All posts by john ellis

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 November 2009

Showcase 220 was a new adventure for all of VOCAL as we crossed the mighty James River to bring original songwriting to a favorite Richmond spot, O’Tooles Restaurant & Pub. Jim Uzel, Gerry Laverty and Louie Millhouse christened the new location and kept a full house entertained with a fantastic selection of original material. The showcase was on November 16, 2009.

We couldn’t be more thankful at this time of year than to have a wonderful new room for the showcase.  We are now presenting our original songwriters in a wonderful room at O’Tooles Restaurant & Pub. With a tasty menu, a friendly staff, and a large, open room for the performance, VOCAL couldn’t ask for more from a host.  Join us next month at 4800 Forest Hill Avenue in Richmond for another musical, and culinary adventure!

Jim Uzel took the first performance spot and gave the enthusiastic crowd a nice sampling of his extensive songwriting catalog.  Jim has self produced a lot of material over the years as well as participating in songwriting with friends such as Gary Shaver and even produced a boxed-set a few years ago that has original art work on the cover.  Jim’s set list included ‘The Drifter’, ‘Deep in the Night’, ‘My Summer Dream’ and ‘Spirits in the Rain’.  The subject matter for his songs often touches on the spiritual and the emotional as with this set.  His nice, inspired guitar work is paced and carefully crafted to match the mood of the song.  Thanks to Jim for a great start to the evening.

Next on the bill was Gerry Laverty.  Without a doubt, Gerry has shown over the years that poetry and songwriting often go hand-in-hand, and along the way he has earned fans among his peers.  In the November Showcase, Gerry had a set list that included many of the favorites from his years of songwriting.  He kicked off the set with ‘Bad Seed’, then followed up with a classic ‘Jerusalem’, which searches for peace in the ancient city.  Gerry then showed his ability to cross genre with his wonderfully bluesy guitar work in ‘Blues in the Nite’.  The bending of the guitar string in the ‘Blues in the Nite’ riff is so sweet, it keeps your ear longing for more.  Gerry kept the mood mellow, but focused on the longing that comes when you’re separated from someone you miss so much, in the song ‘Lonesome Blue Eyes’.  This song is a favorite of many fellow songwriters and is a wonderful blend of melody, lyrical fluidity and inspired poetry.  The set closed with ‘I’ve Been Worried so Long’ and another classic Laverty composition about a mysterious woman ‘Zion Crossroads’.

 The featured performer for the evening was Louie Millhouse.  Louie brought in a great line-up of guest performers including Gary Shaver, who played piano for most of the set, and Louie’s daughter Nancy, who represented the rhythm section on bass guitar.  The set list included compositions from both Louie and Gary Shaver and the musical styles included jazz, ballads, pop and rock.  The first song, ‘Marauder’ has a very latin or Spanish feel to the guitar rhythm and is a wonderful addition to the many styles we hear on the showcase.  ‘The Stone’ is a Gary Shaver composition and a fantastic representation of Gary’s songwriting abilities.  The night was full of surprises including the song ‘And I Always Will’ where Louie performed a duet with guest singer Robyn Kim.  Robyn’s smooth, light voice was a nice counterpoint to Louie’s male lead.  After the duet, Louie brought out his flugelhorn for another Gary Shaver composition ‘Tutti’ which is a nicely done jazz instrumental. 

Louie then turned the mood to a cool, jazzy, funky thing with ‘Lonely Waters’ featuring daughter Nancy on a funky bass line, Louie on some nice jazzy electric guitar chords, and Gary Shaver on flute.  Louie’s vocals were smooth, low and smokey as the band rolled through the song.  From the jazzy to the near impossible, Louie took the crowd on a humorous, outlandish ride, with more syllables than you could believe would fit in one song titled ‘Doctor McBoogie’.  The good doc is a proctologist by day and a hot trombone player by night, whose best cure is packaged in a musical note!  You have to hear it to truly appreciate it.  The mood was taken back to an easy, mellow tone on ‘Now That We’ve Said Our Goodbyes’, by Gary Shaver.  ‘We’d Better Leave it Alone’ is a country-pop sounding song, starting with an a-cappella including Robyn Kim, the song also featured Gary on lead vocal.  Louie then gave us another glimpse of his sense of humor and revealed who has a nice looking mom, with ‘Kara’s Mom is Hot’.  This unique dedication, based loosely on a true story from a family trip, has a calypso or island rhythm and won’t let you go without singing along or at least tapping a toe.  Then Louie let us go with the beautiful imagery of Key West with his song  ‘Marathon’.

