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.”

The Missionaries

The Missionaries Say Farewell

Beloved Roanoke band and indie staple, the Missionaries, will be playing their final show this Friday at The Spot on Kirk. The event will be presented by The Bazaar, a combination record and retail shop, coffee/tea café, and music venue created, owned and operated by former Missionaries band member Jamie Booker. The store recently gained status as a non-profit, enabling the funds from its retail storefront to provide space and opportunity for musicians and artists to share their creations with the community. Booker and The Bazaar’s dedication to fostering and cultivating artistic expression in SW Virginia, is something we are particularly grateful for here at Blue Ridge Rocks. And it is in this moment of appreciation for Jaime, and with my fond memories of so many Missionaries shows, that I recognize the positive influence that dedication has had on their band.

It was an attitude that sprang from its founding member, Seanmichael Poff, and quickly spread, finding its way into the hearts of each and every band member that would join them on their decade-long journey. You could always depend on two things from a Missionaries show. First, their set would be killer. Secondly, other impressive bands would almost always be on the bill along with them. Often these were groups that you would not see playing at any other local venues. Missionaries members not only encouraged and shared the stage with the traveling artists, but even hosted them, often in their own homes. Their commitment to bringing in these special acts supplied the Roanoke Valley with a fresh vibe and expanded the music scene greatly.

Chris Shepard

Artist Snapshot: Chris Shepard

“Performing live is a hot, sweaty mess that gets me high, when it’s working right. The more I do it, the more I want to. I’m influenced by everything I hear, but mostly by blues, King’s X, the Beatles, Soundgarden, Primus, Mr. Bungle, Led Zeppelin … the list goes on. My first vocal influence was Lou Gramm of Foreigner. Then, I went on to Eric Bloom of Blue Oyster Cult, Chris Cornell and Mike Patton, but my biggest influence is Doug Pinnick of King’s X. My favorite performance memory has to be watching Albert Bouchard, of Blue Oyster Cult, playing cowbell on my song, “Kitties” as I meowed the lyrics, while wearing a goalie mask.”

Shorefire Roanoke Va

Artist Snapshot: Dan Carrell

Getting out and performing live is an incredible experience. It is pure adrenaline. It’s exciting, yet nerve-wrecking. You rehearse for days/weeks/months in advance. You know the material. You’re ready to get out there and melt people’s faces off. Then the questions begin: Will people dig my sound? Will people even show up to listen to me play? What if I forget the lyrics? These are legit fears. But then the adrenaline kicks in. To play a show and look out in the crowd and see people truly loving it, that adrenaline is undeniable. Watching people sing words to songs we wrote is more valuable than anything money can buy.

My band, Shorefire, blends Reggae, Rock and Funk into something unique. While I can play electric guitar, bass, djembe, and drums, I like to think that my strongest instrument is my voice. Bradley Nowell (Sublime) has had a huge influence on my musical flavor. I also love anything that David Byrne (Talking Heads) touches. But, the people around me are my inspiration to keep playing. I’ve somehow managed to surround myself with incredible musicians. A lot of guys that I grew up with have formed some amazing bands: The Floorboards, Half Moon, Lazy Man Dub Band, Tobacco Apache, Groovascape, Barefoot West, Ripejive, and the list goes on. It’s incredible to be surrounded by such a COMMUNITY of musicians who promote each other’s shows and are genuine fans of the music.

The Floorboards, Roanoke, Virginia Band

Uncovering The Floorboards

The Floorboards took the stage on an unseasonably cold spring evening, leading off with a penetrating song that demands the crowd’s attention. With a strong voice, and a powerful acoustic guitar, frontman Matt Browning quickly plants the flag of the Floorboards, making it clear that this is a band to be reckoned with. They exude a confidence and comfort with themselves, each other, the music, and their audience.

Watching The Floorboards perform is a study in contrasts. The first impression is one of serious intensity, performing songs like “Muscadine Wine” which features gritty guitar licks, and darkly personal lyrics. Two songs later, they slide easily into a fun cover of John Prine’s “Spanish Pipedream,” that has the crowd joyfully dancing and singing along. At this point the audience is fully committed, the band is in control. They can take the audience wherever they choose.

Artist Snapshot: Cierra Mills

When I was younger, I wanted to be a marching snare drummer more than anything. I finally got my chance during my junior and senior year at Pulaski County High School. It was during that time that my grandmother purchased my first drum kit, a maroon Ludwig. I still play it to this day.

In high school, I started playing the drum set with my best friend who lived up the street from me. Our friendship began when we noticed one another beating on the back of the bus seats with the same brand of drumsticks. From then on, we spent a lot of time in my grandmother’s basement polishing our skills and recording ourselves covering our favorite songs. We would critique each other and push ourselves to try new things.

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.

Kris Piemonte Roanoke Virginia musician

Artist Snapshot: Kris Piemonte

For me, songwriting is putting my heart on a platter with a knife and fork. Performing it, is handing that platter to the audience. I love song writing, but performing original music for a crowd is what it’s all about. Trying to recreate the feeling I had when I wrote the song is what I love most.

I play a variety of instruments, but when I am playing out, it’s just me and my guitar. I feel like I started late in life. At 21 I went to see Dave Matthews in concert. I had no idea who he was and was just blown away. After that, I got an old guitar from my mother’s attic, restrung it, and started recreating sounds I heard on early DMB CDs. Once I found those sounds, I was able to take things in new directions. I still play that way. You give me a little taste of a song, and I’ll figure the rest out. Songwriting is similar. I get that feeling, and the writing is underway. There are songs in my head that I’ve been writing for years, then others will bloom in 5 minutes. I love the mystery and challenge of the process.