May 2024 VOCAL Songwriters Showcase

Our May VOCAL Songwriter’s Showcase was again live at O’Toole’s with performances from long-time members Steve Nuckolls and Rona Sullivan.

Steve opened the showcase with a great tune reminiscing about his childhood home in southwest Virginia, a town that was “Two Hours From Everywhere.” Then his solid tenor took us to “The Gossen Mines”, a place he knew in his childhood near Galax where you would get “iron your clothes” just by walking through. His song spoke of the risky thrills of exploring the old mine that his dad warned him about. The minor key infused the memories with a tension and longing well suited to his range.

Steve introduced us to a song “rewritten a hundred times” concerning “you know when you toil Monday and it seems you’ve already worked the whole week.” Despite the “workplace bull”, the singer is still headed for “Destination Party Time.” Next, he gave us a new song about a lesson from his dad on the subject of appreciating life and understanding rather than “things I have to do,” “You Get To” participate. “There’s a Future in Us” called on Steve’s high register and expressed the singer’s longing for relationship and the opportunity he felt was eluding him with someone who was once part of his life.

Another new tune was a stellar story about “my favorite waitress” who might not know the narrator yet but at least “She Remembered My Beer.” There was a nice sense of anticipation in the lyric that paid off at the bridge when they “finally got to know one another” and the lady “knows my beer by heart and now remembers my name.”

The song “Married to the Same Person” was based on acquaintances whose first marriages had been unsuccessful because of the similarities of each other’s spouses. The good news in the song is their new relationship represented “a just reward for our painful past…now that we’re married to the right person.” Steve closed with “Praying for a Rocky Top” where the singer hoped to find in his new home a place that recalled his fond childhood memories of a hometown “Rocky Top” establishment. The tune was another that rested in Steve’s higher register and you could hear the yearning for the security and sense of belonging from an earlier time. Well done.

Rona Sullivan’s set reintroduced VOCAL to her powerful alto and muscular songwriting after a couple of decades absence “because I lived on a farm.” She brought “Just Gimme the Truck” alive as the narrator told off her ex and dismissed the settlement for the mode of transportation most desirable at that time. Using an off-meter line to highlight the titled refrain made the message even more clear.

Next, she softened the delivery for a finger-picked “Beside the River,” an ode to her current home and the charms of waterside living. This used several augmented and ninth chords to accentuate the poignancy and allowed the nice vibrato in her voice to be accentuated in the longer notes during the mournful melody. Next, Rona took us to “a scary place in Virginia” to tell us the story of Three Forks, where “the snakes they handled” and the “secrets held by folks in the grave” spooked her so much, she was glad she “got out alive.”

The next song performed (she said it was out of her “angry” period) matched the stronger female narrator against a less skilled guy to whom “For the Cowboy at the Bar” was dedicated. The singer asserts, “I’m a gypsy [and] you think you are a cowboy.” However, the storyteller could see right through the bluster and wouldn’t be put on the “chain around your neck.” Similarly, “Expert” took issue with a narrow-minded fellow who claimed Rona wasn’t the right person to sing the blues, so she immortalized his appraisal by writing a blues tune to give him “your 15 minutes like Warhol said you would” while dismissing his “expert” opinion and proclaiming “I’ll sing whatever I want to.”

Woman in Black” was the tale of a self-described confident woman who is “a little bit weird” but sees herself in demi-god terms with “wings on my back” and later “flames on my back.” This was followed by a newer song about relationships where she admitted “Wherever I Am” she was always the person making the choices. She had some regret that “I follow me wherever I am” and she “can’t get far enough away from me.”

Songs can come from the weirdest places, Rona explained, introducing “I Don’t Need You” as an example, taking that phrase as a title when a friend asked her to stop looking over his shoulder in a project. The lyric confirmed her goal of making her own way as a singer/songwriter and not be silenced.

A lightly picked “Words” featured Rona’s compelling vocals in a folky ballad reminding listeners that she’s “got stories to tell.” The creativity will be in lifting the stories from her own life says the lyric. The final “Boggie Man” was a raw blues number about a character who “curse[d] the day he was born.” With “friends in high places” there’s a threat that he’ll “put you down” if you don’t steer clear. Glad you’re back in the fold, Rona. Let’s hear some more.



Showcase Photos

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Photo Credits: Matthew Costello and John Ellis

August 2023 VOCAL Songwriters Showcase #2


Our August VOCAL Showcase featuring 2023 Songwriter of the Year Carol “Torch” Torricelli continued the recent “live at O’Toole’s” performances that we have returned to after three COVID online showcase years. What a relief!

