Melissa Mesko: A Musical Gypsy

“Musicians do what we do because we simply can’t NOT do it.  We are compelled.  We need it.  When you love what you do, you’ll put in the extra effort.”

Guitarist, vocalist, and percussionist, Melissa Mesko, has fed that compulsion for quite a while now. She has gathered an eclectic range of styles and genres in her travels, which she now shares with Roanokers through her main bands, Melissa and the Growlers, and The Meskos, as well as performing in numerous side projects.

We caught up with her last month to find out what got her started and what keeps her creating.

Details

An Intimate Conversation with Mipso’s Libby Rodenbough

When I read that Mipso was playing the Jefferson Center, my heart skipped a little beat and I said an audible “hell yeah” to myself, and have anxiously awaited the show ever since. I am probably one who gets too excited about live music, but this one my friends, is MY top ticket for 2017. I’ve seen a LOT of great shows this year, and as super pumped as I am for Dawes, Willie Nelson, Third Eye Blind, and Amos Lee to come to town, but it’s Mipso that I’m looking forward to the most.

It may be because I have never seen them live; It may be because they just released a new album (WHICH IS FANTASTIC); It may be because the tickets are going for $15 (what a bargain); Or it’s simply that Mipso has been a constant on my playlist for quite some time now. Regardless of the reason, this North Carolina-based indie Americana quartet and its growing setlist of accessible songs are a real treat for the ears.

Their 2013 release, “Dark Holler Pop”, is one of those albums I listen to from start to finish and don’t skip a single song. “Coming Down the Mountain,” which was released in April of this year, is just as good, sparkling with gems like “Hallelujah”, “Hurt so Good,” and “Cry Like Somebody”.

I was able to chat with Mipso’s fiddle player, Libby Rodenbough, about the new album, songwriting styles, and their recent serious car accident. Read more and purchase Mipso tickets before they sell out!

Details

Creekfest: There at the Inception

Beer and music have become a bit of a hot trend in the Roanoke Valley. Now, a local brewery is starting an inaugural festival that highlights both. This Saturday will see the launch of the first annual Creekfest, a celebration of music, beer, and community, in downtown Vinton.

The brainchild of Andy Bishop, cofounder of Twin Creeks Brewing, the day promises to be a family-friendly event, featuring three live bands, five food trucks, vendors, and of course, Twin Creeks signature brews. Bishop has partnered with the Town of Vinton to commandeer the Farmer’s Market area and main stage, to transform the place into a regular block party permitting guests to wander among vendor stalls of local merchants, all while the melodies of regional music acts Mason Creek, Josh Marlowe, and Faded Travelers drift over the crowds.

Details

Story Behind the Song – Appalachian Soul

Per the gentle persuasion of a friend, I was recently introduced to new Roanoke band, Appalachian Soul. Having a penchant for soul and R&B music, it wasn’t a hard sell for me to fall immediately in love with the groove and moving lyrics. Appalachian Soul is a new project for veteran Roanoke songwriters, Phil Norman and Will Farmer. The two have been performing together for years as part of an acoustic, “not-quite bluegrass” band, Blue Moonshine. Wanting to expand their sound, they added Mike Parker on bass and Breyon Fraction on drums. They’re set to record an EP this fall, and if word of mouth keeps their music traveling, it will be a happy highway playlist for all of us.

Their song “On Your Own Now,” which was written by Farmer and Norman this past winter, actually helped inspired the sound for the band. That’s the power of a song: it can totally define a musician’s moves. And it surely lives up to the hype. When I first heard “On Your Own Now,” I couldn’t stop tapping my foot and dancing in my chair, and by the end of the song I was singing along with the chorus. It was stuck in my head for days, and I was totally fine with that. You can see Appalachian Soul live on September 17th at Fork in the Alley, and then on October 12th at the Five Points Music Sanctuary. In the meantime, listen to “On Your Own Now,” and read Appalachian Soul’s story behind the song:

Details

FloydFest: Freedom to Find Your Tribe 

Since its humble beginnings in 2002, FloydFest has made steady progress to become one of the must attend events of the summer. Nestled in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, the festival continues to only get better with deeper line-ups and family-friendly activities that aim to achieve Across-the-Way Productions’ mission to “be the best music experience of our time.”

FloydFest has become the go-to “happy place” for thousands of loyal fans who have developed their own tribes within the five-day long event. Whether there strictly for the music, or some combination of healing arts and outdoor activities which range from mountain biking, trail running, river floating, and hiking, festival-goers are sure to find kindred spirits who will deepen the experience and create lasting friendships.

