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March 2021 VOCAL Showcase

For the first time, tonight’s showcase was present on dual platforms simultaneously, Zoom and Facebook. This may account for the small numbers on each, but probably the usual amount of showcase viewers when combined.

VOCAL president Matthew Costello welcomed everyone to the showcase, talked a little bit about the tonight’s process and then introduced the presenters. On the bill were Keely Burn and Steve Nuckolls.

Keely Burn
Keely played first. She is one of VOCAL’s younger members and an extremely talented performer. She has played before using various instruments in her repertoire such as ukelele and keyboard, which was her choice tonight.

She is about to release her new CD on various music platforms, and happily shared some of the songs that will appear on it. This was the lineup: “Not My Masterpiece” “Guiding Light” (no title) new Break up song “Daisy” ( inspired by The Great Gatsby) “When I’m Acting”

Steve Nuckolls
Steve has been a long time member of VOCAL and performs frequently on the showcase. A lot of his material is based on his formative years growing up in western Virginia. His singing has a plaintive quality about that is well suited for the heartfelt material..

This was his set list for the night. “Taking MY Kid Away” “Grayson Lady” “When The Flag Is At Half Mast” “The Future Is Us” (new) “Praying For A Rocky Top” “Six Feet Away” (Covid song) “Two Hours From Anywhere” “Sunrise”

Both performers received well deserved applause and positive comments while playing their songs. Further up the road, the next showcase in April will feature the songs of Dave Pollard and Matthew Costello. Not to be missed.

VOCAL Jan. 2021 SHOWCASE

Once again, due to pandemic restrictions, VOCAL’s monthly showcase was a virtual affair on facebook. However: This did not deter two fine musicians from performing their songs to a viewing public. In case you have wondered what happened to good music these days, look no further than this showcase. These performers don’t use computer generated tracks, featuring instruments nobody can play, auto tune their VOCALs, think a lyric is best repeated over and over again, or write melodies that can fit under a pancake. Theirs is humanly generated and heart felt composed. Consider the following:

David Atkins

First up tonight was David Atkins, a music teacher, and songwriter extraordinaire, (note: His first four songs featured backing tracks which added to the fullness of the presentation). He opened his set with “Wish You Were Here”, an upbeat tune that described how his cheating wife taunted him by sending post cards from wherever she was with her lovers. This was followed by one of David’s classic tunes, “The House on Leaksville Road”. In it he revisits his old abandoned house and relives memories of his past wife, sadly looking back as he drives away for the last time. “Gray” reminds us that all things are not as they seem, not necessarily black or white. We should consider the subtleties in life, look underneath the surface. This was followed by “Songs” a rundown of various types of songs, but settling on the best are those from people who sing their own songs, much like himself. Finally: To close out this half of the showcase, David in acoustic mode, presented “Only One Drink In The Bottle” a country song about trying to drown bad memories of a past love in alcohol.

Doug Patrick

Next up on the program was Doug Patrick, a long VOCAL member and truly a fine mostly folk songwriter and performer. His guitar picking is extraordinary. “House On The Mountainside” tells the tale of the singer wishing to settle down with his love and find a peaceful life in country home of his dreams. The song title “Full Time Love” pretty much details what the singer is attempting to achieve. In it he says “don’t want to be on your short list, not a part time lover”. Hopefully, he succeeds. Next up on his set was a song which ( I thought) very much emulated John Prine. “A Special Place In Heaven” dedicated to his wife, in which he says she’s got to be an angel to put up with his shenanigans, he also hopes she will be there with him at the end. “Together” was a new song describing two lonely souls who try to put aside their differences and find common ground in their mutual experiences. The environment is a big issue with Doug, and he cares very much about the future of this planet. This is exemplified, in his song “Leave It Like We Found It” a song reminding us to be aware of what he’ve done and what we can do to keep the earth from disintegrating into ruin. Recycle. For those who came before us, life was much more difficult, and Doug tells us about the lessons he learned in “At My Grandaddy’s Knee” Listening to tales of farm life and how tough if was for his grand father to make his way in the world. Lastly, but not forgotten, was an old song from around the Vietnam era, “News From Home” in which a soldier is relating the stories he hears from letters sent to him about what is going on at home. Unfortunately, the news isn’t that great. His brother is running with a rough crowd, for example, and mom and dad are have problems, as well. Which of course, isn’t good news for him either.

The variety of songs tonight was astounding. the performances stellar, and they show us that real music still lives and is being created today by real people not machines.

Dec. 2020 showcase

December 2020 VOCAL Showcase

Once again, due to covid19, VOCAL presented it’s monthly showcase via a Zoom/Facebook virtual meeting.