Steve Nuckolls
Steve opened the showcase with a song reminiscing about “Gossen Mines“, a place he knew in his childhood near Galax, and spoke of the risky thrills of exploring the old mine that his dad explained to a small boy while the minor key infused the memories with a tension and longing well suited to Steve’s solid tenor.

He followed that with the jaunty “Everything’s Just Two Good” that included some excellent and unexpected word play in a story about being grateful for a significant love relationship. Some great high notes in the melody showed off Steve’s mature vocal control. “What If She Liked It” was a memoir about meeting the woman who would become his wife, another relatable song drawn from his personal life. He explained that this tune was co-written with another musician in New England through a Zoom meeting.

What Keeps You Up At Night“, Steve explained, was one of many of his tunes that he didn’t “know where it comes from,” as he began writing with just a title and a guitar riff. What developed was a message about his significant other being able to count on him to be around to comfort her at tough times. “If You Want To Know My Love” had some strong guitar lines surrounding a tale of starting a relationship while feeling vulnerable from other hurts because “sometimes it’s not what’s said, it’s the words that go unspoken” that can reveal the truth of someone’s love. “A Future In Us” wrapped up his set with a song about compromise and a plea for patience and understanding to build up a relationship he believes in.

Carol “Torch” Torricelli
Headliner Torch also won (with co-writer Glen King) the Song of the Year award and she opened with that, delivering “Give Me The Simple Life” on her ganjo, a six-string banjo tuned like a guitar, with a tune that showed off her finger-style skills and her firm and flexible vocal delivery. Her next was COVID-inspired, her song “People Need Each Other” evoking the craving for intimate connection during the pandemic-necessary personal isolation, where touching wasn’t physically possible but forced us to reach out into a virtual space.

Switching to “Highway to Your Heart” (also co-written with Glen), she sang of missing home and a lover while her fingers kept a percussive beat on the strings. “Come to Virginia” was a love song to our state with details drawn from Torch’s long service with the state tourism agency.  This opened with a nice descending guitar line and moved to minor sevenths while Torch’s high-register vocal delivery and vibrato brought thoughts of early Joni Mitchell to mind when the melody ranged over several octaves.

Don’t Slow Me Down” drew on a “bucket list” trip to Italy some years ago to visit the origins of her immigrant parents. The trip included “my guitar, too” to help “lose the winter blues.”

Swinging and Swaying” recalled a trip to a national meeting, discovering a new friend that she was now missing, and used a compact chord structure to demonstrate the feeling of a desired closeness in the melody, which showed off her vocal chops and emphasized her expressive vibrato. Continuing the stories of personal liaisons, “Tossing Like A Salad (Over You)” used the fun and memorable metaphor to describe the difficulty of a long distance relationship that included unanswered messages by text, Facetime and email that “tossed” the singer’s feelings. This tune was distinguished by an interesting jazzy chord structure and arrangement that brought a “samba” feeling to the room.

The final two songs both concerned her nephew, Tommy. They showed a clear distinction in Torch’s songwriting development as the first about his birth, “Miracles Like This,” was written early in her musical life and the second, “Major Dad,” was penned decades later as Tommy concluded a long military career. “Miracles” used a simple straightforward chord pattern and a sweet melody line for a heart-felt homage to her sister and the new baby. “Major” was more melodically complex and leaned on Torch’s songwriting maturity to point to Tommy’s admirable strengths and accomplishments. Torch’s strong and accurate vocals and fine guitar work made both songs shine at the showcase.

~ Russell Lawson

Showcase Photos

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April 2023 VOCAL Songwriters Showcase

Monday evening, April 19, marked VOCAL's return to live performances!! Well, sort of...

There were over 20 people gathered at O'Tooles' Forest Hill location, to celebrate our first "live" Songwriters Showcase since the pandemic lockdowns. However, the perfect storm of miscommunications and misunderstandings. Due to the confusion, Jeff Wagner, who was scheduled, wasn't in attendance. He was missed.

Hours before the show it was discovered that O'Toole's closes its kitchen at 9 PM on Mondays and were advised that we shouldn't play past that time as the whole restaurant may close down if there's no bar business. We had a good crowd, and some people had driven a some miles to get there, so someone suggested that we just play without the sound system and see how things went.

So what is one to do? You gather in the bar side of the restaurant, place your drink and food orders, pull your guitars out of their cases, and you stage an unplugged, impromptu "guitar pull"! Erik Gaines, Steve Nuckolls, Jim Puckett, and Ken Roller, passed around their guitars and performed before an appreciative group. Before the evening ended, even a few of the O'Tooles regulars found their way over to our side of the bar.

This reviewer gave up trying to identify titles by the third song, because as good as the songs and performances were, that wasn't the point. What caught my attention were the smiles and hugs, the handshakes and laughter, the music and applause. For the first time since March of 2020, VOCAL was gathered together in the same room, at the same time...that was the point!