 The evening was a great success thanks to so many volunteers and performers.  Special thanks to Jim Uzel for sound services and once again to Dave Pollard for his assistance in setting up the showcase at our new location.  Larry Cody produces the table tent cards for the showcase and Matthew Costello handles web services for VOCAL.  Extra special thanks to Bud Brinkley, photographer for being on the scene to provide photography services.  See you next month!

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 www.cherylfare.com 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 www.myspace.com/darrylellysonbluelightdistrict.

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 www.costello-media.com for photography and web services.  We’ll see you next month at a new location O’Tooles Restaurant and Pub www.otoolesrestaurant.com .  See you there!

VOCAL Showcase September 2009

Showcase #218 was an electric night of musical variety and prime songcraft.  From solo artist to full-blown band, from classic, crisp acoustic sounds to fiery electric rock, there was a little something for each listener and a whole lot of music for everyone.  John Ellis, Steve Nuckolls, and The Taters were the musical livestock and they were corralled and put to work on the showcase stage by guest emcee and ringmaster Norman Roscher.  September 21, 2009 was a night to remember.

The showcase is produced each month at the fine location of VOCAL’s host, Richbrau’s TapHouse, every 3rd Monday.  With a seasonal list of fine micro-brew and some delightful meals masterfully prepared by the chef, the TapHouse is an ideal location for the songwriter’s showcase.  Join us each month at 1212 East Cary Street in Shockoe slip for the best in food and music.

Setting a festive mood and delivering the first musical offering of the evening was VOCAL’s own dreamweaving, creative maestro, Norman Roscher.  With a special tribute written just for the showcase, Norman immediately set an atmosphere of fun with a circus-music theme, lyrics that included the names of the evening’s performers and a salute to Richbrau’s micro-brew creations.  Thank you, Norman for getting the night off to a rousing start!

After the completion of Norman’s introduction, Norman introduced the first of two short set artists.  John Ellis had electric guitar in hand, with backing tracks queued up to deliver a 15 minute set of rock and blues-based songs.  Starting off with an instrumental number, the first song was divided into two parts, a guitar only, finger-picking prelude called ‘Chimes’ which led into the all out rockin’ ‘Groove Thaing’.  With blues inspired licks and a high energy backbeat, the song was a good excuse to jam.  John then moved into the bluesy, rock number ‘The Stranger’, which is a song about the isolation that can be felt in the realm of the search for love.  The next song was another instrumental with a heavy blues influence ‘Blues No1’ complete with backing tracks that covered bass, rhythm guitar and drums.  The song was part slow blues and part melodic rock.  The set wrapped up with one of John’s favorite closing numbers ‘In My Place’, a rocking, electric number about the frustration of a relationship where one party was only there until something else came along.

Norman then introduced the next performer of the evening, a long time VOCAL member who has written many wonderful songs that show a lot of thoughtful reflection from life experience and the ways of the world.  In addition to his participation in VOCAL, Steve Nuckolls is an active member of the Nashville Songwriters Association.  ‘Making My Getaway’ was Steve’s first song followed by the reflective and inspiring ‘When the Flag’s Half Mast’ .  A new song added to his great catalog, ‘About Your Love’ was a wonderful creation consistent with Steve’s thoughtful style.  The set closed with a favorite of mine ‘Sunrise’, which is about driving down I-95 one New Year’s day.  Thanks to Steve for a great performance that really set a nice mood for the evening.

