As the year winds down to a close, staff and contributors highlighted some favorite sessions of the year, including a recording on rails, one on the river, and full-length concerts from a couple of bands who premiered new albums in our studio.

Laura Gibson - Empire Builder

Getting to record Laura Gibson performing the song “Empire Builder,” from the album of the same name, on the Amtrak Empire Builder train was so much fun. It was high summer, with the stunning vistas of the Columbia Gorge rolling by outside. The only real difficulty with this shoot was trying to focus on the scenery or the performance. Naturally, we did both! - Nate Sjol, videographer

Drive-By Truckers - Surrender Under Protest

This year, Drive-By Truckers released its 11th album American Band to overwhelming critical acclaim, and we were honored to have them perform for us on the day it was released. Over the course of a set that included all 11 of the record’s songs, the group tackled the new politically-charged material with firebrand zeal in front of a crowd of 100 or so opbmusic listeners and staff. - Jerad Walker, Music Director

Joseph - Canyon

Most sessions go off without a hitch, but this session with Joseph had some new variables that could have worked against us. A public space used by other people. A floating dock that moved when boats went by. Water splashing up on sound equipment and instruments. Still, these concerns didn’t prevent us from shooting one of my favorite sessions this year that felt very intimate even as cars and buses went by in the background and people swam around us. - Jarratt Taylor, videographer/editor

Big Thief - Masterpiece

We stumbled onto a show at SXSW in 2016 with Brooklyn band Big Thief, and came away so impressed we had to invite them to OPB for a session a week later. “Masterpiece” is as raw and powerful a song as you’ll hear this year, and comes from the group’s impressive debut album. Absolutely a band to see every chance you get. - David Christensen, Program Director

Seinabo Sey - Pretend

I have to admit, I had not heard much from Seinabo Sey before she came to opbmusic to record a session. With just a simple piano accompaniment, her voice was on full display, and it was breathtaking. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a better live vocal performance. - Nate Sjol, opbmusic sessions videographer

Beat Connection - Hesitation / Rosealene

We didn’t quite know what to expect when Beat Connection joined us in the studio last winter. Without a lot bells and whistles, it can sometimes it can be difficult to make live electronic-driven music look interesting (worst case scenario, think Kraftwerk). But driven by the soulful voice of singer Tom Eddy, this Seattle band allayed any concerns we had with a vibrant and visually stunning performance. - Jerad Walker, Music Director

case/lang/veirs - Why Do We Fight?

Supergroups can be a tricky proposition, so experiencing firsthand how effortlessly Neko Case, Laura Veirs, and k.d. lang melded their singular sounds was special. Each of them had moments to shine, but my favorite part was listening to them harmonize. The joy each of them took in performing together was infectious. - Nate Sjol, videographer

Blind Pilot - Joik #3

Blind Pilot returned this year with a record written about coming back from grief. My favorite song from their August session was one they didn’t intend to play. During their performance, we’d talked about “Joik #3,” written by Israel Nebeker to honor his late father, and which takes its name from a kind of sacred singing by the Sami people of Arctic Europe. It’s a beautiful and questioning song about missing one who has left.  At the end of the session, the band offered to play just one more song, this one.  — David Christensen, Program Director

Thao & The Get Down Stay Down - Astonished Man

In March, Thao Nguyen and her band The Get Down Stay Down joined us to perform songs from her newest album, A Man Alive, in front of a studio audience at OPB. We were shocked to find out after the performance that this was the band’s first public performance of the new songs. They sounded like they’d been playing them for years. - Jerad Walker, Music Director

The Thermals - Hey You

One of my favorite things about filming these sessions is being surprised. I’m either surprised by a band that I didn’t think I liked or by a band that I listened to some time ago — and thought I had moved on from. That was the case with The Thermals session. Their new songs still engaged in ways that I’d always appreciated, but they brought a rare energy to the shooting and the editing that doesn’t always happen in the confines of the studio without an audience. - Jarratt Taylor, videographer/editor

Dirty Revival -She Can’t Wait

In one of our first sessions of the year, Dirty Revival stopped by our studio to play songs from their debut release. “She Can’t Wait” is one of the standout songs, showing the power of vocalist Sarah Clarke’s voice and the group’s winning combo of horns and smoky hooks. — David Christensen, Program Director

Thank you to all the bands who performed sessions with us in 2016. And thank you to the amazing folks who record and film our sessions, and make them sound and look as good as they do:


Sessions audio crew: Steven Kray, Zack Carver-Gustin, Hakeem Hasworth
Studio techs: Randy Layton, William Ward, Ted Cutler and Julie Mosebar-Johnson
Lead editor: Jarratt Taylor
Videographers Nate Sjol, Drew Barrick, Sam Smith, Braden Spotts, Jennifer Sowell, Nick Gattman, Claudia Krogmeier, Chase Amen, Matthew Thomas Ross and Aashish Edakadampil
Our talented interns: Nick Hennessy and Chloe Holland
Special thanks to April Baer and Aaron Scott of State of Wonder; studio coordinator and gear wrangler Lisa Miyamoto; and to Mike Baden, Matthew Casebeer, Scott Magee, Mason Rippey, John Sepulvado, Matt Drenik, NPR Music, and Mark Abuzzahab and the gang at VuHaus.