And a good time was had by all...

Showcase Photos

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November 2022 VOCAL Songwriters Showcase

In November VOCAL presented three singer-songwriter members in a program simulcast on Facebook and Zoom. Chaired by VOCAL President Matthew Costello, the showcase began with some sample songs by each of the participants while waiting for the live viewers to assemble before their devices.

John Ellis

Once done, the showcase started off with John Ellis who amped up his Taylor guitar and began with the instrumental "Chimes" which was complemented by a nice run of arpeggio chords that suited the title. This was followed by "Sweet Blues" a sad reflection of lost loving. Next came "Honestly" a more honest title would not have sufficed to describe the lyrical content of this song. "You gave me very little of yourself", "unending agony" were a couple of the lines and the kicker was the singer saying "you can go to hell". "Winter Solstice" is a staple instrumental in John's repertoire and this tune rang out with some big chords perhaps describing the darkness that the title suggested. "Autumn Hour" included some picturesque lyrics of the changing season and the declarative by the singer "I find my tranquility" in this time of year. Closing out his set was "Band of Silver" extolling the virtues of an inexpensive wedding ring preferring to offer this rather than a gold one as "there's no such thing as a second had wedding ring, (when) a band of silver will do".

Steve Nuckolls

Steve is a long time VOCAL member and a frequent performer on the showcase. Tonight he offered some old and new material less often done. "Lines of Love" is a tender tale of the connection between two people in love and their means of communication in silent but meaningful glances. Picking up hitch hikers can be a dangerous thing. But, when its Eugene, as Steve tells us in "Much Obliged" it can be an entertaining ride. Full of stories he always ended his travels with the phrase "Much Obliged" no matter who was taking him to his destination. Next " The Gosson Mines" was a cautionary tale to youngsters about the dangers of getting too close to the people who worked the mines and sawmills. Something new, " A Week To Over, Time" described the mundaneness of work as the singer proffered "daydreams are my lifeline" as an escape from the boredom of it all. Closing out his set, was "What If She Likes It". His set offered a nice contrast to John's with less rock musical overtones and more soft pop tones.

Jeff Wagner

Jeff has been in VOCAL for a couple of years and has played his songs for the members in meetings and in a previous showcase. He has more of a folk sensibility. Tonight he began with "House Burning In The Town Tonight" a tale of a traveling musician who vacillates between being on the road and being at home, mostly away from those loved ones at home. This was followed by "Sacred Mountain" a song full of descriptive images of being out in the desert landscape, as something like a rejected lover might feel, living in the sagebrush, under a red sky, cold nights and out where the coyotes howl. Redemption seems like a far away mountain. Aging has it drawbacks, for sure, but it can be fun, as well as Jeff tells us in "The Old Guard" which is a self reflective song in which he and three of his buddies star. They hang out together and each one has a life talent that distinguishes them one from the other, but they have one thing in common: they "Suffer no fools or cheap whiskey". "Sometimes" "how I miss that Joy and pain" gives us an overview of a relationship and the good and bad that can accrue over the years. "Reckless Kind" pictures a lifestyle of difficult choices that put the singer in jeopardy as his life comes on "like a big red storm". Last song in the set "The Devil Claims Your Soul" is a tale of an out of luck cowboy who can't get it together as in this line:"the wind calls your name, but, plans you made are like broken bottles on the barroom floor" Heavy duty stuff.

Three different singers, three different styles of music, great variety.



If the video below doesn't play when you click it, follow this link to watch it on Facebook: October 2022 VOCAL Showcase Facebook Live

May 2022 VOCAL Songwriters Showcase

May 2022 VOCAL Songwriters ShowcaseWelcome to another edition of the VOCAL Showcase streaming on Facebook and Zoom. Tonight's host was David Atkins and performers include two long time VOCAL members, its president, Matthew Costello and Steve Nuckolls. Opening the program were two recorded songs, "Sunrise" by Steve and "Diggin' For Elvis" by Matthew and his co-writer Roy Kauffman.

Steve Nuckolls

The live portion began with a set from Steve who started with "Looking For a Rocky Top" which included a picturesque description of a small country town in mountainous Virginia of which the singer hoped he would find elsewhere in his travels. "Lines of Love" told the tale of the things that hold love together, Next song was "A Higher Bar" in which the singer holds up for esteem for the actions of two young boys who saved some classmates. In the next song, "Gibson Guitar" the singer takes the role of a young boy who visits his local furniture store that sells other items, one being a Gibson Guitar which is displayed on a wall. The singer hopes one day he can own such a desirable object. The following song by Steve was a new one entitled "When To Pray". the substance of which was we don't need a church or calendar to tell us when to pray, it should be spontaneous. "Week To Be Overtime" tell us about the drawback of work day to day. The last song in Steve's set was titled  "A Future For Us" and it told the tale of giving and taking in love and that in true love the people work out their differences and continue in their relationship.