Playing tonight were six songwriters. As it was a Christmas showcase, it was suggested that each songwriter do at least one holiday song.


Up first was Jeff Wagner, who along with his wife Sherri as accompanist performed two songs.

He was followed by James Lester, who did a set of four mainly blues songs including a tribute to Leon Redbone.

He was followed by Glen King, who seldom performs, with a set of three songs, including a New Year’s Eve song,

Matt Manion performed next, and did 3 songs including a take off on Chuck Berry,

Carol Torricelli, aka “Torch”, shared two songs, one inspired by her experience of the pandemic.

Long time member and frequent showcase performer, Steve Nuckolls followed with a few of classic songs and after him, Glenda Creamer did a pair of numbers.

All in all, it was a great night of excellent music and cheery greetings.

July 2020 VOCAL Showcase

VOCAL July 2020 Virtual Showcase

Keeping the tradition alive, a continuous monthly showcase for over 30 years. Though, of course, we are now in virtual territory, that is, presenting songwriters on Facebook, rather than live. Tonight was no exception.

Introducing the showcase was the president, Matthew Costello, who began the night with his song, “train Of Thought”.

Following that, we switched to the home of Keely Burn, one of our very talented younger members. She kicked off her set with “You’ll Like Me More When I’m Not me”, a request to the singee to be tolerant and understanding of her pecadillos. One such as she’d be more attractive if she were less reactive. This was followed by “Sky Song”. And, then, she closed with her new offering “The Flood”. She states, “nothing else matters when the world is in tatters,” which is pretty much a true reference for today’s problems.

Steve Nuckolls is a frequent showcase performer who is a great songwriter. He popped on the screen next with a set of 5 songs. One his classics, “everything is Just Two (Too) Good”, eas thte first, and it describes the attributes of the his love, such as two good arms to hold me” “two good eyes to see me” etc. on most of her body parts. “Higher Bar’ salutes two young high schoolers who became unlikely heroes. “6 Feet Away” capitalized on the current pandemic, doing his part to social distance and keep all safe with the line “rather 6 feet away than 6 feet in the ground”. Amen. “Rocky Top” another one of his classics, wishes there were more towns that had that country feeling of his own hometown. Lastly: “Black and Blue” a new song, tells the story of a (black) kid and (white)cop who learned to appreciate their differences , through getting to know each other.

Filling out tonight’s bill, was Russell Lawson, a long time VOCAL member who’s been sorely missing from the showcase stage, this tonight on his 46th anniversary. He began with “Suddenly My Life Has Changed” referring to the changes love causes in a relationship over time. “If You Call Me Now” gave us a tale of broken love, she left, he hit the bottle and now he’s in a bad state and if she should call, she would hear him crying. The “Tunnel Song” tells the story of hwat happened when the Church Hill railroad tunnel collapsed on a train that was passing through and the fact that rather than excavate and retrieve the engine, they just buried it in the tunnel and there it lies today. This was followed by “Any Port In A Storm” which was composed of various pictures of weather conditions . “Mission Trip to the Blackfoot Nation” had detailed descriptions of the Montana Wide terrain, while the singer went about spreading God’s word to Native Americans. Back to a bottle song, Lawson told is the story of family woe precipitated by “Jack Daniels Was Daddy’s Best Friend”. Taking inspiration from his daughter’s wedding, “together Forever From This Day On” presented a compendium of vows that were presented on that occasion. Matthew Brady was a famous Civil War photographer, and Lawson along with Co-writer Josh Jones, took us a journey through the photo records that Brady captured in the 1860’s. Last song in the set was “Days Gone By” and in it, we are advised to forget about all the past in our lives and we will be welcomed when we reach Heaven’s gate.

Closing out the showcase, Matthew bid us all a good night and thanked us for viewing.

June 2020 Showcase

Welcome to the new method of showcasing our members original music, the virtual Facebook performance. Tonight’s performers included Matthew Costello, Jim Pickett and Matt Manion. As usual: Matthew opened up the program with one his songs “All That Matters To Me'” as a way of segueing into our first songwriter, Jim Puckett.

Puckett is a fairly newcomer to the VOCAL family, but is past showcases performances have always been well received. Tonight was no exception. Possessing a strong vocal presence, Jim kicked off his set with “To These Times’ an older song, but relevant to today’s current unrest. Included in the lyrics was this apropos line “selfish stupidity unfortunately follows where we go.” Indeed, “One More Life” wished the singer had more time to live parts of his life again. Reaching for an alternate tuned guitar, Jim presented “The Only Stars” which was a forlorn tale of lost love, where the stars in her eyes now were only the stars in the sky. Switching back and adding a harp to his next song, he gave us “Sleeping In Today” which surely met the apporval of the listeners who would like to get a day off and do nothing but laze around. “In Richmond” was a song he wrote for a radio station contest a few years back, (he didn’t win) which took us for a tour of the city and detailing many of it’s attractions. Closing out his set, Jim picked the tempo up and hit us with “Stand In The James” a rouser that invited her to come and stand in the river along side him and enjoy the view.

