January 2022 VOCAL Songwriters Showcase

Tonight’s showcase, simulcast on Zoom and Facebook Live, featured two veterans of the Richmond music scene, Steve Nuckolls and Jim Puckett.

Introducing the performers, was Matthew Costello, VOCAL President who, while waiting for the viewers to arrive, kicked off the show with a couple of pre-recorded songs, one from each of the performers. “When Rain Turns to Snow’ was from Steve, who later did it live, and “Sunshine Knows Your name” was Jim’s offering, also done live later on.

Steve Nuckolls
To start the live show, Steve began with a series of songs written during the pandemic. “Her Celebrity” offers a tale about she makes him her celebrity of love. Lessons from his father were sprinkled through the next song “Nothing At All” with the advice, if you can say something nice about somebody, say nothing at all. This was followed by “There’s Future For Us” self explanatory and then “Black and Blue” opining how things could be in a perfect world, if we didn’t beat up on each other so much. “Hell Out Of Hereway” is a tale of the singer not being accepted in his own home town, and all the abuse suffered, until he can get the hell out of there and find a new place to live. “Six Feet Away” has the singer keeping social distance between himself and others for fear that if he doesn’t, he will end up six feet underground. The next song in his set, was an older song “Praying For A Rocky Top” which hopes the singer will find those traits of comfort that he found in his hometown, he will find in other places, He analogizes that feeling as in a Norman Rockwell painting. Closing out his portion of the show, he did the live version of the opening song “When Rain Turns to Snow“. A nice love song about how much his lover makes him feel warm and comforted when the weather changes.

Jim Puckett
Jim began his set of 10 songs, with “Breaking Ground” about infrastructure and all the progress that needs to be done to bring society into harmony, this was followed by “Vegas By Now” a tale of two people blowing their chances of making it to Vegas by making bad decisions. “The Only Stars” was a sad song about love lost: The stars (that were) in her eyes are now only the stars in the sky. “Feelin’ Lucky” describes some scenarios where the singer escaped from losing his life, like drowning or caught in a fire and is glad to be alive. Next up, “Brave New Face” a stoic look at trying to hide from a relationship that fell apart. “Here Comes The way It Goes” was followed by “So Help Me” which says “I’ll go as far as I need” (to go) to make things go smoothly again. “Mae June” is another sad tale of an ending relationship in July, a play on the title, but we should enjoy that which we have had up to now. “Shaky Leg” was kind of a nonsense song about a dog shaking his leg. The last song in his set was the live version of “The Sunshine Knows Your Name” in which the singer tells the object of his love “black clouds remember the rain and embers remember the flame” but for you “The Sunshine Knows your Name” And who wouldn’t like that.

Great night for music as always when such fine performers as above do their songs.

December 2021 VOCAL Songwriters Showcase

December 2021 VOCAL Virtual Holiday Songwriters Showcase

The annual VOCAL Holiday Showcase took place on Monday, December 21, 2021 in the pandemic-mandated virtual format. We had several VOCAL members perform some of their holiday/seasonal-inspired songs for this very special performance. Matthew Costello introduced the evening by playing a couple of winter-inspired instrumentals: Return (about the Winter Solstice by Matthew) and Winter Solstice (John Ellis).

Longtime member David Atkins opened the show with his signature honky-tonk tune Wish You Were Here, a bar tale about someone drinking in honor of his ex-girlfriend. He then performed the songwriter-inspired number The Ones Who Would Sing Their Own Songs, a fitting tribute to VOCAL members, and which earned him the Songwriter of the Year award a few years ago. He ended his set with a new song (and first single ever released) We’ve Never Needed Christmas More. There could not be truer words spoken regarding the holiday season in light of the pandemic. This is a very beautiful song with many descriptive images that conjure up great memories. Way to go, David!

Glen King then took the virtual Zoom/FB stage on piano with a new and thought-provoking Christmas song called What Will You Give Jesus. This is a well-written song that may stir up a bit of soul-searching when we are all caught up in our frenzied shopping and holiday festivities and forget the true meaning of Christmas. He then delivered a fairly new song Fanning the Flames of Love, a Doo-wop-ish number inspired by his early years listening to a NY radio station. This is a touching ode to a longtime love that is still as hot today as it was when it started! Glen ended his set with a philosophical number called Live Like There’s No Tomorrow, a tale about keeping your priorities straight, live for the day, etc. A great message that we all need to hear! Great job, Glen!