Matthew Costello

With the help of some backing tracks, Matthew began his set, with "Bound BY Walls Of the Past" . In it he describes a past relationship and how the memories of that still come back to haunt, which segues in "You and I" about a different relationship in which the participants are bound together. "All Things Pass" ( from 1978) sets out a laundry list of what we experience in life and how they come and go such as life, love, night and day etc. The centerpiece of Matthew's program tonight revolved around "The Artist Who Hung The Moon" a haunting tale of an artist and his struggle to paint, that which he observed, and the complications in his life that stymied his creation(s). A well woven tale in words and music. "Subway To Brooklyn" was presented as a recitation about a hook up in a stentorian tone much like a Guy Noir story heard on Prairie Home Companion. This was followed by a moving tribute to moms, (his, particularly) and how she was the backbone of the house and the reliance thereof by husband and family. The final song in Matthew's set "Life Is A Movie" outlined all the characters we meet and ourselves play in life; friends, strangers, lovers and others.

Another fine night of music from two accomplished songwriters.



Feb. 2020 VOCAL Showcase

Feb 2020 VOCAL Showcase
(due to a complete delete of a full review, I am only listing a set list of each performer. Sorry about that.)

Tonight’s performers included two returning songwriters, Jim Puckett and Steve Nuckolls. who was the featured performer.
Jim went first and did six songs.

  1. Runaway Horizon (a travelling song that ook us from east to west and back)
  2. In the Bargain ( it’s hard enough to love yourself musch less lose the one your love)
  3. On Your Mind ( you can forget me, i’m in your mind)
  4. Last of the Lonely Girls ( he ends up the last of the llonely men when all the girls are gone)
  5. Opalena ( a mountain doula who delivers many babies but has no surviving choldren of her own)
  6. Song of Love ( a song strangely enough, about love)

Steve Nuckolls followed with a 13 song set including the following:

  1. Making My Getaway (doing what it takes to supress one’s pride)
  2. Sitting In With Emmy Lou ( a Saturday session to sing along with Emmy Lou Harris)
  3. Sunrise ( equivaling a sunrise with the idea of hope)
  4. Something About Your Love (She is the singer’s answered prayers and a gift from heaven)
  5. The Flag’s At Half Mast (pondering the reasons why the flag is at half mast)
  6. Open Door ( Being thankful for the things on your life that make it what it is)
  7. Everything’s Just Two Good (body parts as a metaphor for loving someone)
  8. The Gibson Guitar ( a surprising place to see a guitar for sale, in a furniture store)
  9. Praying For a Rocky Top ( hoping good old country values still exist)
  10. Lines Of Love (how the words we say reflect on those we love and those that love us)
  11. Higher Bar (describing the sacrifices made by heroes in war and at home)
  12. Sumanye ( An African term for togetherness and pride in unity of a homogenious group)
  13. Two Hours From Everywhere (living in a town that is 2 hours from all the major cities and their offerings)

As seen by the above: there was a wide range of topics and ideas spun together by the two performers , and highly appreciated by the audience at hand.

VOCAL Feb. 2019 Showcase

VOCAL Showcase–Feb. 2019

A great night for music, hosted by Norm Roscher, at O’Toole’s bar and grille, before a huge crowd of music afficiandos.

Steve Nuckolls

The showcase began with long time member and audience favorite Steve Nuckolls. Steve brings a high lonesome tenor voice to his original songs that rings with authenticity, sincerity and truth. “that Old Road” tells the story of the back road country of Western Virginia where he grew up and paints a fine portrait of the countryside. Continuing in the country vein, “Rocky Top” wishes that all the little towns in the hills of Appalachia would have the atmosphere of old time country living, friendly people, and hospitality. “Gibson” is a sweet song about the singer’s longing to own a guitar he sees hanging on the wall in a furniture store. The song “Where The Morning Glories Grow” is a sad, yet happy tale of making choices in life that have profound effects. Next in Steve’s set was “Daddy Come Home, Soon” was the tale of a mother’s task of overseeing her kids and making sure they keep attending their activities such as church and sports till daddy comes home. One song that always shines and pleases the audience, is “Something About Your Love’ which is a sweet love song that tells of the singer’s attraction to his love and sports a singable chorus. “Normandy” was a sorrowful tales of visiting that site of a horrendous WWII battle and the memories it evokes. Where can you find inspiration for a song? How about in your own backyard, or alley as the next song demonstrated. Al the “Alleyman” goes around collecting cans for recycling and refuses to take charity from the neighbors whose alley he prowls, proving that even the down and outers have their dignity. Last song of the set was “Everything’s Just Too Good’ which was the VOCAL song of the year in 2018 and relates with what body parts the singer can appreciate his love interest as in two good arms to hold, two good eyes to see you etc. adding up to it all being too good.