Switching screens, albeit sideways, we were introduced to Matt Manion, as the second performer of the night. Matt is a long standing member of VOCAL and appears in showcases throughout the year, especially for the Christmas show. Tonight he kicked off his set with “Power Play” which I mssed due to a screen mishap. Next he performed one of his standard songs “Life Can Be Funky Down Along the Pamunkey” And it could very well be, as he described many of the life forms and attractions that permeate the river area, such as the different birds, flowers and fish. “Devil’s Half Acre” refers to the place where Lumpkin’s Jail once stood in Richmond and was where slaves were imprisoned and sold. A sad commentary on this town’s past history and well told. In that vein of history, “Necessary Trouble, Good Trouble” was a title Matt turned into song, from the speech of John Lewis, a compatriot of Martin Luther King, Jr. and a well known civil rights activist. Sometimes it’s necessary to “rock the boat’ to up end the status quo and make waves for a change in a new direction toward freeedom and justice. Next song “Blue Springs Hideaway”was co -written with Matt and was a picturesque montage of nature, including views from mountain tops and forest floor alike. Saluting a local institution, “Crossroads” (coffee house) Matt delights in wishing he could play and song his songs there, we hope he will. “I Don’t Need To Be Perfect” really means just that in this self anaylyzing lyric where he hopes “I don’t want to be right” “I don’t want to be macho” “I don’t want to be bright”, “I just want to be me”. To close his set, Matt performed one of his standard tunes about the dangers of associating with cheaters “Don’t Stand By Me” as he imagines what might happen to him if he stands on stage next to a philandering trumpet player who could be shot by an angry husband and accidentally get hit instead. Let’s hope it’s only fiction.

And with that, the showcase ended and all that was left was to read the kudos posted along side the video. Great show, guys.

April 2020 Showcase

These immortal words about postmen

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds”

would seem to aptly applied to Tonight’s VOCAL showcase.
After all: It would seem the coronavirus, technical difficulties and just plain logistics might put the kibosh on our monthly showcase.

But, noooooooo, nothing could stop it. Thanks to Matthew Costello and his intrepid fortitude, and know how, the showcase made its first ever virtual appearance on Facebook.

After a short intro by him, the first performer to take the stage was our wonderful young lady, Keely Burn. She cranked up her ukulele, for a handful of original tunes, which included a sort of self imaged song titled “Cute girl with glasses’.

She was followed by Prof. Dean Broga, who on guitar, regaled the viewers with some tasty tunes about the road and ended with a bluesy number celebrating (?) the coronavirus or covid19.

Next up, David Atkins, a long time VOCAL member and music teacher, demonstrated his songwriting abilities with songs covering a wide range of subjects from haunted houses to barroom moroseness with “One Drink In The Bottle” .

Capping the evening, which was limited in time to 60 minutes by Facebook, our president Matthew Costello pulled out one of his signature songs “Elvis Blues” with the singalong chorus of “Diggin’ Diggin’ Diggin'” which every viewer participated in (maybe).

As for turnout, a standard showcase at O’Toole’s brings around 20 or so folks out for the night, by my calculation and the figure on the screen, we peaked at 25, which is great for this first attempt a live streaming event. Given the circumstances, that will most likely remain next month, we will be anxiously awaiting the next VOCAL showcase.

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.

