Last month, Christian Lopez released an Americana anthem worthy of the times. Driven by hefty acoustic guitar and Lopez’s yearning croon, “Who You Really Are” bursts with human compassion and spirit. The late March timing of its release bares some irony—as the United States began closing most of its doors nationwide in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Lopez could be seen performing in an empty theater in its music video. Namely, it was recorded at the Apollo Civic Theatre in his hometown of Martinsburg, West Virginia, where he’d gotten his start in performing at just nine years old.
Now, Lopez premieres an intimate rendition of “Who You Really Are” with PopMatters. Recorded live at Revolver Studios, this take on the tune pulls back on its studio sheen in lieu of a string quartet. Lopez navigates the inspiriting arrangement with passion, elevated by the quartet in this arresting rendition of the moving song.
On the performance, Lopez says, “At the end of the day, this music is a representation of me and what I want to say. The more deeply I dig into that, the more I have to reconnect to the simplest parts of my world in order to re-inspire me. It’s a reminder to do what feels right to me. Making the rendition was a gut instinct, and that’s one simple thing I always trust. My mother was an opera singer, so she started us in the local theatre, 550 seats with no amplification. One thing I’ve gained from her is an appreciation for vocal range and volume, which is reflected in ‘Who You Really Are’.”
Lopez was also keen to share his top five favorite live show experiences with PopMatters. Looking back on his times at the Apollo Civic Theatre and beyond, his reflections illustrate the journey from his first foray into music at a sprightly age up to the release of his newest music today.
The 9:30 Club – Washington, DC – 2017
“9:30 is where I would go to see my favorite bands growing up. It was a dream of mine to play on that same stage one day. It wasn’t until I released ‘Red Arrow’ that I got to take the stage for myself. There’s nothing like standing at that mic, seeing that room full, and being in charge of what sound comes next… knowing that the kid in the front row was me just a few years ago. It was a stepping stone on the journey to ‘Who You Really Are’. I don’t know whether it’s the monstrous sub-woofers, the classic 9:30 Cupcakes, or simply just the quality people who keep it running. That room is magic, and I’m always on a mission to get back there.”
Floydfest – Floyd, VA – 2015
“I was 19 and this was one of my band’s first-ever festivals. We couldn’t believe we landed a bill with some of our favorite acts (Grace Potter, Trampled by Turtles, Emmylou Harris, etc.). It was hot, loud, sweaty, sloshy, beautiful, and wonderful. It was everything I hoped it would be and more. I remember we were playing the final night on the ‘Pink Floyd’ stage. It was Larry Keel, us, then the Black Lillies. I remember seeing the other artists from the stage, watching the crowd like a sea in the field in front of me, and my band right there with me feeling sharing my every emotion.”
Daryl’s House – Pawling, NY – 2016
“I was sound-checking, and the sound-man liked my voice. It was then that he went into the closet and pulled out Daryl Hall’s custom vocal mic and plugged it in for me to use. I can’t remember the model name, but it was heavy and looked like it was made out of pure silver. It sounded like candy too. It was heaven getting to sing on it and hear it back on the monitor. Just one of the many sweet little moments life dishes when you’re open to it.”
Mountain Stage – Charleston, WV – 2015
“As a West Virginian artist, Mountain Stage was a longtime goal of mine. After my first album Onward, we finally got it. I brought my whole family down to Charleston, I told the crowd how I’d been sending them emails since I was a 13, and after the show, I drank moonshine with the host, Larry Groce, next to the 1997 Fleetwood Bounder we toured in. A true favorite scene in my movie.”
The Apollo (Martinsburg, WV)
“Last but not least… The Apollo Civic Theatre is where the ‘Who You Really Are’ video was shot. Not only is it a beautiful 100+, still operating theatre, it’s where I got my start. It sits in the heart of my small West Virginian town and is even the place where my grandfather first saw The Wizard Of Oz when it was released in 1939. It’s the first stage I ever sang on. I was 8 and cast as the Artful Dodger in the local summer musical ‘Oliver.'”
“A couple summers later, my band won the local talent show with ‘Stranglehold’ by Ted Nugent on that stage. Not long after that, I was booking my own shows there. Soon enough, we were able to visually showcase it’s beauty, history, and what it means to me with this video. In the beginning, it was just my guitar and I. And in the end, it’ll be the same. ‘Who You Really Are’ ended up being about the search for myself, and the Apollo is the place where that search began.”