Jeff Wagner

Jeff Wagner is a relative newcomer to VOCAL, and has done an open mic but never been a featured performer on the showcase. Tonight he corrected that with his set of original tunes. “The Reckless Kind” spun a tale of wild and crazy folks trying to get by in the world, followed by “Sometimes The Fire” in which the singer is a bartender offering advice to a heartbroken customer and swearing he’ll stand by and give support to her as it is needed. “a House Burning In The Town, Tonight” perhaps is autobiographical as it tells the tale of a musician who decides to quit music, but can’t stay away and eventually goes back to playing with a vengeance. Another sort of autobiographical story, to which most of the older folks in the audience could relate, was “I’m Not Ready To Go To Seed” in which the singer tries to adapt to advancing age by wearing longer hair (hippie style?) and reliving the old songs of his youth. The audience joined in on the chorus. Following that, the song “My Big Brother” was a really nice tribute to a long ago deceased brother who the singer keeps alive in memory, even though, he barely got to know him. “She Was Raised On Sad Songs” tells us of a lady who was in remorse, until she met a guy with a guitar and through making music together, found a source of happiness. A little bit of musical musing can next in the song “Bazouki” somewhat cryptic in nature, which then followed by “Song Songs We Need To Play” encouraging us to not give up to early on those songs which have meaning in out life. The last song of the set, and a stirring bit of musicality, was a tribute to the indigenous people of the Mattoponi tribe. This song filled the room with images of native American life, touching on tribal rituals and symbols such as drum beats, eagles, full moon and talking to the “old ones” for wisdom. Jeff even included some drum beats on the guitar to emphasize the subject.
Once again: the showcase proved the versatility and depth of the writers who belong to VOCAL.

2019 VOCAL Open Mic,

January 2019 VOCAL Showcase

Norman Roscher

Norman Roscher

Welcome to the first open mic night of the year. While the temperature took a dive into frigidity, the atmosphere in O’Toole’s was warm and toasty for some original music.

Hosting the event was stalwart entertainer Norm Roscher. To kick off the night he exhibited his exuberant piano styling with a couple of his tunes. “Yer Beautiful” was a tribute to an an attractive lady who evinced the qualities of the title in her style of dress and looks. “Apple Wine”, an older song rarely done by Norm, was a wistful journey into a young romance that ended sadly with one participant leaving the country.

Steve Nuckolls

Steve Nuckolls

Next up was another stalwart of VOCAL, Steve Nuckolls, who regaled the huddled audience with a trio of his well written songs. “Saturday Morning With Emmie Lou” Was tale of learning to play along with her (Emmie Lou Harris’s) songs, proudly gearing up for the session with new guitar strings and picks. He followed that with “Each Town Has It’s own Rocky Top” which illustrated how small towns have a great country vibe of people and atmosphere. A song written while running, was next. “When Like Turns to Love” which analogized the transformation of emotions to the weather.

Jeff Wagner

Jeff Wagner

A fairly new member of VOCAL, Jeff Wagner, on guitar, followed Steve. “Wide Open Wyoming” was a tale of two separated lovers who fouhd a way to come together by compromising their geographic differences, in a hurricane, no less. “I Think I Might Forget, This Time” details a desire to get over a past relationship but the singer keeps getting images of her, that won’t go away, and leaves him perplexed. Jeff closed his set with “Who’s Your God” a sort of self explanatory song that asks the listener to think about what they worship.

Keely Burn

Keely Burn

Keely Burn, a younger member of VOCAL, came on stage next with her newly acquired baritone ukulele and tested out her chops on “I’m Not Afraid” a work in progress, but still well done. Next, she performed “Come Down Love” , which she opened with a whistle intro, before getting into the song. This was a plea to an unrequited lover to recognize her and give her a chance at romance with the line “Plant your flag on me”. “Lightning” was the next tune. In this one, she seems to be mad at a love interest for being jilted, somewhat amazed at quickly emotions can change.

To round out the night, Norm returned to play a few more of his songs. In his more bawdier manner, the first song was “Mr. Calls Got Big Balls” followed by a co-written ( Pam McCarthy) tune “Idle Time” and closing out with a standard of his”So Long Baby, Bye Bye”.
Once again, a great night of music was provided and enjoyed by all present.

Happy New Year from VOCAL.