Russell Lawson brought us one of his just-polished Christmas songs, Dear Santa, and he won’t be satisfied until he sees Santa’s merry smile. With gift requests of X-boxes, iPhones, etc. the holiday certainly has changed! It’s a really cool song with vivid images and a lot of “furniture in the room” keeps us close to the holiday spirit! The High Road is a work-in-progress song co-written with a friend of his advising us to take the High Road but don’t linger there – it’s easy to fall down! Wayne and Maggie’s Grill came to Russell in a dream, and its setting is out in the middle of nowhere where it never snows, the river runs slow, and the truckers keep the hammer down. Needless to say, when the six-lane interstate came through it blew it apart. Many country/folk musicians played the place through the years, so the whole town shed the tears when it was torn down. He then delivered another holiday song Christmas Time is Here – holiday shoppers with kids in tow. Many great images here of Gingerbread, lists being made, etc., and the gifts look best by candlelight! Eggnog and candy canes definitely show that Christmastime is here! Great job, Russell!

Jim Puckett joined the celebration with his new song Winter Town, a place where he’s often thought of getting away from but just can’t bring himself to do. Even when the days are short and nights are long, he’s content to burn his boots in the town where he feels he belongs. He feels the pull of old familiar ways. Snowy Mountain Bride is one of his signature tunes. The Civil War soldier is making his way from the battlefield back home and hopes to be there by Christmas Eve. High up on that mountain the wind blows cold on the western side, and there lives a girl I’m gonna marry someday, my Snowy Mountain Bride.

It was refreshing to see longtime member Karen Trump take the stage with two of her tender and finely-crafted songs. God’ Redeeming Grace recounts the tale of falling in love in the springtime when all the flowers were in bloom. The Golden Road contrasts the easy, wide-open road to Hell with the narrow path that leads to Heaven. The Golden Road is shiny bright and it will guide me through the night. Lots of good imagery here to keep me engaged. Welcome back, Karen!

The evening was closed out by VOCAL member Jeff Wagner who delivered three of his reflective numbers. Snow Drift is a “Cowboy Christmas” song that could have gone sideways but instead has a happy ending. No one wants to die in a snow drift on a frigid night with an empty bottle of whisky and her name on his lips! Songs We Need to Play is a tribute to the sages who just need to tell/sing their stories as part of the healing process. I apologize for keep you out so late, but my years are getting short and there’s just so much still left to say! Holding Hands on Christmas is about a loving couple who have been together for over 40 years – the laughter far outweighs the tears; every ornament has a story to tell, and we know those stories all too well.

Another wonderful VOCAL virtual showcase, and Happy Holidays to all!


Tonight’s virtual showcase presented on Zoom and Facebook, featured Justin Laughter and Bill Kaffenberger.

Justin Laughter
Justin is a long time VOCAL member and besides performing his songs, has offered his legal advice to members of the group for many years at monthly meetings. Tonight he was playing a selection of his songs. “Sue” ( or candied apple) compared a recent love to “the coldest winter I’ve ever known”. “Short Roads” (rows?) refered to what farmers call the end of the crop when the fields are going into remission. Next was “1040EZ” in which the singer lets us know that he is a tax paying, debt free person. “Paul Revere” described the famous midnight ride of the title and compared i to what our current world looks like with regard to character. “Under” a song for Melissa, was a highly syncopated tune which was followed by “Holiday Movie” . This song asks the question is “Die Hard” a Christmas movie or merely a movie set in December. That question continues to today.

