Story Behind the Song: Poe Mack

While this may come as a surprise to some, the genre of rap music is highly coveted by most songwriters. I happen to REALLY enjoy just listening to hip-hop, but as a songwriter (of primarily folk music), I can’t help but be in awe of the ability to create so many internal, clever rhymes in a 3-4 minute span.

Poe Mack, a hip-hop artist from Roanoke, has been making music for over 20 years. He tours up and down the east coast, from Maine to the country music capital, Nashville, all the way down to Florida. Mack, who is signed to Roanoke-based Rawsole Records, is a man of many talents. Not only is he a lyricist, but he produces, records and engineers his own tunes. He produces for others as well in his home-studio and has been working at Flat Five Press and Recording Company since 2005. Mack is also active in the community, performing in benefits for ovarian cancer, Hurricane Katrina disaster, and the victims of the Virginia Tech Massacre.

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.

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.

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.

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.