VOCAL Showcase February 2011

-by Matt Manion

Collaboration between VOCAL members was on display February 21, 2011 at February’s VOCAL Showcase at O’Tooles Restaurant. Headliner Steve Nuckolls was joined on stage by fellow VOCAL members John Ellis and Larry Cody. Gary Shaver, who opened the evening, brought up Norman Roscher and friend Alan Cole, and surprised a few songwriters in attendance by performing their songs. Bill Kaffenberger, who was originally scheduled to perform, was unable to make it, but hopefully Bill will join us for a future showcase.

Gary, at his keyboard, opened his set with two of his own love songs. The first contained the refrain “my love is somewhere between her and you”. Gary’s performance caused one member of the audience to comment that Gary sounded like Floyd Cramer, the American Hall of Fame pianist who was one of the architects of the “Nashville Sound”. Gary followed it with a song about lovers who look back on their affair, the only thing left being “words on a page, yellow with age.”

The wood and brick interior of O’Tooles came alive for the next number when Gary invited Norman Roscher up to the keyboard to perform a rollicking Norman song called “Roamin’ Eye”. Gary blew alto sax as Alan Cole added tenor sax, and Norman sang in his distinctive, rich, gravely voice “…can’t put a leash on them dog-gone roamin’ eyes.”

Gary then announced that he was going to play a composition written by his friend Frank Lucas, who was in the audience. Alan added sax over Gary’s keyboards and showed how lovely and complete just two instruments can sound. Frank seemed pleased at the unexpected surprise.

Falling scales and deft fingerwork highlighted Gary’s next song, which he said sat unfinished for 10 years at the end of his piano bench. Expressing the struggle of human communications, he entoned “we’re just lost at sea, if you won’t talk to me.” And later…”let’s not sink too deep, just believe in me.”

Gary had another surprise up his sleeve. This time he honored Jim Uzel, another VOCAL member in the audience, by performing a Uzel composition. A sad, last song to a once lover, the lyrics tell the story: “…now that our love is gone, all that’s left is a sweet, sweet love song.” The song ends with a beautiful chord change.

Gary dedicated his last song, a Shaver original, to Marg, who was enjoying the music at a nearby table. A heartfelt love song, Gary sang “…and I stand amazed by your love”, and “…I thank you, my darling, for lifting me up”.

John Ellis served as MC for the evening and announced that Steve Nuckolls would be up shortly. After a brief interlude, Gary introduced Steve, who introduced his first song: Simunye.

Steve explained that the inspiration for Simunye came from a trip Steve and his wife Janice took to Africa. They had ridden an hour on horseback to a Zulu village which had no water or electricity. A reunification effort was going on at that time after a civil war, and “Simunye” can be translated as “we are one” or “we are one with this land”. John added guitar to this moving song, and member Larry Cody added harmony from the audience during the chorus.

Next was one of Steve’s newer songs, the genesis of which came this past New Year’s Eve as he was out running. “My Prayer of Thanks” is an expression of appreciation of each day, with the recognition that it could be our last. Steve dedicated his next song, “Grayson Lady”, to Ethel. It was an uptempo song with images of forests and hills.

John added guitar, and Larry plucked the bass, for Steve’s next song, “Making My Getaway”. The three musicians fell right in together and their instruments and vocals blended as if they had just come off the road after a long tour. During “When the Flag’s Half-Mast” that followed, a member of the audience commented “That Larry Cody can keep some time. He’s just got a good ear.”

Next up was “Sunrise” featuring Steve’s high, clear tenor sailing over the guitars. John’s lead was perfect, sounding almost like a banjo. A hopeful, gorgeous, song with lyrics “…you know there’s always a sunrise”.

“There’s something about your love that keeps me on the ground…” sang Steve for his next tune, followed by a song he described as a “true story told second hand”.  One audience member commented that Steve hits those high notes like Dan Fogelberg. Coincidentally, Steve joked from the stage “I think I’ll do one with my high voice.”  Steve ended his set with his “At Home on the Back Roads” and “Living Out This Love” rounding out a great set for the appreciative audience.

A fine evening of original music, made finer by the collaboration between our members and friends. Please join us for the next VOCAL showcase April 21 and watch for our newsletter for details.

VOCAL Showcase June 2010

The 227th Vocal Showcase at O’Tooles Restaurant on June 21st saw another full house, listening to the fine talents of three of Vocal’s premiere songwriters.

First off was the always entertaining Bill Wellons, with his Randy Newmanish piano tunes both topical and humorous. Bill started off his set with “Champions of the World”, in this reviewers opinion a masterpiece of exotic keyboard settings and melody and timing changes that kept you wanting more. His “Just for the Fun of It” was a playful instrumental one could imagine playing behind a silent movie. “Oh Hurricane”, was a touching tale about the woes of New Orleans following Katrina, with lyrics both biting and tender. “426” was titled such because “that’s when I wrote the song, and couldn’t think of anything else to call it”, was another instrumental portrait for whatever thought the listener might have while appreciating this heart felt melody. Next, “Doggone Blues” was a morous look at dog ownership to which many in the audience could relate.  Lastly, Bill played a new tune called “Man That’s Good Eatin”, which was about as close to Rap that I’ve ever heard Bill come, set to a bouncy country/ polka beat, and sung the celebration of food.  It was a tasty and solid set of tunes.

