Spring has officially sprung, and it’s time to dig up your sandals and dust off those beer koozies because festival season is a-callin’! The good folks at Across the Way Productions (AtWP) have prepared another full slate of live music events and we’ve compiled an overview of what you have to look forward to in the coming 117 days (but who’s counting), until FloydFest opens the gates for another epic weekend.
Cowboy hats, boots, and beers abound in the crowd as Billy Currington charmed ladies and country lovers alike at the beautiful Berglund Performing Arts Theatre, Friday night. Women and girls of all ages lined the front of the stage, some on shoulders, all with their hands in the air, trying to get a little loving from backwards-hat, tight t-shirt wearing Currington. He graciously obliged, even taking selfies from the stage and kissing many hands after the show concluded.
The 43-year-old Nashville veteran performed his greatest hits and his personal favorites from past albums. Admittedly, I am not your conventional pop country music fan. I haven’t been to a country show since Brad Paisley came to town with Taylor Swift, long before Taylor went pop. However, I’ve always had a soft spot for Billy Currington. He and his people have an uncanny knack for choosing songs that highlight the deep, rich tone of his voice and adhere perfectly to his “ladies’ man” persona.
If you haven’t noticed it yet, you need to check out the “Roots Down” music show Fridays at 8 p.m. on WVTF. The local NPR affiliate offers a fun, unvarnished look at postmodern Americana music in and around the region. The show, hosted by Luke Church and themed “Americana Without the Quilts,” has stacked up an impressive catalog of appearances by national and regional acts.
Church first joined WVTF in a part-time role in 2014 after working in promotions for a classic rock radio station in Charlottesville, where he lived for 18 years. In January of 2016, he went full-time with the NPR affiliate. It was that May when station program director, Josh Jackson, approached Church about the idea for Roots Down. Jackson, whose radio career started in New Orleans and then moved to New York, was instrumental in getting Christian McBride to do Jazz Night in America, and was also the founding producer of the NY concert series, “Live at the Village Vanguard” and “The Checkout,” a live performance of the music magazine he created.
Reviewer: Andrew Chester
Photographers: Roger Gupta and Jason Kincaid
From the first notes of “Crazy Fingers”, classically trained pianist Holly Bowling captivated listeners at Roanoke’s newest venue, 5 Points Music Sanctuary, with her unique piano interpretations of jam band classics from the Grateful Dead and Phish.
Bowling, who has been playing since the age of 5, treated Roanoke to her first performance of the rarely played live Grateful Dead tune, “Sage & Spirit”. The soft melodies serenaded fans and lulled them into a calm, before she played a booming compilation of “Wingsuit”, and “Wharf Rat”, she then transitioned back to “Wingsuit”, before sliding into “Taste” to close out her first set. Bowling didn’t just tickle the ivories of the baby grand piano, her improvisations included bending the strings from behind while playing, or striking specific strings with a mallet. Her creativity and brilliance as a pianist were showcased by her ability to transcribe complex arrangements to solo piano. She took that one step further in her smooth improvised transitions from one song to the next.
Running my hands over the worn cardboard sleeve of the Led Zeppelin IV album was as effective at transporting me back in time 30 years, as any modified DeLorean could ever do. Memories unfolded when I opened the album jacket to reveal the iconic Hermit on the hill, sending me back to those high school days when my friends and I would spend long nights playing Zeppelin albums, wondering (and arguing) about the meaning of the images and the lyrics. The tactile texture of the album cover mixed with wisps of memory, all coalesced into a resonant joy as the opening strains of “Black Dog” came pouring from the speakers. Thus, the stage was set for an afternoon of album listening, and new friends sharing the bands we love, at Saturday’s kick-off event of Vinyl On Tap.
Throughout the afternoon, folks came and went from the side room at Barrel Chest, most bringing albums to share, some drawn in from the regular patrons curious to see what was going on. What was happening was the first of what promises to be a mobile monthly meet up at different watering holes where music fans can come together to listen to music on vinyl. The idea was the brainchild of Andrew Chester, Roanoke resident and serious music lover. He sets up the locations, lugs in his own player, and brings a small selection of his record collection to share. And then, the vinyl fans start appearing. Folks came in with one to ten (or more) records to share. Every album had a story about how it was acquired, or why it was important. I got to handle, then listen to a rare Neil Young live album (“Time Fades Away”), that the owner told me will likely never be rereleased because of Young’s personal pain surrounding the time period when it was originally recorded. I listened to rare King Crimson tracks, and the full 1980 Talking Heads album “Remain in Light”, all the while listening to fans share their passion for music, and the bands they are currently listening to.
Duo, Lucy de los Rios and Lucky Buttons, make up Another Roadside Attraction, a band whose sound flows like an eclectic carnival. To get that unique melody, the duet play a wide range of instruments, including ukuleles, resonator guitar, melodica (I didn’t even now what that was), musical saw, harmonica, kazoo, and the under-appreciated guitarron, as well as a variety of DIY washboard and percussion rigs, to craft original music that is a constantly evolving blend of Americana, Acoustic, and what they have dubbed “Blue Ridge Cabaret.”
A couple on and off the stage, de los Rios and Buttons have enjoyed making music together for the past seven years and have shared that joy with audiences all over our region. Buttons got his start playing in a dive bar in Durham, NC, where there were house instruments available, and the patrons were invited to regularly jam together. The bartender kept strings on the instruments, and rocked out periodically. “Once I learned what it was all about, I went there every time I could. That place really lit my fuse.”
His partner, de los Rios came from a musical family, and started writing original tunes in 2008, when she fell in love with that unique little instrument, the ukulele. Once she connected with Buttons in 2009, they took on the challenge of opening for other local bands and playing with other musicians.
The Panini Brothers got their name from a random ordering of the same sandwich at dinner with their wives. The ladies “thought it was the dumbest possible name for a band, and that sealed it,” said Mike DeGiorgi, one of three guitarists for the Paninis. DeGiorgi, Larry Sakayama, and Chip Conway originally just got together at Larry’s Smith Mountain Lake (SML) home to jam on cover tunes, but considering that Larry and Mike are two of the most gifted local songwriters that I personally know, their ambitions exceeded the not-so-simple cover. Joined by keyboardist, Mark Earnhardt, and drummer, Scott Thomas, the Paninis started feeding the locals with their own special blend of blues, rock, folk and jazz.
Their debut CD, “Eyes on the Water”, is a tribute to the band’s self-admitted randomness: It “makes a certain kind of collective sense. Our tastes are very different. Each songwriter trusts that input from the other brothers will make a song better,” said DeGiorgi. It’s only fitting that this SML band recorded their first album at Blackwater Recording Studio with Harold Thompson.
March has arrived and with it comes the beginning of spring, days filled with more sunlight, and lots of green beads and beer. Now in its 28th year, Roanoke has a long-standing tradition of celebrating the Irish and the Irish-at-heart with its St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Shamrock Festival. Many of Roanoke’s downtown restaurants and bars have joined the party, offering a full slate of Irish-themed food and drink and plenty of live music.
Martin’s Downtown has become a staple in these festivities with its annual St. Patrick’s Day Block Party. This year’s event kicks off at 12:00 with music by Roanoke jam band Groova Scape on the outdoor stage, followed by 11 other bands alternating between the indoor and outdoor stages. The lineup includes 2016 FloydFest On the Rise runner-up, Urban Soil, out of Raleigh, North Carolina, along with a number of other noteworthy Roanoke bands.