With a quick switch of the guitars and the addition of a bass, electric lead and a drummer, the featured performance of the night was none other than Richmond’s The Taters!  In support of their upcoming release Menagerie, The Taters put on an hour long set of their amazing blend of ‘eclectic roots pop’ as they like to describe their music.  With a scaled down drum set for Buz King and the electric guitar finger work of Greg Marrs, The Taters had a full, rich sound that really adds a sonic backdrop to the wonderful vocal work of Craig Evans and T. Bradley (Brad) Tucker.  With Craig on bass and Brad on acoustic guitar the duo are formidable on their own, but it was quite a treat to hear the full band in the setting of the TapHouse.  Most of the set featured music from the new CD Menagerie, including the first song of the night ‘No I Don’t’ , which had the kind of vocal harmony that Brad and Craig are well know for.  ‘Oceans Apart’, also on the new CD, included a bit of guitar from Greg that was somewhat reminiscent of surf guitar.  Taking the audience back a few years to the CD Recess, The Taters played two songs from that release, ‘On Our Own’ and ‘The Kiss’ – the song ‘The Kiss’ has a rather dramatic sense to it with the strong emotion in Craig’s vocal.  Another song from Recess, which has been redone for the Menagerie CD is ‘That’s Me’ – an interesting rework of a familiar Tater tune!  ‘Wolfman Told Me Tonight’ is a new song which will also be featured in the film Virginia Creepers, www.virginiacreepersmovie.com – check out the website for info!  The documentary will feature highlights of 50 years of late night TV horror host shows.  The Taters played many more songs from their extensive catalog and wrapped up the night with three more from Menagerie ‘Spend a Little Time’, ‘Such a Good Day’ and the encore performance of ‘Sing a Little Sunshine Song’, written by Roger Miller.  The performance certainly builds the anticipation for the new release which will be coming out within the next few months.  Keep up with The Taters and all things Tater related at www.thetaters.com.

What a fantastic night for live, original music!!  We can’t thank John Ellis, Steve Nuckolls and the The Taters enough for performing and an extra special thanks to Tater soundman Mike Gribik for running sound.  Thanks to Larry Cody for table tent cards, to Matthew Costello for his web services and photography and our guest MC Norman Roscher.  And the biggest thanks of all to fans and the general audience members who come out to listen – it wouldn’t be a show without you.  Thank you and we’ll see you next month!

VOCAL Showcase August 2009

Showcase #217 was a delightful melding of fine-aged song craft, new emerging talent, with rock, pop, folk and country influences.  Sarah Kane made her showcase debut, wowing the crowd with her acoustic guitar and strong vocals.  David Atkins was a great headliner bringing his fine catalog of songs along with the backing tracks to fill out the sound.  It all took place August 17, 2009.

VOCAL is pleased to produce the showcase at Richbrau’s TapHouse each month.  We couldn’t ask for a better host with such a fine selection of exquisitely prepared meals and micro-brew creations.   Join us the third Monday of the month at 1212 East Cary Street, Richmond, Virginia, in the historic Shockoe Slip.

Guest emcee Larry Cody took to the stage and put the show on the right track with a big, rockin’ start in the form of his song ‘Keep On’.  Strumming along and singing his song, Larry gave the audience the wake up call that the night was something special.  Then with his usual flair for making the crowd feel at home, Larry welcomed the audience to the showcase and the night’s first performer.

Sarah Kane joined VOCAL last year and was finally able to squeeze a showcase performance into her busy life.  And we couldn’t be happier for the addition to the list of VOCAL songwriters appearing on the stage this year.  Sarah had a great stage presence, projecting vibrant energy into the room with a relaxed, confident demeanor.  She worked her way through a set list that included some wonderfully tender ballad-like songs, a few upbeat numbers that were fun, and a little bit of comic delight thrown in as well.   Some of the more serious material was shown in the songs ‘Sleep’ about a friend with severe depression – a song that I enjoyed very much – and ‘Thank You James’.  Showing her lighter side and the ability to capture humor that is drawn from life experience, ‘Coffee’ and ‘Polka in a Parking Lot’ were enjoyable listening.  Throughout the set, Sarah demonstrated a wonderful sense of melody, a deft hand on the guitar and thoughtful, well crafted songwriting.  Sarah’s special guest was her 4 year old niece who joined in on the drum for ‘Rosie’.  Thanks to Sarah for sharing her talent with VOCAL and starting the showcase with a fantastic set.