Bill Kaffenberger
Bill recently rejoined VOCAL after a hiatus of few years. Once a local musician, he has since relocated to Los Angeles to be near family. Of course, with the magic of the internet, he was able to perform live and in person tonight. His first song, “A Clear Dsy For Peace” was, in fact, his first song written when he was 17. “In The Morning” a co-written song describes the angst of breaking up by “remembering the things we shared” which now cause heartache. A fine tribute song “Dad” came next, in which he honored his late father with lines like ” I miss you” and “I love you” were freely given. Songwriters sometimes cite who influenced them and molded their style: Bill is no exception. He greatly admired the Byrds and many of his songs have that 12 string Rickenbacher twang. While not playing it tonight. he did a song “Maybe By Then” which had that sort of Byrds sound. “Misty Around” described a broken romance and how hard it is to day goodbye to someone you loved. In the same vein: “She’s So Real” was a portrait of of someone the singer loves. Next in his set, was “Summer Day, Summer Sun” in which the songer remininsces about lost youth. “Watching The World Go Mad’ talks about ll the crazy things and all the disconnects that go on around us everyday. To close his performance, Bill ripped off a quicky song titled “And So It Goes” which was the closing line of a long time ago news show hosted by Linda Ellerby. Tonight’s showcase feattured two songwriters showing their versaitility and styles of songwriting, which of course, is what songwriting is all about.

October 2021 VOCAL Songwriters Showcase

The October 2021 VOCAL Virtual Showcase spotlighted two of VOCAL’s favorite writers Roy Kauffman and John Ellis. This was another virtual showcase using Zoom while streaming via FB Live, which has been our standard operating procedure during the pandemic.

Roy Kauffman
Roy opened the evening with several of his finely-honed tunes. He deviated somewhat from his normal manner and read a verse prior to playing the song. Sad Sad World describes the state of the world today, and he sums it up well with “I feel like a pinball in a world gone to freefall”. Dream of Me is a hard-driving number asking his babe to think of him while he’s away, and they’ll be together again soon. I Don’t Know Why asks what else I can do – I’ve given it my best, but you have no interest in continuing this relationship – these gray skies just won’t turn blue. Can’t Let it Go can’t help looking back in your life, wondering if maybe you could/would have done things a little differently – trying to keep this train from running off the tracks, trying not to lose my grip. Might Keep Us in Love is a Robert Earl Keen-ish number featuring the multi-talented Roy on harmonica and guitar – you’re afraid and so am I – like Chicken Little looking for the falling sky. Maybe we should just admit that we’re in love! A Few Important Parts fondly remembers a dear friend who passed away – we’ll see you later and keep you in our hearts as we put things back together there’s a few important parts. Any Other Way describes the pleasant, comfortable life with your loved one, sitting at home, playing your favorite song. Kids are too expensive and grow up way too fast, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Way to go, Roy!

John Ellis
John then treated us to some fine guitar and vocal work, including some of his seasonal numbers. Autumn Hours is a seasonal tune he recently finished, reflecting on the peaceful nights and tranquility brought about this time of year. Walking With Sharon is a pleasant instrumental inspired by walks around a lake with his good friend Sharon. Winter Solstice is another instrumental and is a signature song of John’s featuring his unique guitar style of delicate picking and strumming. I’ll Be There for You is a heartfelt number expressing the dedication to someone you hold very special. Put Me in My Place is another of John’s signature tunes, a hard-driving love-gone-South song that many folks can relate to. Keep up the good work, John!

Kudos to Roy and John for yet another outstanding VOCAL virtual showcase!

September 2021 VOCAL songwriters Showcase

Once again, tonight’s showcase was a virtual affair due to COVID restrictions.  The program was seen on both the Zoom and Facebook  links jointly. Tonight’s performers were Matthew Costello and Matt Manion.  

Matthew Costello
Matthew is the VOCAL President and was the first performer.  He opened the show with his classic song “Diggin’ for Elvis’ which describes the singer’s search for where the elusive idol might be hiding or eternally resting.  “The Artist That Hung the Moon” was  tribute  to John Atkinson Grimshaw who was well known for his moonlight shining through the trees nightscapes. This was followed by “If You Knew”, a psychological examination of the singer’s thought process. Next came “She Made You A Home”, tribute to  his mother and the home she inhabited for 46 years and was the touchstone of his growing up.  “An Affair of the Art”  tells the story of Anna,  Grimshaw’s muse and target of his wife who eventually came to terms with her husband’s “Affair”.  Following this was “I Might Fall Apart” a romantic interlude that showed the sensitive side of the narrator, warning  a touch (internally) would cause him to fall apart. The last song in Matthew’s set, “Train of Thought” was underscored by a moving guitar line that emulated a train’s motion.  

