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.


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…


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Surrender Dorothy: Never Giving Up

Roanoke rock band Surrender Dorothy is celebrating its 25th anniversary as part of the local music scene. To help highlight that celebration, Blue Ridge Rocks interviewed the band’s only original founding member who is still part of the group: Chris Spradling.

Spradling originally formed the group (25 years ago, go figure) with guitarist Steve Anderson.

“We were both playing with The Worx, but wanted to start a band that played something a little different,” Spradling said in a recent email interview.

Over the course of time, the band has undergone a number of different incarnations. Currently, it consists of Spradling on guitar and keys, Dean Ferguson on guitar, Tad Dickens on drums, and Jason Davis on bass. Davis joined the group after former bassists Henry Hancock lost his life to a series of illnesses following a stroke.


Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy Tour Comes to The Harvester

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.


An Interview with Roanoke Hip-Hop Artist Harvest Blaque

Harvest Blaque—the Roanoke hip-hop artist also known as Bryan Hancock—has a show Saturday night from 8 to 11 at The Bazaar of Roanoke record shop. The bill features Equally Opposite from Charlottesville, as well as Knuckleheadz (Grandmaster Jax & Ol’ Dirty Dada) who will “open the evening with a short but memorable set,” according to Blaque.

The artist, who blends multiple genres, including rock, country and blues, to form his original hip-hop sound that he terms “soul hop,” also emcees a regular Poetry Slam at 16 West Marketplace. Blaque recently sat down with Blue Ridge Rocks to discuss his approach to music and his career.

Tell me a little about how you first got started in music?

I have to give my dad the credit. He played a lot of great band records. I remember growing up as a kid and listening to his music and wanting to express myself through music. My parents divorced when I was five and my aunt told me to keep a journal of my feelings. I would record shows and do lip sync battles and write my own verses. I always wanted to rap and do music one way or another.


Barenaked Ladies Show Review with Slideshow

“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.


5 Points Music Sanctuary: A Celebration of Sound

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.”


Concert Review: Lone Bellow Rocks The Harvester Performance Center

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.”


An Evening with Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit: Review with Photo Slideshow

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!”


Blue Ridge KIDS Rock: The Music Lab @ The Jefferson Center

If you’re reading this, chances are, you consider music to be a vital part of life.  You appreciate this form of art and more than likely, others as well.  Valuing the arts, and understanding their importance as a form of not just enjoyment, but communication as well, is the point of this series I will present to Blue Ridge Rocks readers over the next few months.  Blue Ridge KIDS Rock will provide our readership with information about the current organizations and businesses that offer the children in our community what all of us at Blue Ridge Rocks so value: exposure to the wonder that is music.

The Jefferson Center is home to my first subject: the Music Lab.  The Music Lab provides an educational experience for kids in grades 6th-12th.  At the incredibly affordable price of $100 per semester, students can sign up with no prior musical experience, and receive instruction in music technology, music recording and production, songwriting, and various other parts of the music business.  If students are so inclined, they may attend Music Lab workshops, classes, or open lab up to four times a week.  My limited math skills tell me that’s around $1.67 per day they attend!  #Value!  Students also have the opportunity to utilize incredible musicians who provide individual lessons in drums, cello, voice, guitar, piano and violin, at a reasonable hourly rate.


Story Behind the Song: Poe Mack

While this may come as a surprise to some, the genre of rap music is highly coveted by most songwriters. I happen to REALLY enjoy just listening to hip-hop, but as a songwriter (of primarily folk music), I can’t help but be in awe of the ability to create so many internal, clever rhymes in a 3-4 minute span.

Poe Mack, a hip-hop artist from Roanoke, has been making music for over 20 years. He tours up and down the east coast, from Maine to the country music capital, Nashville, all the way down to Florida. Mack, who is signed to Roanoke-based Rawsole Records, is a man of many talents. Not only is he a lyricist, but he produces, records and engineers his own tunes. He produces for others as well in his home-studio and has been working at Flat Five Press and Recording Company since 2005. Mack is also active in the community, performing in benefits for ovarian cancer, Hurricane Katrina disaster, and the victims of the Virginia Tech Massacre.


Slideshow: The Samantha Fish Band at The Harvester

The sultry Samantha Fish made her third appearance at The Harvester Performance Center on Wednesday night. This was the Kansas City blues guitarist’s first time playing the main stage and she owned every foot of it, putting on a high-energy rock / blues show for the crowd. Fish has an incredibly charismatic stage presence and absolutely slays those blues guitar solos, all while rocking out in stiletto heels.


The stage wasn’t the only thing that was different from her past performances. Since her last visit to Rocky Mount, her backing band has grown from a three-piece to a larger six-piece ensemble. With the accompanying horn section, tunes like “Crow Jane” come alive with the deep tones of saxophone and the high brass of trumpet. Fish performed several songs from her recently released “Chills and Fever”, an album she recorded with members of the garage rock collective Detroit Cobras. That collaboration shouldn’t surprise Samantha’s fans as she has always maintained a strong bridge between blues and hard rock, as demonstrated in this 2014 performance of “War Pigs“.

While Wednesday night’s performance didn’t get to the “Black Sabbath-level” heavy, Fish certainly brought high energy and power to her past hits and new blues tunes. Enthusiastic crowd reactions made it clear why Fish has returned to the Harvester, and will surely make this venue a regular stop as her star continues to rise.

Future tour dates, music, videos, and all manner of merch can be found at her website. We look forward to seeing her back at the Harvester or another regional venue soon!