FloydFest

Details

Enjoyable Noises: Helping the Town Create New Sounds

There’s something sacred about a music shop to a musician. A good music shop can feel like going home; it can feel like a place you can be yourself, a place where your interests are common interests. In Roanoke, we’re lucky to have a couple of really great music shops, and 2017 saw the opening of a brand new one: Enjoyable Noises.

Located at 631 Campbell Ave. in downtown Roanoke, Enjoyable Noises is in a prime location for meeting one’s musical needs. Owner, Aaron Parker, a Berklee College of Music graduate, opened the shop in January 2017, after 15 years of working part-time at the recently closed Ridenhour Music in Salem. I visited Enjoyable Noises to speak with Aaron and his lovely wife, Jessica, to find out more about the store, and to do some shopping for myself!

Details

Deschutes Brewery Street Pub Event

This Saturday, Deschutes Brewery brings the Street Pub one-day celebration back to downtown Roanoke. With family-friendly entertainment, music, food, and tastings of all its excellent brews, the day promises to be an even bigger success than last year’s inaugural event.

The Deschutes Street Pub is a roving tour of good beer for good causes, which travels the country each summer putting on a day-long “block party” which generates funds for local nonprofits and introduces folks to the brewery. This year it will be hitting Cincinnati, Ohio, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Portland, Oregon and Sacramento, California. Roanoke will be its second stop.  Last year’s event raised more than $80,000 for local nonprofits. This year, proceeds will benefit the Roanoke Outside FoundationPathfinders for GreenwaysBradley Free Clinic & Blue Ridge Land Conservancy.

Details

The Perfect Pairing; Craft Beer and Live Tunes

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.

Details

Mike Mitchell: Musician, Teacher, Family Man

“I find myself a man at peace, with a knowledge of self and of place which makes me the songwriter and musician I am today. Whether it is my own composition, or an old tune played on the Mitchell Family fiddle, or singing my heart out for the audience, my words and music come from the journey, singing of the destination.”

That quote, taken from the homepage of Mike Mitchell’s website, captures my experience meeting the man who started the Floyd Music School and who sparks the magic of musicianship in his students. I interviewed Mike at the “Mountains of Music on Main” festival in Christiansburg, just as the rain moved through and bought relief from the summer afternoon heat. With the sounds of fiddles and guitars warming up for the evening performances, we found a relatively quite corner to chat.

Details

Turnpike Troubadours Rock the Lime Kiln Theater

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.

Details

Floyd Fandango Rings in the Summer!

What do you get when you combine 10+ hours of live music with craft beer tastings, a farm-to-table dinner, trail races, children’s activities, and wellness workshops, all in the heart of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains? It’s none other than the next generation cult classic: Floyd Fandango. Being billed as the “FloydFest Love Child,” Fandango…

Details

Randy Williams: The Story Behind the Song

One of the best things about attending Southwest Virginia Songwriters Association meetings is getting to hear the incredible songs that come from local musicians. Last month, SVSA member Randy Williams, brought a song to get critiqued by the group, and it’s so beautiful, and perfect for a special Father’s Day edition of Story Behind the Song.

Williams began writing songs as a teenager, but didn’t start focusing on songwriting until after his kids were grown. Crediting Angaleena Presley, Shawn Camp, Jason Isbell and Richard Thompson as some of his songwriting heroes, he writes to inspire others to see things from an unfamiliar perspective. His only real goal with songwriting is to be able to share an emotion or struggle that people can connect with. And with the song, “Look Up”, he truly accomplishes this goal. He recorded the song at Summit Sound with Jake Dempsey, who Williams said was crucial in bringing his songs to life.

Details

Blue Ridge KIDS Rock: Music Together in Roanoke

As a mom of a little girl, I’ve sought as many opportunities as possible to expose my offspring to music. I remember deciding the day she was born, that I was going to sing her the same song every night before bed: “I Will” by the Beatles. This song has always had the magical power to calm her down when nothing else would. It made her smile before she knew what smiling was. She would clap upon hearing it as soon as she discovered she had hands.

I truly believe that listening to music is a vital part of the developmental process in wee young ones. In Roanoke, there’s an ample amount of children’s music classes and I’ve tried out most of them. They’re all great in their own way but one sticks out, at least from a musician’s standpoint.

Details

Scott Sutton, a Mainstay of the Roanoke Music Scene

“Playing live, at its best is a spiritual rush! When a band connects, it’s like my eyes are closed, and I’ve gone to Pluto and back. When the song is over and I open my eyes, it’s like, whoa, what just happened, where am I?”

