News & Politics

Brothers Osborne Play Emotional Hometown Gig After a Big Year

The country duo from Deale, Maryland, explain why their Anthem show meant so much

You don’t see a lot of visitors to the Wharf clad in cowboy boots and Stetson hats, but such was the scene on November 19th. The occasion for this garb from afar was a concert at the Anthem featuring the country-music duo Brothers Osborne—who are actually not from afar at all. Midway through the show, lead singer TJ Osborne told the rapturous crowd—a group that needed no reminder—that he and his brother, lead guitarist John Osborne, grew up nearby, “in a little town called Deale, Maryland.” The response was a roar. “I’m sure there are some people from DC here as well,” he added, “but I’m claiming this as a Maryland show tonight. We don’t get much, but we gonna take what we can get, alright?”

This was the brothers’ first local concert in almost three years, and there was a lot to celebrate. Their third studio album, Skeletons, came out in late 2020, and it’s still winning new fans and awards. (They scored Vocal Duo of the Year at November’s CMA Awards and were nominated for two Grammys shortly after the DC show.) The previous day had been TJ’s 37th birthday, and he still seemed to be in a party mood, hoisting a red Solo cup as he spoke.

In Deale, the Parents Osborne were known for throwing parties in their backyard, with Dad’s band providing the soundtrack. “It explains a lot about who we are as adults,” John said in an interview before the Anthem concert. The siblings—who went from playing in the elementary school orchestra to performing music around town with their father—inherited both the party-hard spirit and the knack for revving up crowds with their tunes. Eventually, each headed to Nashville to pursue a career as a solo artist, which didn’t pan out. But in 2012 they signed with EMI Records Nashville as a duo and a string of hits ensued. They released a self-titled EP in 2014 and their debut album, Pawn Shop, in 2016.

But their Maryland roots have always remained a core part of their persona. At one point in the show, TJ asked, “Where’s all my SoCo people at?” “SoCo,” or “South County,” is a term for the southern part of Anne Arundel County that feeds into Southern High School, the brothers’ high school alma mater. The opening verse of their second single, “Rum,” describes their adoration of the place they were raised. (That music video, their first, was filmed in Deale.)

When TJ sang “Blame my lack of knowing better on public education” onstage at the Anthem, he jokingly pointed to the Southern Athletics t-shirt he was wearing, and there was something personal about the crowd’s cheers. It’s an energy that the duo recognize and reciprocate. “I’ve never felt it was just me and my brother that succeeded,” John said. “It was us, our family, our friends, people that helped us along the way, our hometown, where we come from—we succeeded together. It gives me such joy that when we come home, the people watching have a sense of pride.”

Yet the concert’s most moving moment had nothing to do with their local-hero status. At one point, TJ stopped between songs to talk about his experiences this year, mentioning that he’d shared his personal life with the world for the first time. This elicited the evening’s biggest response: almost 90 seconds of audience approval. TJ was referring to his decision in February to come out as gay, making him the first openly gay country artist signed to a major label. That life-changing moment was clearly on his mind as he addressed the crowd: “It’s really emotional for me to think that in a town where it seemed impossible to me to do anything like this, to come here tonight and feel the love out here . . . this one hits hard.” From there, he segued into the duo’s latest track, “Younger Me,” which TJ wrote this summer. A lot had happened since: interviews, openness on social media—he even brought a significant other to an awards show for the first time. But it seemed as if that night at the Anthem, his first hometown performance since coming out, was one more step.

The brothers have long embraced inclusion, as well as some potentially controversial (particularly for their genre) positions. Their 2015 “Stay a Little Longer” video featured a montage of relationships, including a gay couple. In response to Donald Trump’s reported January 2018 comments, they tweeted simply: “Our family started in a trailer park in Odenton, Maryland. Some would have called it a shithole. We called it a start.” And later that year they performed at a fundraiser for Nashville’s Democratic gubernatorial candidate Karl Dean.

During the 2020 shutdown—“the Great Pause,’’ as John calls it—the brothers spent time focusing on their physical and psychological well-being. This spring, John spoke out about his struggles with mental health, revealing that in late 2019, his anxiety had gotten so overwhelming that he thought he’d have to quit music altogether. He started therapy and says that putting into practice what he’s been learning allowed him to actually enjoyed the CMAs this year. “Awards shows are boss-level anxiety [inducing],” he says. “I’ve used music and guitar as a safe haven from my social anxiety. I find it to be a very useful tool to ground myself, and then when someone ends up in a position that they’re [performing at an awards shows], the very thing that has protected them from their anxieties is putting them in a position where they are encountering their anxiety. It’s quite counter to why we ended up in music in the first place.”

As their tour was wrapping up, and after something like 80 performances in five months, “the pendulum,” John said, had swung a bit too far from where they were at their best last year. But they’ve blocked off time from their performing schedule to write “as much as humanly possible” for the next five months, and hope to start recording early spring. “Physically and mentally we’re exhausted,” John says, “but spiritually we understand our path better than we ever have.”

Amy Moeller
Fashion & Weddings Editor

Amy leads Washingtonian Weddings and writes Style Setters for Washingtonian. Prior to joining Washingtonian in March 2016, she was the editor of Capitol File magazine in DC and before that, editor of What’s Up? Weddings in Annapolis.