Forlorn Strangers

Q&A with FloydFest Band Forlorn Strangers

Have you ever had the urge to throw everything you own into storage and take to the open road? That’s exactly what the Forlorn Strangers decided to do in early 2015. Since then, this quintet from Nashville, which includes two sisters, has carved a niche for themselves as an up and coming American roots rock band with distinctive guitar, banjo, mandolin, fiddle, upright bass, and percussion skills. This past week, they played two sets at FloydFest as part of the On The Rise series. This week they are releasing their debut self-titled, full-length album.

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.”

Brittany Sparks

Artist Spotlight: Brittany Sparks

“I joined chorus in junior high school and would get goose bumps every time we would sing together in harmony. That’s when I decided that I wanted to be that vocalist. The one who gives you goose bumps.”

“I was 15 the first time I ever sang on stage with a live band and my knees were knocking. It was at Roanoke’s Festival in the Park and the crowd response was overwhelming. It was so emotional that I cried afterwards. I felt like I had found my home.”

“In 2011, my mom passed away unexpectedly. I still miss her every day. She could belt the blues like no other. During my shows she would yell song requests at the top of her lungs and have ‘conversations’ with the sound crew about ‘turning the damned guitar down so she could hear her baby girl.’ She always encouraged me to pursue my passion and supported every one of my musical endeavors. I’m fairly confident that if I stopped singing, she would haunt my ass until I started again.”

Red Clay River

Red Clay River: Rising Again

“Born in the shadows of the Blue Ridge Mountains, with one foot in heaven and one in hell.” Self-described genre-bending band Red Clay River has a history as weathered and soulful as the Southern Gothic blues songs they create and perform. The tale of Red Clay River is one of heartbreak, hard work and redemption. From the challenge of creating music with band members located all over the state, to being robbed of all of their instruments and equipment while on tour, to making a risky comeback after a 6-year hiatus—Red Clay River has never shied away from a challenge.

The individuals that make up this outfit are as passionate and hard-hitting about what they do as the guttural wails that rise up and out of their lead singer and guitarist, Dan Bivins. With a recent and well-received return to the scene, there are many questions about where the band is headed next and what we can expect from them. Before we dip our feet in, perhaps we should explore how, where and when this River started flowing.

George Penn

Artist Snapshot: George Penn Jr

“Growing up as a little kid in the ‘70s, my first exposure to music was soul and funk. My father, George Penn Sr., was an R&B blues drummer here in the valley and some of my earliest memories are of him practicing with his band. Dad took me to see ‘The Godfather of Soul’ James Brown and The Jackson 5, and when I was twelve he gave me my first set of drums. I had a natural ear for rock music and fell in love with all the classics. To this day, my style is a fusion of rock and soul, sprinkled with a little jazz and reggae.”

“Music and drumming provide me continual inspiration. I’m in a state of total bliss when engaging with the audience. There seems to be a lot of confusion and division in society that’s rooted in paranoia. All of the strife and negativity breaks my heart some days. I believe that music can be the unifier, it has power. I just want to help spread peace and love through music.”

Robby Carden

Artist Spotlight: Robby Carden

“Music has always been a bonding experience. When I was 19, I had a close friend who was terminally ill and music served as an escape from the constant reminders of his health. We would play and noodle around to help elevate his mood. My experiences with him are what taught me to listen and react. Now, if I find myself in situations where I don’t know the material being played, I rely on the conversational playfulness of my fellow musicians.”

Blue Mule Roanoke

Blue Mule: Not Your Average Grass

Southwest Virginia’s rich musical heritage is steeped thick in traditional bluegrass and Americana Roots Rock music. Roanoke band Blue Mule embodies the traditional Appalachian genre, but incorporates its own unique flavor. A quintet of masterful stringmen, Blue Mule has fostered a progressive newgrass sound that has become a staple of the local music scene for well over a decade.

Tom Ohmsen (mandolin/vocals), John McBroom (bass/guitar/vocals), Tim Rhodes (banjo/vocals), Eli Williams (guitar/bass/vocals), plus recent addition Jerry Wood (fiddle/vocals), play a hybrid of intricately woven jazz, rock, blues, and country jams, all from a bluegrass platform.

“We’re a little bit of an oddity in traditional bluegrass circles,” said Ohmsen. “Back when I started in the 70s, if you weren’t playing straight bluegrass, you’d get run out of town, tarred and feathers. And usually it wasn’t the audience that objected. It was the old guard musicians who would listen to us and say, ‘That ain’t no grass.’

Emily Guill

Artist Snapshot: Emily Guill

“My parents both have beautiful voices and I was surrounded by music throughout my childhood. A background in dance catapulted me into a world of music, particularly musical theater at an early age. I was in the second grade when I got the bug to sing on stage in HMS Pinafore. For years after, I was a regular in chorus and musicals, which led me to pursue a BA in Theatre Arts from Virginia Tech.”

“Music took a backseat to graduate school and living expenses in New York City and Chicago. My love for music was revived when I was asked to sing in a dear friend’s wedding. At that wedding, I was approached by Alan Johnson to sing with his band. BOOM! From that moment on, I have been surrounded by musical gurus who have been amazing collaborators and talents. Glen Holmes, in particular, has been extremely integral to my development as a singer and in providing me exposure in the region’s musical community.”