Larry then returned to the microphone to transition the evening to our featured performer.  No stranger to songwriting or performing, David Atkins is a long time member and one of the great songwriters of VOCAL.  David came prepared to put on a show and proceeded to take the audience through a musical experience that was full of life, drama, real life experience and emotional encapsulation of the best and worst of life.  ‘Actually Needs Me’ was the show starter followed up by ‘When I Dream About You’.  Dave showed quite the sense of humor and captured the turn of the tables that happens to the young couple, who is wild and free, laughing at the older couple with the kids in the mini-van, in the classic song ‘This Could Happen to You’.  On the more tender side ‘When She Cries’ was a soft, melodic tune.  The atmosphere became a little spooky with the ghost story ‘House on Leaksville Road’.  In ‘Air Jamaica’ Dave captured the wonderful experience that airlines can provide with a bumpy ride and less than desirable accomodation. 

Dave took time out to pay special tribute to a dear friend in the educational system who left the world too early.  With a recording of ‘Because of You’ performed by the 3rd graders of Elizabeth Scott Elementary, Dave let the children of the school send the message of the wonderful contributions made by this special person.  The song and more information about this inspirational educator can be found at the school’s website www.chesterfield.k12.va.us/Schools/Scott_ES/index.html on the History page.  The song is a heart warming recording with piano, and the addition of synth and brass sounds to fill out the aural background of the song.

Some of the audience favorites were the classic songs from Dave such as ‘First Table from the Bar’ and ‘Wishing You Were Here’ dealing with the trials and tribulations of relationships.  And the night couldn’t have ended more appropriately than with Dave’s tribute to his fellow songwriters ‘Sing Your Own Songs’ and an encore performance of ‘One Drink Left in the Bottle’.

Our wonderful performers were but one half of the night’s festivities – it wouldn’t be a show without an audience to entertain, so thanks to everyone who turned out to support our performers.  A HUGE thanks to our volunteers who make it all happen – Larry Cody with table tent cards, Matt Manion for audio support and Matthew Costello for photography and web services and one more time for guest MC Larry Cody, who did a great job presenting the performers to the audience.  We’ll see you next month!

VOCAL Showcase July 2009

It was a hot summer night when we kicked off Showcase #216, but inside the TapHouse, there was a cool blast of sound waves emanating from the stage!  The crowd filled the better part of the venue, and as some of the dinner crowd left, more folks filed in to see what was cookin’ on the stage.  James Lester with special guest Tom Mayer (from Barrelhouse) gave a harmonica infused dose of sweet blues, then Matt Manion gave a great set of folk and rock.  And to keeping it all rolling along, VOCAL’s guest MC for the evening, Louis Millhouse, kicked off the music and introduced our artists.

What would great music be, without a great venue to set the atmosphere?  Join VOCAL at Richbrau’s TapHouse each month for the perfect environment to experience freshly prepared meals, fine crafted micro-brew beverages and well crafted songwriting.  You’ll find us at 1212 East Cary Street in Shockoe Slip every third Monday of the month.

Louis’s song ‘Marathon’ was a great way to begin the evening and a sampling from his showcase appearance scheduled for later this year.  With a sweet acoustic rhythm and the warm, sandy imagery of living in the Keys with a drink in hand, Louis had the crowd swinging in the breeze of his tropical rhythm.  After warming up the crowd with this tropical excursion, Louis introduced the first performer.

James Lester wasted no time getting the crowd worked up as he kicked off his set with ‘I Like Your Love’, a bluesy number that gets feet to stompin’ and heads-a-boppin’.  Alternating between his own songs and the songs of his guest, Tom Mayer, James turned the microphone over for the next song ‘Home Cooking’, a tune featuring Tom’s vocals and harmonica.  Throughout the set, Tom’s harmonica was present on each song and what a treat it was for the ears!  Whether on James’ songs such as ‘Lame Pony Blues’ and ‘Where’s My Baby’ or Tom’s songs ‘The Night is Closing In’ and ‘All My Wife’s Relations’ the duo put on quite a fine sampling of guitar based blues, spiced up with a heavy dose of hot harmonica licks.  James gave quite a performance on the fretboard alternating between strumming and finger-style playing, with each song leaving your ears begging for more.  Tom really let it rip on ‘Lame Pony Blues’ where he laid down a harmonica solo that nearly set the roof on fire!  Lyrically, the duo served some low-down blues such as ‘The Night is Closing In’ as well as some comic relief with the songs ‘All My Wife’s Relations’ and ‘Where’s My Baby’.  VOCAL thanks James and Tom for bringing their blues skills to the showcase stage.  Look out for the next showcase performance from this duo.  You can also keep up with them on the web at www.myspace.com/jameslesterblue and www.myspace.com/barrelhouserva .

