Holly Bowling: Innovative Pianist Plays Roanoke’s New Music Sanctuary

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.

Vinyl Lovers Gather for Roanoke’s Newest Listening Club

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.

Another Roadside Attraction

More than just “Another Roadside Attraction”

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 Story Behind the Song: “Road Dog Blues”

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.

Go Green: Martin’s Downtown St. Patrick’s Day Block Party

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.

Radio Free Roanoke

Radio Free Roanoke to bring hyper-local broadcasting to Roanoke

Radio Free Roanoke, a grassroots, non-profit organization, is raising funds to ‘take back the airwaves’ with the launch of a Low Power FM (LPFM) community radio station. The new station will serve the Roanoke community through programming that will empower local voices and highlight regional music.

In recent years, Low Power FM stations have proliferated around the country after the advent of the Local Community Radio Act, a new class of low-power FM licenses.

I sat down with Bob Capper, license holder for 95.7FM WROE, along with his chair of programming, Heather Rose, to discuss what they envision for the 100-watt “Radio Free Roanoke” station that plans to start broadcasting from the historic Grandin neighborhood within the next three months. While the 100-watt signal pales in comparison to the 50,000 watts that many big commercial stations possess, the station will have an online feed that anyone can stream 24/7.

“We want to be a robust hub connecting isolated groups in Roanoke,” Capper shared. “We want to create some “glue” to bring this community together.”

John McBroom

John McBroom: Playing from the Heart

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.”

Morgan Wade

Story Behind the Song: “Let Me Rest” by Morgan Wade

Living in Roanoke, we’re all #blessed to be surrounded by a myriad of incredible musical talent.  From bluegrass to metal, to Americana to reggae, there’s a little something for just about everyone.  One such talent comes from a young lady from Floyd, VA.  Her name is Morgan Wade and I’ve been following her for a few years now.    I remember listening to her music for the first time and thinking that she’s got that “something” that all writers, singers, and artists hope for:  She sounds exactly like who she is.  There’s no misrepresentation; her songs are the truest form of her pure self.  I like that honesty in a songwriter.  Being brave enough to put oneself out there is half the battle of writing relatable songs.

Josh Smelser

Artist Spotlight: Josh Smelser

“There’s nothing better than feeling the electricity shoot through the room when playing a live show. The most inspiring moments come when a band works with the crowd to create energy. That doesn’t necessarily equal “loud and fast” either. One of my favorite moments playing, happened recently with Place Called Home at Dogtown Roadhouse in Floyd. Right in the middle of our set, we went out in front of the stage and performed an original ballad fully unplugged. No amplifiers, no mics, just us, a few acoustic instruments and the crowd. When that last chord rang out, just before the applause came, the room was so quiet you could have heard a pin drop, but the energy in that moment was deafening. I’ll never forget it.”

“Community is a big deal to me, and I firmly believe that music can bring people together in a way that not much else can.  The ability to play music is a God-given gift that allows us to connect with each other (both in the audience and on stage), on a deeply spiritual level. I always try to put myself in situations where I am the least talented musician in the room. The best way to grow is to be surrounded by musicians that are better than you. The minute you become comfortable, is the minute you stop growing.”

 

The Wood Brothers

Sibling Sounds: An Interview with Oliver Wood of The Wood Brothers

The Wood Brothers kicked off their winter tour last Thursday in Philadelphia, followed by a sold-out show in New York. The brothers, Oliver and Chris, grew up making music together, influenced heavily by their father (a molecular biologist by day), who had a penchant for folk music, and a mother who is a skilled poet. Yet, their early music careers took them down separate paths, Oliver a blues guitar man, and Chris a standup bass player in the renowned jazz ensemble Medeski, Martin & Wood.

It wasn’t until in 2004 that the two kindred talents began to recognize the harmony that existed in their sounds and The Wood Brothers was formed. Eventually, they added a third member, drummer and percussionist Jano Rix, and the trio have since become central players in the roots rock scene, performing regularly for large crowds across the country.

This Sunday, the tour which includes opening act The T Sisters, stops in Rocky Mount at The Harvester Performance Center. This show also serves as a fundraiser with all proceeds benefiting the Free Clinic of Franklin County, which provides medical care to those in need. Blue Ridge Rocks had the opportunity to speak with the elder brother, Oliver, about the band, their brotherly love, and the recent release of “Live in the Barn,” recorded at Levon Helm Studios in Woodstock, NY, home of the legendary Midnight Rambles.