Second up, Steve Nuckolls, treated the audience to a set of his sensitive ballads.  Steve has more tenderness in his guitar pick than I have in my whole body!  His ballads span the topic map, from leaving the hectic life in “Making My Get-a-way” to his heartstrings tugging love song, “Something About Your Love”. Then he sings about his mountain roots in “Back Home in the Backroads” where he hits some high notes that I was sure was due to a tugging pixie in his tighty-whities, Whew! His next tunes, “Alleyman” and ” When the Flags Half-Mast” spoke of homelessness, and death with melodies that carried the message straight to your heart.  “Much Obliged” was about the stories of a hitch-hiker during one of his rides, and the closer, ” Simunye” summed up emotions from a trip to Africa.  Steve as always, kept us in touch with our hearts.

The headliner, was Triad, which is comprised of Dave Pollard, and Dale and Vickie Payne. Dave and Dale played acoustic guitars, while Vickie kept the percussive beat. Their sound, which I could best describe as “country folk pop” was uplifting and tight. The harmonies brought many of the tunes to a professional peak that never let you down. The first number, “Leaving Town” was an instrumental with some punchy guitar licks provided by Dale. “Goodbye”, was a heartfelt tune about an ended love affair, and showcased the background vocal harmonies these three have mastered. “Anne Marie”, a tune written and sung by Dale, was a country-folk ballad also about failed love, and was sung with passion and flair. “Downtown Side of the Street”, a Dave Pollard song that reminded me of Dan Fogelberg, was an uplifting number that just made you want to smile.  “Reach Out Your Hand” was written by Dave to his sister, who was having difficulties at the time. I’m sure this tune helped bring her out of her funk just for the sheer positive vibe of the message and melody.  “Devil’s Den” was a Dale song that sounded like a bit of Steve Earle influence was evident.  Sung by Vickie, it was a touching number about the woman left behind by her military husband who was eventually lost to war.  A chilling tune made tender by the close harmonies of Dave and Dale.  “Church of the Mind” as Dave said, “is a tune about Ocracoke.  Spoke of hanging out at this mental place for a bit of escape “every Wednesday at 10!” The next number, “Rock Me in the Cradle (Roll me in your arms)” was a love song that had a Jimmy Buffet meets Jim Croce feel.  The great guitar licks took this tune to the next musical level.  The closing song was one written by Dale called “Bull Pasture River”.  This county tinged tune was about a beloved mountain get a way which was beautifully painted by the tight backing vocals of Dave and Vickie.

As Triad were singing about “heaven in the hills” on this final number, I was thinking..”heaven is right here, right now with all of this great music”.

Thanks to all for a thoroughly engrossing show!

-Norman Roscher

VOCAL Showcase December 2009

VOCAL’s holiday showcase was number 221 in the longest running continuous showcase in Central Virginia! It was much more than a typical showcase with 10 performers, a standing room only crowd and a festive atmosphere.  The festivities were almost brought to a halt by a surprisingly large winter snow storm two days earlier, but with passable roads, the showcase went on without a hitch!

While the music is the reason for having a showcase, the December showcase was much more than a musical exhibition.  The night came together because of the generosity of our supporters, the hard work of our performers, the spirit of our audience!

We were all glad to be back at O’Tooles restaurant at 4800 Forest Hill Avenue in Richmond for the second showcase at this great location.  It’s a wonderful venue for music, food and to celebrate a festive time of the year.  

Part of the evening’s festivities were giveaways for the audience.  CD’s were donated by The Taters, Marna Bales, Dave Pollard, Norman Roscher, Cy Taggart, Gerry Laverty and Pops Walker.  We cannot thank these folks enough for their generosity, wich added a lot to the evening’s excitement.  During short intermissions spread across the evening, drawings were held for the audience members who received boxed sets of the donated CD’s.  We also must pass along a huge thanks to Gary Shaver for bringing along the tickets for the drawing and generally helping with the giveaways.  Matt Manion was invaluable in his assistance with the giveaways for the VOCAL members in attendance.

The music was the main point of the evening, but there was so much packed into this one evening, it would be impossible to fit it all into one article.  Gary Shaver was on hand to play with fellow songwriters such as Bill Wellons and John Ellis as well as performing some of his own work.  Rose Ann Robbins did a spoken word performance of one of her poems, adding a unique touch to the evening.  Other performing songwriters included Steve Nuckolls, Norman Roscher, Matthew Costello, James Lester and Don Pinkleton with son Robbie.