When the first set was over, it seemed a shame for the music to end, but there was no reason to worry about that with the evening’s featured performer Matt Manion.  Sharing his style of acoustic music, Matt carried the audience through an evening of folk and rock songs that used many themes including the difficulties of work life and the thoughts of personal reflection, wrapped up in lyrics that were sometimes somber, sometimes humorous and sometimes poetic, but always thoughtful.  Starting off with a blend of humor and maybe horror, ‘The Royal Roach Hotel’ was Matt’s telling of a not-so-wonderful stay while working in the oil fields of Louisianna.  Keeping on the theme of rough work experiences, ‘Power Play’, had a bit of a Punk feel to the rhythm, which served the lyrics well as the song addresses the frustration that can exist in some work environments.  ‘Forget Yourself’ was a very reflective song with an easy, calming melody.

Matt had surprises in store for the audience as he called John Ellis to the stage to accompany with lead electric guitar on ‘Losin’ My Hair’, a humorous, but somewhat introspective song about one of life’s struggles.  Next Matt brought Gary Shaver to the stage on clarinet and Norman Roscher on keyboard along with John Ellis on lead guitar to add ambience to his poetic and inspiring ‘O Rolling Sea’.  Norman’s keyboard work added a nice ambience to the song, which evoked images of the ocean waves that Matt used in his recorded version.  With Gary on the clarinet, the song had more depth thanks to the wonderful tone of his instrument and the delicate, swelling runs he used to accentuate the mood of the song.  Thanks to Matt and his guest performers for providing a unique interpretation of a very unique song.

Matt finished up his set with a few more songs including one that has a 50’s Doo-Wop feel to my ears, with lyrics about strength in love ‘Man’s Man’, and a great song for any Matt Manion performance ‘Don’t Need to Be Perfect’.  Thanks to Matt for a great set of creative, original musical variety.

VOCAL would not be the great organization that it is without a great group of volunteers helping out.  Thanks to Matt Manion for providing the sound system for the evening and to John Ellis and Matthew Costello for sharing soundman duties.  Larry Cody is kind enough to provide table tent-cards for each performance to inform our listeners about the evening’s performers.  Matthew Costello also keeps our website up to date and handles most of our photography work.  But it would all be for naught, without an audience to perform for, so thanks to all who show up or otherwise support our songwriters.  We’ll see you next month! 

VOCAL Showcase June 2009

Showcase 215  was a big night for music and an incredible display of VOCAL talent.  A fantastic crowd showed up to hear the wonderful performances by Dave Pollard with Triad and to hear the unique sounds of Bill Wellons.

Each month, VOCAL hosts at least two original artists on the showcase stage at Ricbrau’s TapHouse.  Come join us each 3rd Monday of the month at the TapHouse for the company of some fine songwriters and performers along with some of the best micro-brew and fine culinary creations.  Don’t forget to check out the VOCAL podcast each month on the blog.

The evening’s MC was John Ellis, who began the festivities with his rock-and-roll song ‘In My Place’ about the person who enters a relationship without ever giving it a chance.  After the completion of the performance, the crowd responded with a great cheer and enthusiastic applause.

After John’s performance, the evening was turned over to Bill Wellons who performed a solid set of piano based songs, some sad and mournful, and some of them upbeat and fun.  The song ‘Best Friend’ had a wonderful line ‘…I’ll get the leash…we’ll go out walkin’ just you and me…’ reminded me of one of my old friends who has passed.  ‘She’s Still My Baby’ had a great feel to it as Bill’s fingers tickled the ivories and the song said ‘…she says she’ll kill me, but she ain’t killed me yet’.  The mood then turned to reverent contemplation as Bill reflected on the stories of some elderly persons in ‘The Old Folks Home’.  Top tapping and a more joyful spirit took over as Bill played ‘Heartsick Blues’.  Bill closed out with a hot little instrumental ‘Lickity Split’ that had somewhat of a Ragtime sound to my ears.  Thanks so much to Bill for a wonderful performance.  You can learn more about Bill at his recently launched website www.billwellons.com .