Matt Manion
Next up , was Matt Manion, a long time vocal member and frequent contributor to showcases. Starting off with a song  from the 70’s or 80’s, about the growing surge of women’s equality explained how he was being torn inside by it and how hard it might be to adapt to the new order of things.  “Sit Down for Standby”  told the tale of waiting for a seat at the airport and some of his experiences as a traveler, including a story about looking for the bathroom, in Spain.  The very first song Matt claims he wrote was entitiled “Light and Laughter”  which he performed,  “Song for Speculators”  depicted  the difficulties that arise in part time love affairs and being in one is “a bitter pill to take”.  Digressing from playing, Matt recited a lyric he is working on to honor those in the military who were summarily discharged from the service for following alternate life styles.  “Hotel by the Highway” was a rousing look at night life in a hotel ballroom,  with observations about the style, look and movements of the dancers.  His final song “Man’s Man” tells us about the singer’s search for a compatible male companion with whom he can share his life, not just a casual affair. 

Tonight’s program was fully appreciated by the audience who applauded and posted thumbs up  after each song.

August 2021 VOCAL Songwriters Showcase

The August 2021 VOCAL Virtual Showcase spotlighted the 2021 Songwriter of the Year and writers of the Song of the Year. August is normally reserved for the annual banquet, but we decided to forego that this year due to the pandemic. The Songwriter of the Year award went to Keely Burn, and the Song of the Year award went to Carol “Torch” Torricelli and Glen King for their co-written effort. CONGRATS to all! This was another virtual showcase using Zoom while streaming via FB Live, which has been our standard operating procedure during the pandemic.

Keely Burn opened the show with several songs from her new album Not My Masterpiece. Waltz describes what constitutes love – it’s not a foregone conclusion, and certainly not just a box to check off. Masterpiece tell us that love is a tug-of-war, and we sometimes are left holding the leash. “You’re a work in progress, and I can’t see your conscience”. She then delivered When I’m Acting, where she’s convinced he’ll like her much better if she’s acting, and not being herself. He’ll find her more attractive when she’s less reactive. To Be Loved is yearning not to be a lover, but simply to be loved. She doesn’t care about the promises or diamond rings as she would rather have the simple things. You Were My Guiding Light is a beautiful song inspired by Joni Mitchell, where every cloud has a silver lining, but all she sees is gray.

Glen King then treated us to some of his treasures, all on the theme of love. Miracle of Love is an uplifting tune touting the wonders of being in love. Drops of Your Love is on the other end of the love spectrum and even involved tearing up pictures! Fanning the Flames of Love is a hot number about a love that is still as strong today as it was when it started many years ago. Glen ended his set with a tune he wrote during Pride Week called It Don’t Matter Who You Love, telling us to love the person who feels right to you and what is natural. “The world is like a prism, all the colors you can find, some may run together or flow outside the lines”.

“Torch” finished up the evening with several of her finely-crafted tender tunes. She opened with the Song of the Year, Highway to Your Heart, co-written with Glen King. This is a really cool driving number about a trucker burning up the asphalt on the highway to get home as fast as he can to the one he loves. The genesis of this trucker song was a VOCAL challenge to write a trucker song in honor of long-time VOCAL member John Ellis, who was trucking down the road at that time and couldn’t attend the meeting. She then delivered Come to Virginia, a very beautiful song highlighting the numerous compelling reasons to travel to Virginia (majestic mountains, bluegrass music, etc.). I feel that this song channels Joni Mitchell and Maria Muldaur! Don’t You Slow Me Down (with her self-accompanied whistling) describes her booking her round-trip ticket to Sicily where she plans to discover her roots. There are many picturesque images of the Italian countryside in the lyrics, and no one is going to get in her way of this Italy-bound woman! Roads In Between Us is an older tune lamenting the fact that she was living in New Jersey but all her friends were moving away. She often sat on the rooftop singing to the sunset and placed numerous long-distance calls to her friends to catch up. Torch ended the evening with her dreamy signature song Swinging and Swaying, born on the 4th of July weekend while sitting alone on her back porch. The moon was full, and lovely breeze was blowing, and you know the rest!

Another wonderful VOCAL virtual showcase, and congrats to all the award recipients!

