Gary Jackson Is Cooking Up Some Stone Soul Pet Sounds This Fall At The Harvester
Gary Jackson has heard the comment often over the years, that’s he’s the one who has ignited the growth and maturation of the Blue Ridge Region’s music scene.“People tell me all the time that I’ve been a catalyst for how the music scene has exploded in and around Roanoke,” Jackson said recently.
The scene, of course, has been listed as one of the quality of life factors that have induced a recent spate of economic development for the Roanoke Valley. In other words, music and arts events equal jobs in the minds of companies such as Deschutes, which earlier this year announced that it will spend millions and bring jobs by opening a new brewery in the region.
The truth is, Jackson says, the growing sophistication of the music scene is a combination of factors and the work of others that has been just as important as his influence.
“Would it have happened anyway?” he asked. “Probably.”
Still, there’s no denying that Jackson has served as an agent of change to take Roanoke and its surrounding venues to a new level of respect and maturity in the music business.
There’s no better evidence of that than the fact that Parkway Brewing Company has named one of its brews, a kölsch, after “The Reverend.”
A longtime industry figure who has decades of experience in the business engaging bands and musicians, Jackson has been spreading his gospel of great music since he relocated here more than a decade ago.
Suddenly, top music acts that had never played Roanoke on a regular basis began looking at it as a friendly spot on the map.
It was Roanoke real estate developer Ed Walker who first nicknamed Jackson “the Reverend” after becoming infatuated with the top shelf shows that Jackson was staging at the old 202 Market.
Walker and Jackson became fast friends and soon the developer had lured Jackson a few blocks over to help him found and run Kirk Avenue Music Hall, which became the place for Jackson to bring in top acts, many of them just as they were emerging.
Jackson recalled the time he hosted Trampled by Turtles at Kirk one night for just a half dozen people. The next time Jackson did a Trampled by Turtles show, it was at the Daleville Town Center for a howling crowd of far more than a thousand.
These days Jackson is staging an astounding 170 or more shows a year at Rocky Mount’s Harvester Performance Center, where he is the general manager, bringing in top acts night after night after night, all of them drawn to the town’s engaging new venue and Jackson’s down home hospitality for musicians.
Added proof of the draw is Jackson’s fall lineup of shows.
Over the next few weeks, there’s Buddy Guy, the Charlie Daniels Band, George Thorogood and the Destroyers, J.J. Grey & Mofro, 10,000 Maniacs, Warren Haynes and Gov’t Mule, all on a list that chugs on week after week, perpetuated by strong ticket sales and a desire among audiences for more.
Jackson often arrives early on a typical show day to get the dressing room set up. Bands often roll into the Harvester at 9 to 10 a.m. after they’ve been riding all night on a bus.
It’s a matter of having bagels and coffee and tea and juice and sweet rolls, and a little TLC that mark Jackson and the Harvester staff as a group eager to make sure the experience of a great show starts with how well the band is treated.
“They come in the door and look at the Green Room, at the stage, and all that we have,” Jackson said of the revolving door of top musicians coming through little Rocky Mount, “and they go, ‘Oh, my God.’ It’s all there ready for them.
“Without us saying anything, they already sense the love and respect we’re offering. Eventually it leads to show time and the band senses a magic going on.”
The big effort is made to meet Jackson’s hope that during his shows, the “band and the audience will feed off each other.”
When that happens, the magical experience that Jackson thrives on soon follows.
And if the hospitality at the Harvester isn’t quite enough for the entertainers, many of them stay at the bed and breakfast nearby, The Early Inn, which is run by Jackson’s wife, Keri. She’ll cook ‘em a hot Southern breakfast, and the stars get to kick back and mingle with a few guests.
The whole thing happens, Keri Jackson says, because Roanoke-area audiences learned long ago to trust her husband when it comes to music. Maybe concertgoers have never heard of the band—never mind that the act might have multiple Grammys—the listeners know Jackson is going to bring them something good.
It’s all been built on the relationships he’s formed during his decades in the business.
Jackson’s dear mother—who is 88—tried mightily to get him to go to college in his youth, but the call to music was too strong. His father had died when Jackson was 28, which left just his mother to enjoy his life’s passion. She continues today to visit and take in his productions, having seen a few Harvester shows, and over the decades would hang out backstage at Monster Country Festivals, Lollapalooza (when it was a traveling road show), playing to 50,000+ patrons to name a few of the events he’s had a hand in.
Jackson even had a scholarship to wrestle at a small school in Pennsylvania, but the love of music had struck early. His first band was “Gary and the Weirdos.” He later graduated to “Ready Kilowatt and the Voltaires,” but his big move was going to work at the Cellar Door in D.C. years ago, where he did a variety of chores on his way to becoming a first-rate sound man for shows.
Early on, he met Neil Young producer David Briggs, who became a friend and mentor, and even let him mix some for Young. “I want you to mix it right on the edge, Gary,” Briggs told him. “It’s rock n roll.”
With Young, that meant it could cross over into feedback, which the songwriter/guitarist was using with his “Rust Never Sleeps” release at the time.
In time, he became a well-respected sound man, a love he keeps today even as an executive and promoter. He set up the Harvester under the guidance of Stage Sound with the low-end woofers in the ceiling. “The sound travels along the beautiful wood in the rafters before it reaches our ears,” he explained.