The War and Treaty perform DC set breaking through country music barriers

The War and Treaty perform DC set breaking through country music barriers

Soulful duo is is fresh off of a historic CMA performance

The CMA Awards have the ability to introduce people to new artists and music. I will be the first to admit, I was (as the kids say) “sleeping on” The War and Treaty until their barn-burning performance with Brothers Osbourne on the CMAs broadcast Wednesday night. In the commercial break that followed, I discovered that they were playing mere steps away from my apartment building. In two days.

So I reached out to cover the show on Saturday (Nov 12th) at the historic Sixth and I Synagogue near Chinatown in DC. Thankfully, in the midst of all the post-awards craziness in Nashville, my request was granted. And what I witnessed almost transcends explanation.

The War and Treaty are comprised of husband and wife duo Michael Trotter, Jr. and Tanya Trotter. Throughout their 15-song set, the Trotters shared some of their personal story at this, their homecoming concert. Both are natives to Southeast DC.

Opening with three songs back-to-back-to-back, the third in the set, “Keep You Warm,” earned the Trotters and their four backing players the first of many standing ovations for the evening. “Up Yonder” was had a spiritual feel made more special by its dedication to the late actor and country music recording artist, Leslie Jordan. Jordan’s manager was in attendance at the show, and Michael Trotter discussed how The War and Treaty had become friendly with Jordan shortly before his passing.

Trotter, Jr. also shared a funny Garth Brooks story that — true to The War and Treaty’s fast ascent — starts and the Opry and ends at the Country Music Hall of Fame Medallion Ceremony. Michael Trotter struck up a conversation with Brooks at the ceremony, asking him, “Guess who has the most-viewed Opry performance on social media?” Brooks stared blankly. As it turns out, The War and Treaty had gone viral just days before the Hall of Fame inductions, with their song “Yesterday’s Burn.” Brooks just laughed and asked if Michael and Tanya wanted to go for pizza.

Throughout the show, the pair’s chemistry was undeniable. A husband and wife still very much in love, Michael would sidle up behind Tanya and wrap his arms around her as he was singing. They took each others hands from time-to-time as they sang. Or the pair would steal a smooch in between songs.

This chemistry was evident on the slow-burning “Blank Page,” a song about starting over that is the title track from the EP that The War and Treaty dropped the night of their CMA appearance. It built to a crescendo, with the Trotters facing each other throughout. And at the end, they had a bit of a voice-off, each showing off their incredible pipes.

There was a clear yearning in Michael’s voice as he took lead on the heart-aching song “That’s How Love is Made.” It was these moments full of raw emotion that popped up all night long, transcending the performance from a concert to something of a religious experience. The War and Treaty brought a revival hard-won by their life story.

Tanya shared early on that the natives were once a struggling family from DC’s Southeast. They had lost everything and were homeless with a son. They moved to start over in the small town of Albion, Michigan. Now, they are the first black duo signed to a major Nashville country music label. She could barely get through this without tearing up. And when Tanya Trotter mentioned performing on the CMAs, the hometown crowd leapt to their feet and gave the duo a three minute standing ovation. Just for smashing barriers.

The show closed with their two biggest hits, “All I Wanna Do” and “Five More Minutes.” The former included a mash-up of other soul songs, painting a picture that the genres of soul, jazz, southern rock, and country are much more closely related than we think.

Country music is ready for The War and Treaty. This much was clear on the ABC telecast, and it was a celebrated fact in DC. Their music speaks to the universality of a human heart in search of connection with fellow people in such a powerful, resonant way. Because of their own lived experience, The War and Treaty delivers this music of unity in a way only they can.

I had the good fortune to be in the front row for The War and Treaty. As fans rushed the stage in the intimate sanctuary of Sixth and I, I grabbed both Michael and Tanya’s hand and said, “Welcome to country music. We needed you.” Watch out, because when their major label debut album drops in March, they will be everywhere. There is no stopping them now.

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