VOCAL 2020 – 2021 Awards

Congratulations to the Contest Winners, Nominees and VOCAL supporters who receive awards for their achievements and involvement.

Song of the Year

Highway To Your Heart
Carol Torricelli and Glen King

Songwriter of the Year

Keely Burn

Nominees Songwriter of the Year

Nominees Song of the Year

Dedicated Service Awards

  • David Atkins
  • Keely Burn
  • Larry Cody
  • Matthew Costello
  • John Ellis
  • Glen King
  • Justin Laughter
  • Matt Manion
  • Steve Nuckolls

July 2021 VOCAL Songwriters Showcase

Once again, due to COVID, the VOCAL showcase for July, was a virtual event, streaming on two platforms, Zoom and Facebook. Viewers who attended both sites were treated to a night of music, provided by two performers, Jim Puckett and Keely Burn.

Jim Puckett
After a brief intro by VOCAL prez Matthew Costello, Jim Puckett  started the show. His first number was “East Coast Trucking” a paean to those who drive route 95 up and down the east coast, problems faced and solved during the  course of their long haul. That was followed by “This World” an older song, which talked about making good out of what you been given. Then “Find the Good” was a song that suggested we look beyond the surface of what we have and where we are, to appreciate the better things of life. “I’ll Never Get Over Your Love”  tells us of a person who was beaten down, taken for granted, getting hurt, yet continues to love the perpetrator of the pain.  Next on the set list, Jim presented a new song “Giving Me Ideas”  which was a tale of two people taking a drive out to the country, in a Lincoln, not a Prius (too small to fool around in), and how the atmosphere of the countryside was inducive to romantic thoughts. “RPM” stands for record playing momma which was his next offering, a rollicking song about remembering  the good old days of vinyl records and the artists we enjoyed. Of all Jim’s songs “Chinese Butterfly” provoked the most comments, as listeners tried to figure out what it was about, describing different scenarios in almost every line, about Emperors, Rabbis, and assorted other characters. Lastly: “For the Bold” a new song dedicated to his wife, offers her words of love and commitment.

Keely Burn
Keely Burn is, as is often mentioned, the youngest member of VOCAL, but comes across as a seasoned veteran of the music wars. Tonight, she performed on ukulele, a set of songs mostly taken from her new CD “Not My Masterpiece” which in itself might have a dual meaning, that being a claim dedicated to a lover, or the fact that a better CD will emerge later on. “I Am Not Afraid” started off her set.  “I’ve Been More Aware” begins with a great line “I am not a doorstop” that sure gets your attention, and then goes on to talk about being overlooked in the world and feelings of discouragement. The next song was a new one titled “Bed of Nails” and describes an affair that has its consequences and is prickly and difficult. “Lightning” describes a relationship that has changed over the years and the singer wants to know of those changes are too radical for the relationship to continue, asking will you stay or will you leave? This was followed by “Come Down Love”  which began with some well done  whistling and then moves to an exhortation of wanting to be loved by someone who is reluctant to commit and hears  the final plea “plant your flag” on me. Switching from tenor uke to soprano uke, Keely did “Out of the Flood” and then closed with  the self described “Cute Girl with Glasses” tune, though not wearing them tonight. No question she fits it to a tee. However, she tells us, we shouldn’t judge a book (person) by its cover (persona)  she may dye her hair blue, play ukulele, only know 4 chords, or act quirky sometimes, but she is a real person with real feelings, not a stereotype of some ditzy young thing. Amen to that.

June 2021 VOCAL Songwriters Showcase

The June 2021 VOCAL Virtual Showcase featured long-distance member Roy Kauffman and longtime-member John Ellis. We haven’t heard from John in a while due to his work-related responsibilities but were pleased he was able to join us tonight. This was the latest of our virtual showcases using Zoom while streaming via FB Live.

