Blue Ridge Rocks started as a simple idea: A website that would shine a light on the talented artists who ply their trade in the Roanoke music scene, and an events calendar for fans to find those acts. In the 21 months we’ve been here, we’ve featured more than 75 local and regional artists, sharing…
That’s a verse from the song “Alison California,”off of local pop-rock band My Radio’s most recent album release, “Tada IV.” It’s an evocatively written and beautifully recorded album that effectively captures the band’s vintage rock sound which features a heavy dose of classic rock and guitars.
The five-piece, which consists of local restauranteurs JP Powell (songwriter, vocals, keyboards) and Hunter Johnson (drums), along with Brett Lemon and Jake Zuckerman (guitar), and Jeff Hofmann (bass), originally formed in 2008 after Powell first met Johnson in 2006. Powell, a graduate of Salem High School, had spent a number of years in Boston where he attended the Berklee College of Music and was the front man for Chauncey, a popular indie-rock band whose first album was named “Best-Rock Album of 2002” by Boston Magazine.
Singer, songwriter, guitarist, Charissa Morrison is a hard working solo act putting in the stage time in our region, building a growing fan base with her beautiful voice, original compositions, and unique interpretations of modern songs. We caught up with her to discover the passions and motivations that keep music at the center of her life.
“My biggest inspiration comes from the people in my life. I have incredible family and friends who give me unending support and push me to keep going.”
“Music has always been a part of my life. I grew up in the Roanoke Valley in the church, as a pastor’s kid, and so I began singing at a very early age. I loved performing, and would hop up on stage and grab a microphone whenever I could! Singing was always my focus, and once I got to middle school I joined choir and stuck with that all the way through high school. In my teens, I picked up guitar and began playing and accompanying myself. I went on to study music in college and performed in a band during my time there.”
While he may receive his mail in Shippensburg, PA, Nick Andrew Staver has made a home on the road for much of the last five years, bringing his bluesy steel guitar and heartfelt lyrics to venues large and small throughout the country. Currently promoting his fifth independent release, YOPE (2017), Staver visits our region for a stint “On the Dock” at Vinton’s Twin Creeks Brewing Company. We caught up with him to learn a bit more about the itinerant singer songwriter in the lead up to his Saturday show.
“We all want the same things. It’s just a matter of how we get there. I use music. And I use it as a tool to communicate to people around me.”
“My sound is centered around blues music but it’s much more than just blues. The core is blues, but you hear drops of jazz, R&B, rock n’ roll, folk, and country. Playing that music live is the most thrilling, fun, free thing I’ve ever done in my life. There is something special that happens on stage, and every night that “something” differs from the night before. Words can’t describe that feeling when a musician finds their “zone”, and the search and discovery of that “zone” in itself is priceless. Music is like a confession for me, it lifts a weight off my shoulders and makes life melt away for a few minutes during a song.”
“I find myself a man at peace, with a knowledge of self and of place which makes me the songwriter and musician I am today. Whether it is my own composition, or an old tune played on the Mitchell Family fiddle, or singing my heart out for the audience, my words and music come from the journey, singing of the destination.”
That quote, taken from the homepage of Mike Mitchell’s website, captures my experience meeting the man who started the Floyd Music School and who sparks the magic of musicianship in his students. I interviewed Mike at the “Mountains of Music on Main” festival in Christiansburg, just as the rain moved through and bought relief from the summer afternoon heat. With the sounds of fiddles and guitars warming up for the evening performances, we found a relatively quite corner to chat.
I’m hard pressed to name something I like more than outdoor concerts. Saturday night, after years of recommendations by friends, I experienced my first show at the Lime Kiln Theater in Lexington, VA. And what an experience it was. Oklahoma based band, the Turnpike Troubadours had the crowd (of about 700 people) dancing, singing, hootin’ and hollerin’, at this sold out show. I will say, in all honesty, that I haven’t enjoyed an outdoor show this much since I saw the Lumineers at Red Rocks Amphitheater, and there’s a few reasons why.
