By Jenna Lazenby
From Community High School music teacher, to FloydFest production manager, to local band member, John McBroom’s footprints are everywhere in the Southwest Virginia music scene. A self-professed father and family man, McBroom started dabbling in music as a kid, an early hobby that would become a defining passion of his life.
“All my brothers and sisters were older than me and I had their record collections. I would listen to the Beatles and knew I wanted to do that. Music pays huge dividends to my soul. I consider myself a very spiritual person, and music is the closest thing to my religion. Philosophically, I land somewhere between Buddhist and Native American. The only thing I have found that is real in this world is our connections and our relationships with others. In the grand scheme of things, we are all just small specs of dusts, swirling around others. Music and teaching, is what gets me up every day, it has shown me a purpose in this life. It’s my way of giving my soul back.”
It was at the age of 18, that McBroom first picked up a guitar and learned to play. Then, in 1992, he joined and toured with the popular Roanoke rock ‘n’ roll band, Red Weather. The group, which featured lead vocalist and guitarist Bradley Carr, toured extensively, from Pennsylvania down to South Carolina and over into Nashville.
“Over the course of 6 years or so we did 800 shows. We broke up because we just couldn’t do the road anymore. Our last show was StickStock in ’99, a festival some Virginia Tech students started in the mid to late 80s. Starting in ’93, we were the late-night headliner from midnight until near dawn. That was also where I first cut my teeth doing production work. I learned how to book bands, run sound, and run production, all trial by fire.”
It was that trial by fire that would eventually lead McBroom to his role with FloydFest. The first two years he attended as a patron where he talked to and got to know festival co-founder Kris Hodges.
“At the end of the second year, standing up by Hill Holler, I told Kris, ‘I don’t know if I can do the job you’re looking for, but I can do better than what you’ve got now.’ He gave me the Hill Holler stage to start, then eventually the main stage and now I’m the production director for the festival. Each of the stages has its own vibe, its own feel and its own clientele.”
It was about that same time that McBroom’s oldest daughter was invited to be one of the first students at Roanoke’s new Community High School, and he was invited to teach. Those duties have evolved, and now in addition to teaching four classes of music, algebra and geometry, McBroom serves as co-director of the school, handling administrative tasks, grant writing, and fund raising. The school has a small enrollment of about 60 students, from 9 – 12th grade, but enough to create a real family atmosphere.
“I’ve played with a lot of great musicians, but my favorite band ever is the Community High School Performance Band. The band is a rock and jazz ensemble. The kids all pick their own music, mostly from our generation. Music is a great equalizer of people of all ages. The students look at it with such awe and excitement. I love that first time you get a group of kids to lock into the music together and see them become bigger than what they are. That’s why I do it.”
McBroom also manages to find time to continue to pursue his love for music by playing in several bands. The first, Blue Mule, is a five-piece group that has been playing locally for well over a decade. McBroom sings, plus plays bass and guitar for the group, which covers a hybrid of intricately woven jazz, rock, blues, and country jams, all from a bluegrass platform.
More recently, McBroom started playing with local jam band GOTE. His role first began with a few guest appearances where he’d sing and play more electric guitar. Those experiences reminded him how much he loves playing lead.
From time to time, you can also find McBroom making a rare appearance with a Grateful Dead super jam group he created several years ago. The group is an assortment of local artists from various bands around the region. No two performances are ever the same, nor are the artists who play the sets. The super jam first came about several years ago for Floyd Fandango, the little sister event of FloydFest, under the name of Uncle John’s Band. Moving forward you’ll know them when you see the band name, M.C. Broom and the Jam.
McBroom attributes the influences and ethos of the Grateful Dead to his perspective on playing music.
“To get up on stage is a tough thing, but if you do it for the right reasons, it tends to make a lot of people happy, including myself. I’m interested in walking out on limb and seeing if I can jump onto the next. Those nights when the ‘music is playing the band’ sweep you away and you’re completely lost in the moment. It’s an all encompassing high that I chase. When I catch it, there’s nothing like it. I play for my heart. I’d rather have a fun time playing in my basement than playing a big show.”
You can catch McBroom live about eight to ten nights a month around Roanoke. GOTE plays every Thursday night at Billy’s Barn, and every-other-Tuesday at Martin’s Downtown. Blue Mule’s next show is at Chaos Mountain Brewery on March 11, and you can catch M.C. Broom and the Jam on Saturday, April 15 at The Spot on Kirk for a special evening of music benefiting Community High School.