The Taters wrapped the night up in a great big bow for the holidays, with a thirty minute set that included tried and true, tasty Tater tunes, as well as some cover songs including a grand jam of Feliz Navidad that included most of the performers from the night!  It was such a great time.  The night just flew by and everyone was in great spirits heading up to Christmas.

Thanks to Larry Cody for producing the evening’s flyers, to Matt Manion for his continued assistance with anything that is needed and to all the fans, listeners, members of the public and anyone within listening distance!  We’ll see you in 2010!

VOCAL Showcase October 2009

The October 19, 2009 showcase was a little new, a little old, a little folk, blues and soul!   We welcomed new member Cheryl Fare to the stage for her showcase debut, Darry Ellyson brought out some new songs as well as some of his great older material, and Steve Nuckolls treated the showcase crowd to his featured performance including new material.  Showcase #219 was a great event for live, original music in the river city!

Cheryl Fare kicked off the evening with her mixture of folk, jazz and blues.  In addition to songwriting, Cheryl’s creative endeavours include 17 years in theater.  Her website includes a blog and bio – check it out!  Cheryl started her set in a laid back fashion with the first song she recorded ‘The Messy Song’ which sounded wonderful with the piano accompaniment of Sonny Baharloo.  Many sources in life provide inspiration for her songs like ‘Roll Me Under’, which is based on a book she read.  Throughout the set, Cheryl’s smooth, but strong vocal was a pleasure to drink in, made all the sweeter by strum of her acoustic guitar and Sonny’s work on the keyboard.  The song ‘Stones in my Pocket’ was a wonderful lead-in for the next song, which celebrated the bygone days of the Ford Pinto, ‘Springfield’.  This song brought back a lot of memories for those of us in attendance.  It is wonderful to have Cheryl as part of VOCAL and to have this opportunity to hear her original works on the showcase stage – we hope she’ll come back in 2010!

Darryl Ellyson was up next with new material, and the beautiful tone of a Martin guitar for accompaniment.  The crowd did not have to wait too long for a sample of Darryl’s new material, because he started off with the fresh new lyric ‘Romeo’s Hot Tonight’.  Darryl kept the theme of love going through much of the set as he worked his way through ‘I’m Still in Love With You’ and ‘I’m a Fool for You’.  As always his booming vocal was strong and carried throughout the venue like a thunderclap across a summer sky.  After the song ‘I’m Late Again’, Darryl decided to treat us to his attempt at his own version of Bluegrass music ‘The Diamond Ring’, then closed out the set with a favorite ‘When I Get Home’.  Learn more about Darryl’s music and where he’ll appear next at

After Darryl packed up and mingled with the crowd, it was time for the much anticipated appearance of our featured performer for the night, Steve Nuckolls.  Steve is a Virginia songwriter who is originally from a musical hot spot known as Galax, Virginia.   Known for thoughtful songwriting with a very human quality to his subject matter, Steve has written many great songs based on his travels, whether overseas or in the small town where he grew up, often inspired by the people he has met along the way.  Love was the theme of choice for the first part of Steve’s set as he began with ‘Living Out This Love’, then moved right into ‘Die for Love’ (one of the first songs he wrote) and ‘Your Loving Arms’.  ‘Hand Me Downs’ is a wonderful song about making due with what you have as seen from the viewpoint of growing up as a younger sibling.   Amidst some classic songs such as ‘Greetings from Normandy’, ‘Much Obliged’  and ‘Alley Man’, Steve offered a new song to the crowd ‘Something About Your Love’, a wonderful surprise for the crowd.  The song ‘Alley Man’ has a true backstory to it, from Steve’s interactions with a gentleman who would patrol the alley’s in his neighborhood just looking for the time and maybe some tin cans to take away.  With his quiet, but confident vocals and a guitar style that jumps between strumming and fingerpicking, Steve evokes images of James Taylor and other singer/songwriters who have made major contributions with an acoustic guitar and a thoughtful lyric.  The set closed out with a song inspired by a trip to Africa ‘Simunye’ and a song inspired by a trip down Interstate 95 ‘Sunrise’. 

Thanks to all of our showcase attendees for supporting live, original music, it would not be a showcase without you!  And since we are a volunteer organization, we could not get the showcase off of the ground without help from dedicated members like Larry Cody who provides table tent cards (and a whole lot more), Matt Manion for sound services, as well as just being there when you need him, and Matthew Costello of Costello Media for photography and web services.  We’ll see you next month at a new location O’Tooles Restaurant and Pub .  See you there!