John Ellis
John opened the evening with several of his heartfelt and rock-infused numbers. Honestly is a “celebrating anger” song that describes the emotional release that arises when you end a relationship in a not-so-amicable way: Words intended for inspiration became unending agony. He then delivered one of his signature tunes The Stranger in an acoustic fashion rather than the driving rock version he usually does. Love is a stranger I can’t get to know – how can I find what I’ve never known? For many years I’ve lived alone – can’t imagine another spirit living in this home. Winter Solstice is a peaceful, reflective instrumental acoustic number with some nice finger-picking sprinkled in. I’ll Be There for You was inspired by a friend going through a difficult time with a pet. I know you’re looking for me to come through for you, and even in my worst I’ll be there for you. A Band of Silver is a new tune which evolved over several years and was inspired by overhearing a conversation (feminine advice for the future wife). The conversation focused only on the engagement ring (how big, where did you buy it, etc.), which was disillusioning to the observer. A glass stone on a band of silver is all you need when your love is gold. Great job, John!

Roy Kauffman
Roy then took the stage all the way from Seattle with his finely-crafted songs. He had a batch of mostly new songs, and his theme tonight was love. He opened with Any Other Way, a laid-back number recounting easy times hanging out with that special someone – come sit by me Dear, and lend me you light, your listening ear – put on that pretty blue dress, and I’ll play your favorite song. He then delivered a new song Covered in R, W and B, which talks about wanting his country back, to right this ship and get on track – don’t tell me it’s not that bad, ‘cause I remember what we had, Covered in Red, White and Blue. Can’t Let it Go is another new song about just hanging onto stuff you just can’t let go – I know about that! Take me down to the river, my love, wash me clean, help me rise above. I keep thinking about the past, trying to stop the train from running off the track, but just can’t let it go. He added a harmonica for Might Just Keep us in Love, a “Chicken Little looking for a falling sky” kind of relationship. Doing our best to keep our heads above, that part of what keeps us in love, might just keep us in love. I Don’t Know Why is another recent story about when one person is expecting something from a relationship but the other is not. Sometimes the water moves fast, sometimes things just don’t last. I expected so much more from you, I don’t know why, these gray skies won’t turn blue, I don’t know why. Roy closed out the night with another love song, Blue Sky Living, where he’s floating like a leaf in a world without trees – he needs a little bit of blue sky to bring back home. Blue sky living is what I need – they can cut this boy, but he will not bleed. Another outstanding set from Mr. Kauffman!

May 2021 VOCAL Songwriters Showcase

Continuing with pandemic controlled activities, the VOCAL showcase was again a virtual affair simulcast on Zoom and Facebook. The two performers were Matt Manion and Glenda creamer.

Matt Manion
Matt’s set list included some of his seldom heard songs like “Raw Roach M otel” which depicted conditions living in a 3rd rate flophouse. “No. No, No, No” told about a friendship that goes awry. From the 1980’s he did “Job Hunting Blues” about all the drug tests he had to go through to get a job. That was followed by “Life Can be Funky Down On the Pamunkey” with pictures of what one sees along the river such as birdlife, and foliage. “I Just Want To Be Me” was his confession about not being the perfect person, but accepting who he is in reality. “This Getting Old Is Getting Old” is another reality check about aging. His last song of the night, “God’s Rhythm” tells us, where you are now is where you were meant to be. Put your faith in god.

Glenda Creamer
Glenda Creamer is on a mission to tell bible stories with her music. She has created a musical piece called “The Path”. Tonight she played the second half of that work. The collection of songs t follows a seeker as he walks along a road and confronts various voices along the way. This is told in short narraitve songs that starts with “Slow Down” answered by “Get Back On Your Feet”. In “I’m A Witch Today” she warns “watch out for me, if I get angry I shoot green darts and conjure up your dark emotions”. Then, “Share Your Burdens With The Lord’ followed by a prayer “I Want To Follow You” she cautions him not to take “The Easy Way Out” but in an a capella she advises the man to “Keep on Keeping On” along the road. To follow the straight and narrow path ahead do not climb the “Stairs To Nowhere”. He hears the voice of god saying “I Will Come To Your Aid, I Will Calm Your Fears, I Am By Your Side.” finally the man climbs the stairs and he is saved. He sees moses and the burning bush and hears “Let My People Go”. Finally he realizes he has reached the promised land and is rejoiced in “You Will Always Be My Child” and “Make A Joyful Noise”.

Two very different performers, each with their own approach to music making.

The video of the showcase can be viewed at the VOCAL Facebook page Videos section.

A blog for and by the members of the Virginia Organization of Composers and Lyricists