First, Lime Kiln is one of the prettiest music venues I’ve been to in Virginia. For me, it beats Wolf Trap, and that’s saying a lot. Wherever you’re sitting, you’re close to the action. I spent most of the show in the second row and the sound was perfect, but when I ventured to the back of the theater, the sound was just as good. I even went behind the stage and the band still sounded immaculate. The venue is called “the bowl” because it’s nestled between a collection of large rocks. Looking up, you’re covered by a canopy of trees and after the sun departed, fireflies danced like fairies. In addition to the beauty and sound quality of the theater, the food and beverage options were top notch. Devil’s Backbone Brewery is a sponsor of Lime Kiln and I think we can all agree…yum.
One of the best things about attending Southwest Virginia Songwriters Association meetings is getting to hear the incredible songs that come from local musicians. Last month, SVSA member Randy Williams, brought a song to get critiqued by the group, and it’s so beautiful, and perfect for a special Father’s Day edition of Story Behind the Song.
Williams began writing songs as a teenager, but didn’t start focusing on songwriting until after his kids were grown. Crediting Angaleena Presley, Shawn Camp, Jason Isbell and Richard Thompson as some of his songwriting heroes, he writes to inspire others to see things from an unfamiliar perspective. His only real goal with songwriting is to be able to share an emotion or struggle that people can connect with. And with the song, “Look Up”, he truly accomplishes this goal. He recorded the song at Summit Sound with Jake Dempsey, who Williams said was crucial in bringing his songs to life.
As a mom of a little girl, I’ve sought as many opportunities as possible to expose my offspring to music. I remember deciding the day she was born, that I was going to sing her the same song every night before bed: “I Will” by the Beatles. This song has always had the magical power to calm her down when nothing else would. It made her smile before she knew what smiling was. She would clap upon hearing it as soon as she discovered she had hands.
I truly believe that listening to music is a vital part of the developmental process in wee young ones. In Roanoke, there’s an ample amount of children’s music classes and I’ve tried out most of them. They’re all great in their own way but one sticks out, at least from a musician’s standpoint.
“Playing live, at its best is a spiritual rush! When a band connects, it’s like my eyes are closed, and I’ve gone to Pluto and back. When the song is over and I open my eyes, it’s like, whoa, what just happened, where am I?”
The joy that Scott Sutton brings to the stage is infectious as he lays down a steady bed of bass beats he has acquired over years of playing with a wide range of bands and genres.
There’s a sensational woman named Nikki Hill and she’s playing the Harvester tonight. Not only should you go see her to experience her immense vocal talent and diverse setlist, but go to be inspired by her pure, honest drive, independent spirit, and just general bad-assery. I not-so-secretly want her to be my best friend, because she’s already a role model for all of us who want our music to be bigger than YouTube channels and open mic nights.
Hill has played in Roanoke before on a much smaller stage. In 2013, her first year of touring, Hill played Blue 5, but those small tours have taken her to some pretty unique places. From a theme park in Sweden, to a palace in Morocco, to a tea tree farm in Australia, to the same stage where Otis Redding performed and Jimi Hendrix infamously set his guitar aflame. This chick has played the world, and she does it all on her indie budget. As an independent artist, this self-described “music nerd”, relies on her passion for music and her “small but mighty” team to keep it all going. I asked Hill a variety of questions to get to know her a little better, so here are my top 8 insights about wonder woman, Nikki Hill:
AL: How did you develop your sound?
NH: It’s still developing and I hope it will continue! I like to think of it as a combination of my love for the energy and call and response style of early gospel, mixed with the attitude and fervor of rock n’ roll and soul, with a one-two-fuck you punch of the human experience and anti-system stylings of blues and punk. Honest and driven and giving it all each time on stage because that’s all there is and it’s all we’ve got.