Virginia Variations 

Big Meadow Sessions let local music fans graze.

click to enlarge In his "Big Meadows Sessions" series, Tyler Conta documents local musicians in their natural habitats.
  • In his "Big Meadows Sessions" series, Tyler Conta documents local musicians in their natural habitats.

A young woman dressed like Patti Smith taps a microphone on the ground to start a rhythm. With the help of a loop pedal and an accompanying cellist, she begins to build a song.

"It loops up into this entire orchestra made by only two people," says Tyler Conta, describing the beginning of a video of musician Nelly Kate he shot earlier this year in Church Hill. Conta's the artist behind Big Meadow Sessions, an online collection of videos featuring Virginia musicians in intimate performances.

In one video, a guitar player strolls around a playground while children weave in and out of the frame. In another, a group of DJs holds a dance party in a Harrisonburg cafe. Similar to La Blogotheque's Take-Away Shows, the videos usually consist of one continuous shot and feature acoustic performances. But Conta isn't rigid about the setup. And unlike the Take-Away Shows, Big Meadow focuses exclusively on local talent.

"I'm never going to get Phoenix to play under the Eiffel Tower," Conta says. "I just love going out and seeking local music."

Conta started Big Meadow Sessions in Harrisonburg with friends Jess Lonett and Colin Greene, who still co-produce every video. After moving to Richmond, he continued to film episodes, with the 10th Big Meadow episode set to premiere this week. The new video features local act Splendid Suns performing in an alley behind the Republic. Owen Housden, the group's bass player, speaks highly of Conta.

"He has a way of capturing the feel of the song and drawing people into the videos," Housden says, describing his band's sound as a mash-up of folk, punk, reggae, blues and jazz. "We're all beyond excited about the video."

Conta makes a point of turning his camera on early, recording before and after each performance to capture musicians interacting with the world around them. One shows singer and songwriter Andrew Rohlk giving a sticker to a child. In another video, a friend of Nelly Kate and cellist Wes Swing talks about a hefty survey he received in the mail from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sandwiched between two of the survey's pages was a $5 bill.

"It was just the weirdest thing," Conta says. "Those are the kinds of things I love to capture."

In addition to launching the Splendid Suns video, Big Meadow is working on a new website and is in preproduction for another episode featuring the band Cardinal Compass. In the meantime, Conta is keeping busy. He has a full-time job editing video for Lockwood Broadcasting, works as a camera operator for CBS-6, photographs shows for RVA Magazine and coaches junior varsity volleyball at Glen Allen High School in Henrico.

As for the future of Big Meadow, Conta says he'd enjoy filming artists and bands with a larger following such as Carbon Leaf, as long as the focus stays close to home. "We're trying to support local music," he says. "It's great stuff." S

Big Meadow Sessions will post Splendid Suns' "Beautiful Day" on YouTube on Aug. 29.

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