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.

Ashley Lucas

Artist Spotlight: Ashley Lucas

We’re doing something new with this week’s Artist Spotlight. This is the first time we’ve featured a local songwriter. Ashley Lucas is a talented writer, winning honorable mention in international songwriting competitions, and active in the Southwest Virginia Songwriting Association. We reached out to find out a bit more about Ashley and her craft.

“I came from a musical family. My grandpa was in a bluegrass band and played banjo, guitar, bass, and mandolin, and my mom is a wonderful singer. There was always music playing in my house growing up and I was exposed to many different styles from an early age. I knew I wanted to write music, and I knew I needed to learn an instrument to do it. I took guitar lessons briefly at Kelley’s Music here in town, when I was 14, and started writing songs as soon as I learned three chords. For me, the guitar lessons were just a vehicle to the songs.”

Corey Hunley

Starr Hill Brings More Music to the Star City

In case you were hiding under a rock and didn’t hear the news, Starr Hill Brewery announced yesterday that it is opening a Pilot Brewery & Side Stage in Roanoke. Slated to open in September of this year at The Bridges in Roanoke’s Riverside District, the brewery will be Starr Hill’s first satellite taproom and will include a five-barrel brewing system that will produce limited release craft beers. Multiple weekly musical performances that highlight local and regional artists will be a central element of the brewery’s draw.

A passion for craft beer and live music have always been at the heart of Starr Hill, as the brewery started in a shared space with Starr Hill Music Club in Charlottesville in 1999.  Although that venue closed in 2007 and the brewery’s headquarters now reside outside of Charlottesville, in Crozet, the pairing of great beer and tunes are still central to the company’s mission. Yesterday’s announcement reinforced that connection as attendee’s quaffed free beer and enjoyed lives tunes provided by local artist Corey Hunley.

The Harvester: Rocky Mount’s Musical Engine of Progress

The artificial fog swirled around the stage and into the assembled crowd, as Matt Hankins, assistant town manager and CEO of the Harvester Performance Center took the podium to deliver his welcome address. Within his opening remarks, was the salient point, “The Harvester sold some $1.2 million in ticket sales in 2016, and we are pleased to say we’ve turned a small profit.” But the true value of the Harvester to the town of Rocky Mount and our region cannot be measured in just dollars and cents.  The Harvester is a transformative heartbeat, steadily pumping creative possibilities and joy into the town.

Hankins took to the task of outlining the economic impact that the performance center has had on the town of Rocky Mount. Those numbers included the restaurant meals sold, tax revenues from meal sales, and the estimate that some $2.25 are spent in local businesses for every dollar spent at the Harvester. Then, Hankins reviewed the numerous awards Rocky Mount has won in the last few years, most recently the 2016 Community Economic Development Award (CEDA). Towards the end of his address, Hankins recognized the other businesses that make the town thrive, and ended his comments noting that the town would like to attract both a microbrewery and distillery, to further the reputation as a place to stay for a visit, not just come for a show.

Lazy Man Dub Band

Lazy Man Dub Band: Unity Through Reggae

Rastafarian reggae superstar Robert Nesta “Bob” Marley would soon be celebrating his 72nd birthday had he not died from a rare form of malignant melanoma at the young age of 36. Born on February 6, 1945, Jamaican-born Marley is recognized as one of the most influential musicians of all-time, responsible for delivering reggae music and messages of love, religion, and positivity as forces for change against social repression in the world. Roanoke band Lazy Man Dub Band continues to spread Marley’s messages of “One Love,” and plays to help unite the community through music. On February 4, the band will be hosting one of its annual reggae celebrations at Martin’s Downtown in celebration of “The Legend’s” birthday.

Formed in 2007 by Jamaican native Wayne Shorter, who was leading an open-mic night at The Village Grill, the seven-piece band is filled with self-described experimentalists, players unafraid to mix traditional reggae sounds with funk and rock elements, to bring an ever-evolving sound to audiences.  A solid horn section anchors them, laying down a steady bed that allows for impressive guitar and keyboard digressions like on “Full Control Live.” They can then slide into a more traditional vocals-driven tune like “Turn Your Lights Down Low” or one of their Marley covers. Then, just when you think you have them figured out, they’ll hit you with one of their funky originals.

Henry Hancock

A Celebration of Henry Hancock

2016 was a year filled with staggering loss in the music world. We bid farewell to some of our generation’s most iconic stars. David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Prince, Merle Haggard, Phife Dawg, Natalie Cole, Leonard Cohen, George Michael, and the list goes on and on. The losses piled, one right after another, leaving behind a legacy of unforgettable sounds and influence. Closer to home, we lost the distinctive voice and banjo skills of Dr. Ralph Stanley. The founding father of modern bluegrass was born nearby in rural McClure, Virginia. Even closer, we lost Henry Hancock, a talented bassist and family man from Rocky Mount who played with rock-country band Surrender Dorothy.

Greensky Bluegrass

Rooster Walk Announces Headliners Greensky Bluegrass, The Wailers for 2017

By Jenna Lazenby

There’s nothing quite like thoughts of the upcoming Virginia music festival season to shake off the chill of winter. One of the premier boutique festivals, Rooster Walk, has helped spur those thoughts by revealing its headliners. Newgrass and festival favorite, Greensky Bluegrass, and legendary reggae band, The Wailers, will be spearheading the 9th Annual Rooster Walk. The two groups will be joined by other new additions, Anders Osborne, who is set to play The Rives Theatre on Feb. 16, The Motet, one of last year’s most talked about Rooster Walk performances will make a much anticipated return. Other acts announced today are American bluesman Anderson East, Charleston-based indie rockers Susto, JGB tribute band, Mission in the Rain, Virginia-based, singer-songwriter Juliana McDowell, and Bassett native “artist at large” Josh Shilling.

While Rooster Walk has gained a reputation for some of the highest quality acts you’ve never heard of, the newly-named headliners each bring star power. Greensky Bluegrass, a band that won the Telluride Bluegrass Festival battle of the bands in 2006, has amassed a considerable following since forming in 2000. These fun-loving guys from Kalamazoo, MI, maintain a grueling tour schedule, packing venues, including a sold-out Red Rocks, across the country. Meanwhile, iconic reggae band, The Wailers, of Bob Marley fame, will deliver its timeless message of “One Love” to the Rooster Walk crowd. Founder, Aston “Familyman” Barrett, once named one of the most influential bass players of all times, will be joined by original Wailers’ guitarists Junior Marvin and Donald Kinsey.