, like an old-fashioned showcase. "It's a big thing in Nashville," he says, "but not in other cities."
He started by booking a group at a small club in New York called Delta 88. It was so popular that he bumped the revue up to a larger venue, the Bottom Line. Russell likes to have different songwriters participate each time to keep it fresh, and all of them are performers.
"They aren't staff writers or Tin Pan Alley writers," he says. "They go out and record their own music."
Each plays three songs of his or her own, then joins in and supports the others, "so there's usually a whole lot of picking going on."
This fall, Russell and his partner Greg Trooper have decided to take the Exiles on the road and introduce them to other East Coast audiences. The showcase includes "Country Rock Godfather" Steve Young and "original female hard-country rocker" Kate Moffatt, "Southwestern folk/country/rock pioneers" Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and L.A. rocker Dave Alvin (formerly of the Blasters and X).
The Exiles From Main Street will perform at the Birchmere Tuesday night at 8:30. Tickets are $15 and available at TicketCenter. For information, call 703-549-5919.