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.”

Jonathan Barker

Artist Spotlight: Jonathan Barker

“My mom played piano, and I remember being a kid and lying in bed and listening to her play on her old upright. I had wanted to play the drums, but after the school deadline to sign up mysteriously came and went without my parents signing the authorization slip, my mom offered to pay for piano lessons. That was in 4th grade.”

“By the time I started high school, I knew that I wanted music to be a big part of my life. I wanted to be a part of the magic that people feel watching and experiencing live music. It’s those magical experiences that I still live for. Those nights when you lose yourself in the music and in the moment. The only thing that matters is the music and your connection with the audience and the others on stage with you. It’s those nights when the music takes over, the crowd is completely tuned in and the band is just the medium that’s connecting the music to the soul.”

Bubba Webster

Artist Snapshot: Bubba J Webster

“I’m comin’ to you straight outta Mont-Vegas! I’m a proud product of Montvale, VA in Bedford County. Growing up in the rural shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains, I discovered music from my rockin’ older cousin, Mark, and my bluegrass guitarist grandfather, Carl. Before long I started playing bass for a band that would eventually become Curmudgeon, a ska-punkish act who played the area from the 90’s to 2002.”

“Performing live is like creating a common space to exist with your audience and bandmates. It’s an emotional, electric transfer of energy. I remember so many great moments, but my dearest memories are of the people I’ve performed with and seeing that look on their face when it all clicks together. That pocket gets found and everyone is taken higher.”
“There is tremendous joy in making a noise that people enjoy hearing, in writing a song that resonates with a listener, and in the creative process with talented conspirators. I believe in the therapeutic power of music and desire to make as much as possible while my body allows me to. I have a rare condition called AKU that destroys your weight bearing joints. I’d like to use my music talents to help raise awareness and drive research. But mainly I just want to play what I love until the wheels fall off.”

Matt Leonard

Artist Spotlight: Matt Leonard

“Some call me Matty Dub. I play drums for a number of bands in the region including Relacksachian, Groova Scape, The Dead Reckoning, GOTE, Sly Devil, & Welcome to Hoonah.”

“I first got started in music when I was a baby. My older brother was a percussion player in school band and we always had instruments around the house. One of my earliest memories was using drumsticks to ‘tickle the ivories’ on Mom’s piano (which didn’t go over well with her). I guess I’ve always loved making noise. When I was old enough, I also joined the Woodrow Wilson middle school band, but chose to play bass clarinet to broaden my views of music. Then came high school; Led Zeppelin were gods and rock and roll consumed me, so I taught myself to play drums.”

Seph Custer

Artist Spotlight: Seph Custer

“Anything you’re passionate about is a lot of hard work. It requires hours, days, years, but just don’t give up. That is the only thing that’ll bring you down. I can’t tell you how many days of work I’ve had to endure on two or three hours of sleep, how much money I’ve had to personally invest in equipment, and how much personal sacrifice I’ve made to get to this point.”

“Over the past 10 years of my career, I’m willing to bet I’ve logged well over 500 hours of having an instrument in my hand. And I’m still not as good as I want to be. But I’m willing to put in another 500 hours. You have to love every single second of it, because it’s your time and your art. If you can bring yourself to love your work, then you can never go wrong.”

Corey Hunley and the Millonaires

Corey Hunley: It’s In His Voice

From garage bands to opening up a sold out show for country music legend Marty Stuart, local singer songwriter Corey Hunley has had a guitar in his hands for thirty plus years now. Something he attributes to his childhood friend and a borrowed guitar his dad brought home one afternoon.
These days his guitar of choice is a Gibson Hummingbird, and his music of choice is country or Southern Americana as he calls it. Originality and a love for life, family, and his southern roots fuel Hunley’s music and his song writing. Whether he’s performing one of his solo acoustic sets, or performing a full on rock show with his backing band The Millionaires, Hunley’s shows are three-fourths originals sprinkled with a few covers from his favorites which include Johnny Cash, John Lennon, and the Allman Brothers.
Hunley has the ideal voice for country music, an undeniable deep southern twang that fits perfectly with a cold beer or a backyard barbeque. That voice has cultivated a strong and loyal fan base around the Roanoke Valley, as has the voice in his lyrics. His songs are easily relatable, drawn from his own experiences that incorporate themes of parenthood and the desire to make every moment count with loved ones.

Erin & the Wildfire

Burning Bright: Erin & The Wildfire

In 2012, Fincastle native Erin Lunsford joined forces with fellow musicians she met in a UVA student recording group to form Erin & The Wildfire. Since then, the band has built a growing fan base in the Virginia music and festival scene by touring consistently in a three-hour radius, and playing a number of major events including Festy, Stepping Out, FloydFest, and Lockn’.

While The Wildfire has a definite bluesy feel to them, the talented quintet combines to play a range of genres from soul to funk to rock. The performances are a mix of originals interspersed with covers where they take classics like the Bee Gees, “Staying Alive,” and Stevie Wonder’s, “Sign, Sealed, Delivered,” and make it their own by changing the beat and tempo. Then there’s Lunsford’s voice. She pulls every ounce of oomph from a song and delivers it on a sultry platter of goodness to the audience.


Monophonics Bring West Coast Soul to the Heart of the Blue Ridge

It has now been a little over two weeks since the ‘Dreamweavin concluded and FloydFest officially came to a close. There was so much good music to cover that it took us (at Blue Ridge Rocks) every bit of those two weeks to write up all the highlights. Today, we wrap up that coverage with a feature on one of the best new bands to play FloydFest, the Monophonics.

Described by FloydFest founder Kris Hodges, in an earlier Blue Ridge Rocks interview, as one band not to be missed, I eagerly awaited the start of the Saturday show on the main stage. A midafternoon rain shower had just blown through and festival-goers were stepping out from shelter and making their way to the stage to hear what this West Coast soul and funk band, better known west of the Mississippi and in Europe than here in Southwest Virginia, had to offer. I’d already done my homework, and knew that we were all in for a good show. But what Kelly Finnigan and the band brought to the stage was more than a good show, it was a powerhouse performance of soulful vocals, horns, and guitar that washed over me in wave after wave, each building to one climax after another.

Devyl Nellys

The Devyl Nellys Return to the Region

The Devyl Nellys, a FloydFest On the Rise band, returns to the region this Friday when they play BoneFire Smokehouse in Abingdon. The following day, the band’s new album, “Delicious Business” will be released.

This funky rock band has six core musicians and twelve substitutes and is led by ‘The Mother Ship’ Nelly Levon, who brings her unique funky style to the stage. The group put on two fun, high energy sets at FloydFest that had all its members, especially Levon, pouring sweat at the end.

“I call us a mix of grass pop and grass punk. We definitely love some of Sublime, and we have a really good drum beat too,” Levon said in an interview after the band’s first set on the VIP stage at FloydFest.

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.