Artist Spotlight: Kyle Forry

“Performing live didn’t always come easy for me. I’ve been playing guitar for nearly 20 years, and singing for about 10 years. It took at least a year or two of playing gigs almost every weekend for me to feel comfortable as a performer. It took awhile, but now performing live is amazing! There are good nights and bad, but when you have the audience in the palm of your hand, and they’re feeling your songs, there’s nothing in the world like it.”

“One of my favorite nights performing came two years ago, on the night of the grand opening of The Harvester Performance Center. My good friend, Levi Lowrey, who was on Zac Brown’s Southern Ground label, was booked to play the grand opening with Clay Cook from the Zac Brown Band. I spoke with Levi and Gary Jackson about being the opening act, and they were gracious enough to let me, along with my bandmate Justin Arnett, open the very first show. I’d never been more terrified and thrilled to play in front of an audience in my life.

“The house was packed, and all eyes were focused on us. When I stepped out on that stage and began to speak, I felt the tears well up in my eyes. so I made the introduction short and sweet. In the 10 years I’d been performing, I’d never experienced that kind of undivided attention from an audience. I was accustom to playing in bars, full of drinkers. It was especially emotional because I grew up in Rocky Mount. To be the very first act to perform on the Harvester stage, in my hometown, was and is the highlight of my musical career. The night became even more special when Leny, who is one of my musical heroes, joined us on stage with his fiddle. Together we played a song I wrote, “Some Kind of Magic,” that seeks to capture the magic of being a musician. I’ll never forget those 45 minutes for the rest of my life.”

Brian WIlson

Brian Wilson Brings “Good Vibrations” to Elmwood Park

It was end of summer circa 1965 last night when Brian Wilson, Al Jardine, and Blondie Chaplin took the stage at Elmwood Park Amphitheater. The late August air was heavy with humidity, cicadas were screaming in the trees, and the smell of grilled burgers wafted from the vendor area. A jubilant crowd wore a mix of soft pastels and bright Hawaiian shirts, while beach balls floated and stilt walkers dressed in 60s fashion danced among the fans; one young man even had a surfboard in tow. It all combined to draw the audience back to the best summer nights of yesteryear.

It was a fitting backdrop to host the legendary Brian Wilson and his band, as they presented the seminal “Pet Sounds” album, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. This also marked the final show in the inaugural FloydFest-presented Totally Rad Roanoke Star City Concert Series, which also brought iconic acts Blondie and Huey Lewis & the News to Elmwood Park.

Artist Spotlight: Urban Soil (FloydFest Edition)

As the festival grounds gently warmed, and people were easing into their Saturday morning, Urban Soil was cranking the heat up fast on the Workshop Porch. The band, which hails from Raleigh, NC, was starting the first of four performances in the FloydFest On-the-Rise competition. Their music wove a powerful combination of roots rock, world beat, bluegrass, and pure joy into an original blend that brought the crowd to a standing ovation by the end of the set and eventually landed them the first runner up spot in the competition.

“We have a little something for everyone with our music,” said lead singer, Sarah Reinke. “We work to make sure you never get bored listening to us.” A truth that was evident throughout each of the four sets.
Urban Soil is packed with talent and they just kept bringing more to the stage with each song. Reinke has a strong voice that reminds me of Natalie Merchant, with hints of Siouxsie Sioux’s quirky tonal breaks. She couples that with mean rock guitar skills, then surprises audiences by playing a washboard that she runs through her guitar pedals to create her distinctive “Wah-Wah Washboard” sound (you’ll find a short video clip at the bottom of this article). Eric Chesson, on lead guitar and vocals, moves easily between acoustic and electric numbers, at times sounding jammy like Garcia, then turning it up and laying down blistering rock licks. Then there is Greg Meckley. He is a whirling dervish of blonde dreadlocks, dancing alongside his percussion rack adding extra rhythms, or stepping to the front of the stage to lead with violin or mandolin.

Roosterfoot

Artist Spotlight: Roosterfoot (FloydFest Edition)

Acoustic instruments in hand, Norkolk, Va. band Roosterfoot took the Speakeasy stage Friday afternoon for its first of four sets at FloydFest. After a quick warmup, the crowd, a mix of diehard fans and first timers, moved in close to the stage as the first notes were played. Moments later the audience was rewarded with the powerful voice of band leader Seth Stainback as Roosterfoot launched into a soulful set of southern rock goodness.

