The soulful duo just came off a landmark CMA performance
The CMA Awards have the ability to introduce people to new artists and music. I’ll be the first to admit that I was (as the kids say) “sleeping” The War and Treaty until their barn-burning performance with Brothers Osbourne on the CMAs airing Wednesday night. In the commercial break that followed, I discovered that they were playing a few steps from my building. In two days.
So I reached out to cover the Saturday, November 12 show at the historic Sixth and I Synagogue near Chinatown in DC. Luckily, amid all the post-awards madness in Nashville, my request was granted. And what I witnessed is almost beyond explanation.
War and Treaty is made up of husband and wife duo Michael Trotter, Jr. and Tanya Trotter. Throughout their 15-song set, the Trotters shared some of their personal history at this comeback concert. Both are from southeast DC.
Opening with three consecutive songs, the third of the set, “Keep You Warm”, earned the Trotters and their four backing band the first of many standing ovations for the evening. “Up Yonder” had a spiritual feel made all the more special by its dedication to late actor and country music recording artist, Leslie Jordan. Jordan’s manager was present at the show and Michael Trotter explained how The War and Treaty became friends with Jordan shortly before his passing.
Trotter, Jr. also shared a fun story of Garth Brooks who, true to the rapid rise of The War and Treaty, begins and the Opry and ends at the Country Music Hall of Fame medal ceremony. Michael Trotter struck up a conversation with Brooks at the ceremony, asking, “Guess who has the most-watched Opry performance on social media?” Brooks stared. Ultimately, 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 out for pizza.
Throughout the show, the couple’s chemistry was undeniable. Husband and wife still very much in love, Michael would slip behind Tanya and wrap his arms around her as he sang. They held hands from time to time while singing. Or the pair would steal a kiss between songs.
This chemistry was evident on the slow “Blank Page”, a song about starting over which is the title track of the EP that The War and the Treaty dropped out the night of their CMA appearance. It built to a crescendo, the trotters facing each other throughout. And at the end, they had a little voiceover, each showing off their amazing pipes.
There was clear longing in Michael’s voice as he took the lead in the heartbreaking song ‘That’s How Love Is Made’. It was those moments full of raw emotion that surged throughout the night, transcending a concert performance to something of a religious experience. The war and the treaty brought a hard-won revival to their life story.
Tanya shared early on that the natives were once a struggling family in southeast DC. 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 out without tearing up. And when Tanya Trotter mentioned performing on the CMAs, the town crowd rose and gave the duo a three-minute standing ovation. Just to break down barriers.
The show ended with their two biggest hits, “All I Wanna Do” and “Five More Minutes”. The former featured a medley of other soulful songs, painting a picture that the soul, jazz, southern rock and country genres are much more closely related than one might think.
Country music is ready for The War and Treaty. This was clear on the ABC TV show, and it was a famous fact in DC. Their music speaks to the universality of a human heart seeking connection with fellow human beings in such a powerful and resonant way. Because of their own lived experience, The War and Treaty deliver this music of unity in a way only they can.
I was lucky enough to be front row for The War and Treaty. As fans rushed onto the stage in the intimate sanctuary of Sixth and I, I grabbed Michael and Tanya’s hand and said, “Welcome to country music. We needed you. Pay attention, because when their first major label album drops in March, they’ll be everywhere. There’s no stopping them now.