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.
Thursday night at the very classy Jefferson Center, N.C. based band, Mipso, put on a show that was both mellow and flat-footin’, finger-pickin’ good. If you happened to miss it, here’s what listening to Mipso live is like: sitting outside when it’s seventy-two degrees and sunny, having a good, hard laugh with an old friend, and getting a smile from a stranger. It just makes you feel happy.
And that’s not to say that Mipso songs are all butterflies and rainbows because they’re certainly not. Their setlist contained quite a few songs that captured the angsty, mid-to-late 20’s period that we all have to suffer through. What I’m talking about is a sonic happiness.
To say Roanoke’s craft beer scene is on the rise is an understatement. With nary a brewery around just a few years ago, the burgeoning brew scene has become quite the topic of discussion over the past year. Roanoke (and the surrounding area) is currently home to a half dozen breweries, with another half dozen on the way, including west coast big-timers Deschutes and Ballast Point Brewing Company.
In addition to producing delicious frothy quaffs, breweries have also become excellent live music destinations. While each craft develops independently, the two seem to become exponentially more satisfying when paired together. Here’s a look at four breweries in the area with music in their heart.
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.
Carl Palmer is a man on fire. His energetic playing style was the heartbeat of the 1970’s progressive rock supergroup Emerson, Lake, & Palmer, (ELP), and then for 80’s rock band Asia. These days, he is still going strong with his current project ELP Legacy which comes to the Harvester Performance Center on Friday night.
I was able to grab a few minutes of the drummer’s time as he travelled from Melbourne, Florida to Atlanta as part of the North American leg of this year’s tour. Palmer is a cheerful, albeit busy man, and he fired answers back the way he plays his drums, fast-paced and with a rhythmic precision. It quickly became clear why he has accomplished so much over the course of his five-decade career: he does not stop moving. The ELP Legacy show has been touring almost continuously since June of 2016, and continues to add dates, including two just this week in North Carolina.
“On an evening such as this,
It’s hard to tell if I exist”
-“Pinch Me”, Barenaked Ladies
The Barenaked Ladies brought their unique worldview and quirky sense of humor to the Harvester Main Stage on Tuesday. To the delight of die-hard fans, some who traveled many miles to catch the band, BNL put on the kind of high energy, yet intimate show, which they became known for in the late nineties.
“They make you feel like you’re the only fan in the room. Their personality really shines through and no show is ever the same” said Kerrie Castle, who’d traveled with husband, Daniel, from Charlottesville to see the band. The couple has seen the Canadian quartet numerous times since the 90s, and the drive in from C’ville was well worth their effort. The intimacy of the performance was made that much richer for Kerrie when lead singer Ed Robertson came into the crowd to serenade her. The joy on her face summarized her experience Tuesday night.
The Bare Naked Ladies played 18 songs, on a variety of acoustic and electric instruments, covering years of their catalogue which included many of their hits like “Old Apartment”, “Brian Wilson” and of course, “One Week“.
They told stories and joked about hanging out in Roanoke the day before, and witnessing the bear stuck in the tree downtown. They talked about eating great sushi downtown, a farm to table meal they enjoyed at Lucky, and gave a shout out to “Amy” at Roanoke Pinball Museum for opening the place up just for them.
Tyler Godsey, founder of 5 Points Music Sanctuary, Roanoke’s newest live concert venue, has spent much of his life chasing the highs of live music. That he is considered legally deaf never stopped him from seeking what he describes as, “those magical moments when an energy blows through the crowd and everyone is united in love by the music.” As an expectant father, that passion for music was something he looked forward to sharing with his children.
“When my wife told me she was pregnant with my first son I started compiling a playlist of songs that someone who comes into this world should hear, Godsey shared in a recent interview. “When my son was born, I was on cloud nine, and was playing the list I made for him. I didn’t realize he wasn’t hearing any of it.”
Last night, The Lone Bellow melted me at the Harvester. I’m not going to lie, this will not be a totally objective review. I am a true Lone Bellow fan and I have been since the release of their self-titled debut album in 2013. Their harmonies are hypnotizing, their songs are simple but chilling, and their own special blend of indie-folk is right up my alley. Unfortunately, I had never gotten the opportunity to see them live, until last night, and it was 100% worth the wait to see them (front row) at the Harvester.
If you haven’t visited the Harvester, get to Rocky Mount immediately. The sound was perfect, even sitting about 6 feet from the front speaker. I don’t know how they do it, but every time I see a show there, it seems like the acoustics keep getting better and better. Every show feels intimate, a feeling shared by Lone Bellow leader singer, Zach Williams, who commented, “I like this place. It feels like we’re playing in a living room.”
Two-time Grammy Award winner Jason Isbell and his backing band the 400 Unit returned to the Berglund Performing Arts Theatre last night. On a stage immaculately lit, with a beautifully balanced sound system, the atmosphere was set for an intimate evening with the singer-songwriter. The music was a blend of acoustic Americana, southern rockabilly jams, and some harder-edge classic rock ‘ roll, all of which showcased Isbell’s gripping vocal qualities.
The 100-minute set was comprised mostly of songs from Isbell’s two most recent solo albums, “Southeastern” (2013) and “Something More Than Free” (2015), opening the show with “Stockholm” and later performing such hits as “Cover Me Up,” “Different Days,” “24 Frames,” “Speed Trap Town,” and “Super 8.”
Much of Isbell’s success as a singer-songwriter comes from his ability to create complex compositions filled with harrowing lyrics and emotion. Isbell writes about himself, honestly, openly, and brutally, without holding back. His brilliant, yet accessible, songs cover universal topics of loss, loneliness, and love, and his personal struggles with addiction and the substance abuse that held a powerful grip on him in his early career. That early career included a six-year stint as lead guitarist and a principle songwriter for the Drive-By Truckers.
The evening performance previewed several songs off the band’s upcoming album “The Nashville Sound,” as well as a couple of songs written and performed during those years with the Drive-By Truckers. The new album, scheduled for release June 16th, delivers a heavier dose of rock than the award-winning “Something More than Free.”
Throughout the night, Isbell provided lots of love to his backing band, the 400 Unit, a name derived from the colloquial term for the psychiatric ward of a hospital located in Florence, Alabama, located in the Muscle Shoals region where Isbell and many of the band members claim roots. The band features former Drivin’ and Cryin’ member Sadler Vaden on guitar, Derry deBorja, formerly of Son Volt on keys, Jimbo Hart on bass and Chad Gamble on drums.
In true singer-songwriter fashion, Isbell was engaging and jovial with the audience, even pointing out the differences between singer-songwriters and other musical performers, impersonating what it might have been like had Michael Jackson introduced himself between songs. “Hi, I’m Michael Jackson and this song is called Beat It”. Isbell joked that sometimes he likes to rewrite history that way, before launching into “The Life You Chose” followed by “Traveling Alone,” two songs that include deliberate lyrical repetition to deepen the audience’s understanding of the music.
The three-song encore opened with “If We Were Vampires,” a slower ballad from the new album, that speaks to the mortality of life and marriage, and that eventually one of the lovers is left behind. Two rock songs completed the evening, “Flying Over Water,” and “Never Gonna Change,” which featured plenty of Isbell’s and Vaden’s intricate guitar skills.
From here, Isbell and the 400 Unit play a handful of shows in early May before embarking on an intense six-month American and European tour to promote their new album. That tour kicks off June 17th in Asheville, NC, followed by a show in Raleigh.
Before leaving the stage last night Isbell promised an eventual return, stating, “See y’all real soon!”