The joy that Scott Sutton brings to the stage is infectious as he lays down a steady bed of bass beats he has acquired over years of playing with a wide range of bands and genres.

Details

Eight Insights to Nikki Hill

There’s a sensational woman named Nikki Hill and she’s playing the Harvester tonight. Not only should you go see her to experience her immense vocal talent and diverse setlist, but go to be inspired by her pure, honest drive, independent spirit, and just general bad-assery. I not-so-secretly want her to be my best friend, because she’s already a role model for all of us who want our music to be bigger than YouTube channels and open mic nights.

Hill has played in Roanoke before on a much smaller stage. In 2013, her first year of touring, Hill played Blue 5, but those small tours have taken her to some pretty unique places. From a theme park in Sweden, to a palace in Morocco, to a tea tree farm in Australia, to the same stage where Otis Redding performed and Jimi Hendrix infamously set his guitar aflame.   This chick has played the world, and she does it all on her indie budget. As an independent artist, this self-described “music nerd”, relies on her passion for music and her “small but mighty” team to keep it all going. I asked Hill a variety of questions to get to know her a little better, so here are my top 8 insights about wonder woman, Nikki Hill:

AL: How did you develop your sound?

NH: It’s still developing and I hope it will continue! I like to think of it as a combination of my love for the energy and call and response style of early gospel, mixed with the attitude and fervor of rock n’ roll and soul, with a one-two-fuck you punch of the human experience and anti-system stylings of blues and punk. Honest and driven and giving it all each time on stage because that’s all there is and it’s all we’ve got.

Details

The Magic of FloydFest Returns to Downtown Roanoke

Across-the-Way Productions (AtWP), an event management company best known for its flagship event FloydFest, brings its unique vibe back to the Star City with two early June events. The first, a picnic-themed day of music, the Giant Jam Sandwich, is this Sunday, June 4, and features a delicious compote of bands at Elmwood Amphitheater, including festival jam band favorites Tauk and Big Something.

The following Friday, June 9, pop country duo Montgomery Gentry takes the Elmwood Park main stage. These events come after AtWP brought the Star City Concert Series to Elmwood Park in 2016 with nostalgic acts that included Huey Lewis, Blondie, and Brian Wilson.

Details

Festival in the Park Steady Rockin’ into its 49th Year!

Just three years after returning to its renovated home, Festival in the Park is set to kick off Friday evening with a diverse line-up of local, regional, and national talent, headlined by rock band, Blue Öyster Cult. In addition to the music, the three-day event will once again feature an array of arts, crafts, and family-friendly entertainment, that has made it as much a staple of Roanoke as the illuminated star that sits atop Mill Mountain.

It seems fitting that the Festival, which is celebrating 49 years of ushering in summer with great music in downtown, includes BÖC, which has been rocking the world stage for just as long. This year features 40+ bands over the course of three days. Much of the offerings are free to festival-goers, and admissions for the evening headliners are real bargain at only $5 per night or $10 for all three nights.

Details

Roanoke Hardcore: A Journey into DIY Culture

I attended my first hardcore punk show in the spring of 2011. I was a senior in high school and had started to discover new music and new genres daily thanks to the advent of high speed internet and MySpace. MySpace was directly influential on Roanoke’s music scene and allowed my group of friends to slowly discover others who enjoyed similar music.

I attended a few metal shows and while very enjoyable, the music couldn’t keep my attention long. This changed the day I went to my first hardcore show. It was a catharsis.

Through the internet, my music taste was ever-growing. My friends and I discovered different bands that we came to understand as hardcore bands. These bands carried themselves with the mentality of punk bands: DIY; but sonically carried more than just the punk sound. These bands had a wide array of influences: Punk, metal, and even somehow, alternative. It was a whole new realm.

Details

New Music Alert: The Practice Squad

On April 1st, Roanoke based melodic rock band, The Practice Squad, released their second album titled “The Fighter”. The Practice Squad, who formed in 2013, consists of members Travis Fitch (vocals), Brandon Robertson (drums), Seth Holderfield (bass), Matt Cox (guitar), and Zach Holderfield (guitar).

Previously a part of a cover band, they broke away to write and record their own songs. “Our goal has always been to write honest music that we believe in,” said Fitch. And each member contributes to the writing process. Their songwriting style typically begins with a melody on the guitar followed by the addition of percussion, ending with the lyrics.

Details