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It's the silver anniversary year for Richmond, Va.'s, Carbon Leaf, the cult indie rock quintet who've maintained a passionate fan base in the best-kept-secrets realm.

Following Carbon Leaf's B-N debut in a Castle Theatre show five years ago, the group is returning with longtime friends Sister Hazel for a co-headlining concert at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts.

"We've been trying to put together a tour for a long time now," says lead singer Barry Privett of the teaming with their like-minded friends from Gainesville, Fla.

"I think we first started talking about doing this 10 years ago." 

Time flies when you're having separate careers.  

At long last, the union has been consummated, but just barely: "It's a short tour, only four shows," says Privett of the logistical feat.

"We actually tried to put more shows together ... we had around 10 planned to begin with. But we just weren't able to work it out."

For the Bloomington date, Carbon Leaf will lead off the evening with its Celtic-tinged rock sounds, sporting occasional penny-whistle embellishments by Privett, followed by Sister Hazel's own brand of alt-rock fusions (less Gaelic, but no less indie-spirited).

Carbon Leaf was seeded 25 years ago on the campus of Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va., where Privett and future Leaf guitarist Terry Clark crossed paths on the very first day of school.

It was musical love at first sight.

"We broke ground in 1992, first playing publicly, but things kind of incubated a long time for us," says Privett.

"We had a long, slow start that lasted eight years — four of which we spent not thinking we were going to be doing this seriously."

After a decade of regional success and a trio of albums, the flowering of Carbon Leaf began nearly a full decade into its life, in 2001, with the release of their fourth album "Echo Echo."

The album garnered critical notoriety and was led by its seminal track, "The Boxer," for which Privett's lyrics employed pugilistic metaphors to document a combative romantic relationship.

Privett submitted "The Boxer" to a first-time American Music Awards category for new bands ... and won.

"That was such a weird place in time ... the internet was just getting off the ground, and these companies were forming and hosting contests, giving away a lot of cash and prizes, trying to cross-promote and finding new talent."

The AMA contest, sponsored by Coca-Cola, received around 1,000 entries. After a series of competitions and finals, the band from Richmond wound up on top ... and on stage at the nationally televised AMA Awards.

It was one for the record books: "We were the first unsigned band ever to perform on the American Music Awards," notes Privett.

Though the award endured for only around three AMA shows, "it allowed us to get out on the road with more marketing heat behind us, which radio stations picked up. But when we came home from all that, our world was not all of a sudden transformed," recalls Privett.

However, it did lead to the band's first flirtation with a movie soundtrack via "Dear," another song from "Echo Echo," which wound up played over the closing credits of the 2002 Civil War drama, "Wicked Spring," with Privett even cast in a supporting role.

"Looking back, while it didn't catapult us into some other world, it definitely forced us to really dig in the next 10 years to find out how much grit the band has, and can we take it and use it to get the fan base locked down."

In 2004, Carbon Leaf signed its only record label deal to date, with Vanguard Records, which resulted in one of the key Carbon Leaf albums, 2004's evocative "Indian Summer," the lead track of which, "Life Less Ordinary," reached No. 5 on the Adult Alternative chart.

The single also led the band to a seemingly unlikely assignment: composing the entire song score for 2009's animated film, "Curious George 2: Follow That Monkey."

"The people making the sequel wanted it to play to older audiences, as opposed to just 3-year-olds," says Privett. "And we loved the score that (singer-songwriter) Jack Johnson had done for the first film. It was just sweet and delicate ... really great music."

Inspired to do likewise, the band provided seven songs to "Curious George 2."

"It's so bizarre how things happen like that," muses Privett. "I grew up reading the 'Curious George' books, and now here I was writing songs for the movie."

In the decade since, Carbon Leaf has returned to its label-free indie roots, recording via its own channels, with Privett as not only the composer and lead singer, but also: manager, keeper of the payroll, website designer and a half-dozen more duties. 

For the band's return trip to town, Privett promises "something that will feel more like a stand-up rock show ... even if it is a sit-down kind of venue."


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