Then, without much delay, our featured performer Dave Pollard took the stage with fellow performers Dale Payne and Vickie Payne as the trio Triad.  And from the first song of the set ‘Processional (Joyce’s Theme)’ to the last, Triad gave the crowd an incredible performance.  Dave is a wonderfully creative musician on the acoustic guitar, producing interesting riffs or melodies that add a lot to the song’s sound.  Combining his guitar skills with the talented accompaniment of Dale and Vickie Payne, Triad produces a full, rich sound that captures the audiences heart and imagination.  The vocal abilities of the trio were on dispaly in the second song of the set ‘Lucky’, which had some amazing vocal harmony.  ‘Rock Me in the Cradle’ from Dave’s CD Ocracoma,  was a welcome favorite for me, bringing back memories of other Dave Pollard performances.  ‘Church of the Mind’ is from the CD Perfect Poetry, and is an inspirational song about being able to believe what you believe wherever you find yourself.  ‘Leavin’ Town’ is another instrumental from Perfect Poetry, which was followed up by a Dale Payne creation ‘Dear Ann Marie’ a tender ballad that included wonderful vocal harmony by the trio.  Dave’s song ‘Reach Out Your Hand’  was written for his sister at a time when he wanted to encourage her to reach out to people for support.  Triad closed out the night with ‘Pictures of You’ and ‘Goodbye’ – one from each of Dave’s two CD releases.

Be sure to check out Dave’s website www.pollardmusic.com for appearances and contact info.

Thanks one more time to Dave Pollard and Dale Payne for running the evening’s sound stage.  We wouldn’t be what we are without volunteers, so thanks to Matt Manion for his continued assistance with showcases, Larry Cody for the table tent cards and Matthew Costello for photos, web development and the Podcast audio production.  And what would a performance be without an audience?  So thanks to all who turned out to support our performers!  We’ll see you next month!

VOCAL Showcase April 2009

Showcase number 213, was the annual cover night for VOCAL.  Performers covered at least one song from a fellow VOCAL songwriter.  The night was full of surprises and anticipation as the weather kept performers at home and the night turned into a review of some of VOCAL’s outstanding long-time members.

The showcase is hosted each month by Richbrau’s TapHouse.  Come join us at 1212 East Cary Street in Richmond’s historic Shockoe Slip for fine food and great beverages from this local brew-pub.  Enjoy the company of our songwriters as you enjoy your meals in a great venue.

Steve Nuckolls kicked off the night with his brand of thoughtful narratives drawing on many life experiences to craft songs of deep meaning.  The set started off with ‘Making My Getaway’ an original of Steve’s with good feeling and a nice easy rhythm.  Steve then presented his cover song ‘Sundown in a Coal Town’ which was penned by VOCAL’s John Carter.  The song is about miners expressing their passions and hopes on a Saturday night through their own music.  The set then turned reflective with Steve’s song ‘When the Flag’s Halfmast’, which is about the memories conjured up when we see this reminder of those no longer with us.  The first set concluded with the hopeful and spiritual song inspired by a trip to an African village ‘Simunye’.  Thanks to Steve for a great start to the evening.

Gary Shaver took to the stage next for his first of two sets.  Gary’s ‘Your Sweet Love’ was a great way to get started.  Gary’s cover songs inlcuded a number written by the team of Nancy Walker and Cham Laughlin as well as a number from Chris Craig.

A short intermission was allowed for the attending songwriters to determine the next guest up to the stage.  It seems that the weather kept many of our songwriters at home for the evening and we wanted to keep the spirit of the open call alive.  About the time we were ready to pick straws to see who would play next, someone asked ‘Where’s Norman’?  No sooner were these words uttered, than Norman Roscher appeared – as if Huddini had conjured him up with a magic word and a puff of smoke zapping Norman from his peaceful home to Shockoe slip.  He was immediately drafted into the showcase line-up!

Norman used an acoustic guitar loaned by our first performer Steve Nuckolls and Gary Shaver’s keyboard to put on an impromptu, and incredibly entertaining show!  Sampling his song catalogue, Norman played songs that were sometimes sweet and sometimes just wild and fun!  One of my favorites ‘Keep on Droolin’ was a humorous reminder that no matter how alone we feel at times, there’s someone droolin’ for you somewhere (even if it’s someone you’d be more inclined to run from than embrace).  Songs like ‘Mr. Sleepy Head’ and ‘Butterflies’ had a good bit of the sweetness I mentioned earlier, while ‘Bart the Pirate’ (a Glen Hobles song) and ‘Hey Baby You’re Beautiful’ were just great fun to listen to and sing along with.  We can’t thank Norman enough for volunteering his talents to keep the showcase rolling along!

