Down by Downtown: A Spotlight on the Local Acts

Some big acts will descend upon Roanoke as the eighth annual Down by Downtown (DxDT) Festival rocks the Star City for next three days. Chris Stapleton has a sold-out show tonight at the Berglund Center, and Saturday night’s headliner, Lotus, is sure to draw an energetic crowd. For an excellent rundown of those bigger acts, I’d recommend reading Tad Dickens’ Roanoke Times article. Meanwhile, here’s a look at a few of the local bands that are part of this weekend’s festivities. After all, DxDT was first conceived to showcase downtown Roanoke’s live music scene.

Empty Bottles kicks of the local music tonight at The Wall Street Tavern. The band brings new energy to interpretations of an array of genres that range from Billy Joel and Prince to The Beatles and the Grateful Dead. This foursome features the versatile Steele Whisnant  on bass, and the incomparable Ben Hite on keyboards. Hite is a demon on the keys, and could hold the stage by himself. In a band, he can move from back up to lead, and everything in between. Empty Bottles will clink the glass, and start the show at 9pm.

Record Store Day All-Star Jam Slideshow

“The only truth is music” –Jack Kerouac

There was a whole lot of truth being shared Saturday, as musicians, fans, and organizers, all came together to make music at The Spot on Kirk in support of Community High School and the upcoming National Record Store Day.  It was inspiring and humbling to be a part of an event in which so many people donated their time and craft.
The bands were at the very heart of making this event such a joyful experience! The Community High School Performance Band, Groova Scape, GOTE, Blue Mule, and M.C.Broom & the Jam  all gave incredible performances which kept the whole place grooving throughout the day.

Photographer Meagan Reynolds was there to capture some of the musical truth and joy being shared so freely. These photos are just a sample of her great work. You can find more photos from the event on her Facebook page.

Record Store Day Turns 10

Born in 2007 by a group of independent record store owners and employees as a means of celebrating the culture unique to the independently owned record store, the first Record Store Day happened on April 19, 2008. On the verge of its tenth anniversary, there are now Record Store Day participating stores on every continent … except Antarctica; and, for the first time, RSD is coming to the Vintage Vault Record Store located inside the 16 West Marketplace, Saturday, April 22nd.


Record Store Day is a day for those who love the world of the independent record store – staff, customers, artists – to celebrate the unique culture of record stores and the role they play in their communities. There are special vinyl and CD releases as well as various promotional products available exclusively for the day. In the beginning the list of exclusive RSD only titles was small, now the list includes artists from large and small labels, artists from every genre and price point. Click here for a downloadable pdf of this year’s list.

Fabulous Dramatics: Finding new sounds among the sounds

Almost exactly one a year ago we featured a new (to the area) singer songwriter, Kris Piemonte, and his quest to find innovative “sounds between the sounds” in his music. His goals were simple and brave: create meaningful sounds and lyrics that revealed universal truths, then bring them to the stage such that others felt it.

He was also searching for bandmates who could share in that vision.

One year later, and Piemonte is well along his path to realizing those goals. With the addition of guitarist/ keyboardist Marc Verica, a recent transplant from Charlottesville, the Fabulous Dramatics are set to launch a new album this Saturday at Soaring Ridge Craft Brewers.

Catherine Backus: Finalist in Prestigious Songwriting Competition

Sometimes you hear a song and it just lights something up in you. I remember the first time I heard Ray Lamontagne’s song “Jolene”. I listened to it over and over again, because something about it made me feel all the feels. I didn’t necessarily relate to every word he sang, but the emotion was so strong, that I didn’t need to share the experience, to experience the experience with him. As a songwriter, you go one step beyond just feeling a song. You study chord progressions, the rhyme scheme, the brilliant prosody it may contain, and at the end of the day, you just think, “damn, I wish I wrote that song.”

I love finding a song that does that to me, and I get even more excited when that song is written by someone in our own backyard. Catherine Backus, a 25 year-old from Bedford, VA, has just been announced as a finalist in the national Chris Austin Songwriting Competition, for her song “Tomatoes” The Chris Austin Songwriting Competition has been a staple at Merlefest, a roots festival in Wilkesboro, NC, since the 90s, and is known for its quality of entrants. Past winners include Gillian Welch, Tift Merritt, Sam Quinn, and Adrienne Young, just to name a few. Backus, who’s day job is an activity director at an adult day care center, is a name who I believe will be just as well-known as those aforementioned.

Twin Creeks Brewing Co

Twin Creeks Brewing: A Frothy Mix of Beer, Music, and Community

If you think about it, craft beer and music have a lot in common. At their core, both are works of art. Similar to a musician, a craft beer brewer starts with a handful of simple ingredients, blends in plenty of skill and passion, all to ultimately form a unique concoction that brings others joy. It’s one of the reasons the two make the perfect pairing.

Andy Bishop, one of three owners of Twin Creeks Brewing, is passionate about that pairing, and its at the core of Roanoke County’s first brewery. Twin Creeks Brewing opened its doors in November 2016, and has made steady progress to become a destination for both delicious craft beer, and excellent original music in downtown Vinton. Bishop, a musician himself, recognizes the importance of making the brewery a destination where people can feel comfortable to visit.

“A brewery is not a bar, and a bar is not a brewery. A brewery is a social gathering place. A brewery is a place for family and friends to come together and share an experience, and music is an integral part of it.” Bishop shared in a recent interview.

3rd Street Coffeehouse Celebrates 30th Anniversary

To get inspired to write this article, I sipped on a cup of joe and listened to “Poncho and Lefty”. There’s nothing like enjoying coffee and listening to a great song, and that’s exactly what the Third Street Coffeehouse has been providing for the last thirty years. Third Street is one of Virginia’s oldest continuing performance venues of its kind. As a non-profit, concerts are held with no cover, just with a simple “pass the hat” format. On April 22nd, this classic Roanoke songshop will celebrate a milestone anniversary with a Saturday night concert featuring nationally known act, Trifolkal, amongst many other local acts including Western Music Association recording artist, Aspen Black, and Southwest Virginia Songwriters Association president, Mike Franke.

Located in the basement of Trinity United Methodist Church, Third Street has hosted a range of local musicians and national touring acts, and has also been home to friendly open mics. Long-time Roanoke performer and music instructor Marc Baskind says, “I love to bring or direct students who have little or no experience performing in public to Third Street’s open mics–a huge step in their musical journey.” Bob Schmucker, a member of the board of directors at Third Street says, “For performers, it’s a great feeling to know that you’re playing to a receptive and friendly audience who are there for the music. It’s nice not have to play over a noisy bar scene, where over-served patrons often have no appreciation for the music or the rights of others to listen without major distractions.”


Across the Way Productions, the Makers of FloydFest, Loads Our Region with Live Music

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.

Billy Currington

Concert Review: Billy Currington at the Berglund Center

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.

Luke Church

Luke Church, An Americana Facilitator

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.