Following the sixty-minute set, I had to the opportunity to sit down with Stainback to ask him about his FloydFest experience and future plans for the band. Since this was the second year in a row that Roosterfoot performed at FloydFest, I was interested to find out what expectations were coming into the first set.

“I didn’t know what to expect with this first show, sometimes people hang back. They might not know our music yet,” commented Stainback. “As a band, our comfort level performing has skyrocketed, and that’s because of repetition. Repetition trumps skill, IQ, everything. And that’s all we’ve been doing this last year is just grind, grind, grind. So now our playing feels very natural and effortless.”

FloydFest 16 Comes to a Close (with Photo Gallery)

FloydFest 16 Dreamweavin’ has officially come to a close. It was a five-day musical carnival that featured a stunning Blue Ridge Mountain backdrop. A crowd of nearly 15,000 came from far and wide to breathe in and feed off the collective energy produced by the converging of creative souls. The sheer size and breadth of talent included more than 100 musical acts, jugglers, fire dancers, jewelry makers, concert painters and eclectic performers, and personalities of all types. Across the Way Production proved yet again that it indeed knows how to put on one hell of a party, complete with inspiration at every turn. From all accounts, festival operations were a tight-run ship. Artists, volunteers, and patrons alike complimented the organization of this year’s festival.

Of course there was sadness and concern when top headliner Gregg Allman had to cancel due to illness. But in true FloydFest style, a “Buffalo Super Jam” with Keller Williams and Leftover Salmon, was arranged in a jiffy by festival organizers, . Numerous festival artists contributed to the super jam while the FloydFest crowd boogied down and responded with countless cheers. It was a fitting tribute to Allman that included a badass cover of the infamous, “Whipping Post.”

We at Blue Ridge Rocks were thrilled to be a part of the FloydFest experience. We spent most of the five days providing videos and photos of the music through our Facebook page. Over the next two weeks we’ll have a series of articles and artist spotlights featuring the FloydFest performers. We’ll also have plenty more photos and videos to share. Here are a few to get things started.

Brian Mesko jazz blues funk jefferson center

Artist Snapshot: Brian Mesko

A 2005 transplant to the Roanoke region, Brian Mesko has managed to build quite the local reputation. A quick listen to any one of his half dozen bands and it’s easy to see why this jazz, blues, funk, soul guitarist is a central figure in the local music scene.

Blue Ridge Rocks wanted to make sure that all its followers knew exactly who Mesko was too, so we did a brief Q & A session with this well-versed musician.

 

How long have you been playing?

Since I was eight years old, so 28 years. I started with piano, then guitar at age 10, and picked up drums and bass as a teenager. While completing a bachelor’s degree in Recording Industry at Middle TN State, near Nashville, I had the opportunity to play with such international jazz greats as Les McCann, Tony Monaco, Dr. Lonnie Smith, John Jorgensen and Jeff Coffin.

My music has been heavily influenced by George Benson, BB King, John Scofield, John McLaughlin, Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass, and Jimi Hendrix.

Songwriters in the round, Lundsford, Hunley, Vaughan, Blue 5

Songwriters In the Round

An intimate night among friends

Friday night, the White Room at Blue 5, in downtown Roanoke held its second “Songwriters in the Round” series. The event featured a juxtaposition of three very different talents who mine their writing material from diverse veins.

Prince curtain

“Dearly Beloved…”

The death of Prince is utterly heartbreaking. While the closest he ever performed to us in recent years was in Charlotte, NC, his influence was certainly felt throughout our region. He was an incredible songwriter, guitarist, and most of all, a consummate professional performer.
A lesser man would have cancelled the Super Bowl performance, or radically scaled it back. Prince leaned into it, and gave the audience an unforgettable performance. We were lucky to have him for the time we did.

FloydFest, Across-the-way, Huey Lewis

FloydFest and Roanoke Make a Match

After years of flirtation, of eyeballing each other from a distance, FloydFest and Roanoke finally did the obvious Wednesday night and got married in a beautiful little ceremony that featured a big fat moon rising over the city’s Elmwood Park amphitheater stage, hugged tightly and happily by a crowd of better than 3,500.

It actually seemed like about 30,000 with the atmosphere and buzz that the event produced in the midst of downtown on a weeknight.