Gary Shaver stepped back up on the showcase stage to present his second set of the evening.  ‘Tell Me You Love Me One More Time’, written by Nancy Walker and Jeff Long was the first song of the set and a fantastic ballad with a great melody.  The set was rounded out with ‘Make Everything Alright’, ‘If I Could Go Back Home’ and ‘As All Things Pass’.

Thanks to our volunteers for making the showcase a great event.  Larry Cody provides table tent cards to advertise the showcase, Matthew Costello handles photography and web development and John Ellis handles sound services.  Thanks as well to the performers and all who show up to the showcases each month!

VOCAL Showcase March 2009

What a night for music!  Despite the dose of cold, wet, nasty weather outside, everything inside was as hot as a Richmond summer day!  A fantastic crowd gathered on March 16, 2009 to witness an outstanding performance for showcase number 212.  Drew Routh gave a fantastic solo performance, followed up by the team of Larry Cody, Eddy Kitchen and Doug Patrick.


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Thanks to Richbrau’s TapHouse for three years of hosting the showcase.  Each month our members, fans and friends gather with the songwriters to enjoy live performances of their original music.  Come down to Shockoe Slip and enjoy freshly prepared meals, at an original micro-brew as you enjoy original music performed by the song’s writer.

Drew Routh started the evening with his fine fingerwork and his unique songwriting style.  In fact, the first song wasn’t a song at all, but basically a finger excercise to get the hands going – it was impressive none the less!  Next Drew moved into ‘Dream Me Out of Here’, which is somewhat of a ballad, at least in feeling if not lyrical content.  ‘Little Better Light’ is an evocative song, that inspired emotions of hope in my mind.  Drew then introduced the song ‘No Place to Run’ as a poem, that inspired the music to accompany the words one year after its creation – sometimes good ideas take time to ferment.  Drew concluded the first set of the evening with ‘Take a Little Time’, ‘Am I Crazy?’ and ‘Right Now’.  Thanks to Drew for a varied and entertaining performance.

For the second half of the evening VOCAL presented a tag-team match – Larry Cody, Eddy Kitchen and Doug Patrick were on the card for an outstanding set of country, blue-grass(ish) and a touch of rock.  Each gentleman had a guitar in hand for each song, trading off lead or rhythm parts, with Larry Cody taking guitar solo’s in many songs.  Larry Cody took the mic first to kick off the set with ‘Ready for the Road’, an appopriate beginning for this musical journey.  The trio stopped along the way for a quick game with Doug Patrick pitching vocals on ‘Put Him in the Lineup’ – a fun song.  Eddy Kitchen stepped up to the microphone next and said hold on…we should ‘Drink This Thing Through’ – Larry Cody chimed in with some good lead guitar during the solo break.  It was great to hear Eddy’s extraordinary voice again on the showcase stage.  After this time of reflection, the trio crossed a cool running stream, passed through the valley up the hillside to visit ‘Mountain Girl’ – this song had a moving melody and the lyrics seemed to captivate the crowd who responded with a great cheer for Larry’s lead vocal and guitar solo.  While on the mountain top, Eddy again told the story in song about how ‘Good Loves Can Die’.  A tribute was also paid to ‘Molly’ in a somber, but eloquent and poetic song by Doug Patrick about a soldiers’ dying thoughts.  On the way back down the mountain, Eddy shared more thoughts with ‘If These Walls Could Talk’, Doug proclaimed ‘Think I’ve Really Done It’ and Larry sent the crowd home with a rockin’ little number and a wish for the road ‘Keep On’.  These three gentlemen put on an outstanding show that kept fellow songwriters and other attendees in awe as they presented one great song after another.

Thanks to all of those who attended and supported our performers.  A great big thanks to VOCAL volunteers, Matt Manion for sound assistance, Larry Cody for the table tent cards, Matthew Costello for web development and photography.  We’ll see you next month!