January 2020 Showcase

January 2020 VOCAL Showcase

Tonight was an open mic showcase which invites any and all to perform their original song material.. The evening was filled with music from a variety of performers from the traditional to the unusual.
Opening the night was host and stalwart member Norman Roescher, on keyboard, who began with a soft ballad “A Simle Man” and and followed up with Waiting For The Moon” a song filled with surrealistic images. Next up was Steve Smithson, a longtime VOCAL member, who rarely appears at showcases, but came equipped with guitar and songs to perform for us tonight. “Prairie Cowboy” offered a eulogy of sorts for someone who has passed and for himself as he moves on in life, Next was ” Go On” and then he did two songs written by Mark Fitzgerald “January Song” which had vivid pictures of winter, and “Castling” with the audience singalong chorus “Burn My Bones’. Steve Nuckolls came up to the mic next with “Praying For Rocky Top” a tribute song to those small towns in Appalachia who maintain old time standards like offered in the classic “Rocky Top” song. Where The Morning Glories Grow By The Road’ was a touching song (co-written with Glen King) about a relationship with sad overtones. He concluded his set with “Higher Bar” about aspirations we seek in life. Next we had a small interlude of poetry and flute as performed by Joan (formerly Jen) Smith and Roger Fink.
The poem “Story Of Our Lives” recited by Joan, detailed a relationship of disparate people who came together through a commonness of religion. Adding to the unusual, Joan followed up with a beat box accompaniment to a rap performed by Earl Jordan titled “Resurrection Power” which offered praise to Jesus. The duo of Gene (guitar)and Gayla (stand up bass) Mills, came up next and did a set of traditional country type songs, including “Run Away Like Water” about a restless life that was going downhill all the way. Gayla did the vocals on “Blue Runway Lights” and then Gene gave us a picture of “Forks of Buffalo” the small town where he grew up and left, which was thriving then , but when he returned years later, it had fallen on hard times and was virtually non recognizable. Closing the night’s line-up was Jeff Wagner. He opened with “The Devil Claims Your Soul” followed by “Scarecrow” a tale of love falling apart as the scarecrow in the field falls apart through exposure and age. Eventually, he burns it down as he tries to erase the sad memories
that filled his life. Lastly” I’m Still Trying To Make You Proud Of Me” was a song inspired by his father and remembering him and the influences in his life he left on the singer.
A full night of music was enjoyed by all for it’s depth of material and variety of performers.

Nov. 2019 Showcase

One of Richmond’s longest songwriters showcase, probably the longest, presented its #340th, this Monday, Nov. 18th, at O’Toole’s Bar and Grill. Two sets of songs were on the menu.

Sherry Heath Wagner and Jeff Wagner

First up, the duo of Sherry Heath Wagner and her husband Jeff Wagner, starting off on two guitars. . They did 7 songs which included the opening number “Reckless Mind”, followed by “She Was Raised On Sad Songs”, “Scarecrow ( Jeff on mandolin), “Ghost Rider”, “Borderline” , “Is It Still You” (again with mandolin) and lastly, Musicland”. The songs ranged in scope from painful experiences to relationship doubts, to a trip to Nashville. Their singing blended well and they instrument playing was exceptional and versatile.
After a brief pause and new setup, the show was back on with Jim Puckett. Jim is an extremely proficient guitar player and he showed off his skills on the set of mainly folk style songs he presented. Beginning with “Breaking Ground’, “I Will Take You Into My Arms”, a rocker “Keep’em Comin’ Around’, “Looking Down”, and followed by “Our Own Blues” Learning How To Say Goodbye”, “Letter To a Friend”, “Riverside” ( with harp accompaniment) and lastly, The Rest Of Our Lives”. A well planned set of songs, which covered wide ranging subjects from heartbreak, love, pep talks, sadness and secret rendezvous’.
The nearly full house showed their appreciation for the talents of these 3 people with hefty rounds of applause and in some cases, clapping along with the song. Be sure to mark your calendars for the big Christmas showcase on Dec. 16th. Lots of good cheer and prizes will be dispensed.

Jim Puckett

After a brief pause and new setup, the show was back on with Jim Puckett. Jim is an extremely proficient guitar player and he showed off his skills on the set of mainly folk style songs he presented. Beginning with “Breaking Ground’, “I Will Take You Into My Arms”, a rocker “Keep’em Comin’ Around’, “Looking Down”, and followed by “Our Own Blues” Learning How To Say Goodbye”, “Letter To a Friend”, “Riverside” ( with harp accompaniment) and lastly, The Rest Of Our Lives”. A well planned set of songs, which covered wide ranging subjects from heartbreak, love, pep talks, sadness and secret rendezvous’.

The nearly full house showed their appreciation for the talents of these 3 people with hefty rounds of applause and in some cases, clapping along with the song. Be sure to mark your calendars for the big Christmas showcase on Dec. 16th. Lots of good cheer and prizes will be dispensed.

Oct. 2019 Showcase

October 2019 VOCAL Showcase

It was a good night for original music at O’toole’s tonight. Though Dean Broga, scheduled to perform, had to miss the showcase due to an accident, his spot was ably covered by two stalwarts of VOCAL.

Norman Roscher

First up Norm Roscher did a set of his songs including “I Don’t Play Doctor Anymore” which is self explanatory, as he transitions from childish games to manhood. This was followed by a sad sort of dirgelike song “Lady of the Poppies’ which had a lonesome air to it, and lastly, he did an upbeat humorous tune about pigs on a garbage binge called “Pig Party”. Tasty.

Matthew Costello

Continuing ths substitute players, Matthew Costello, VOCAL’s president for life did a set of his tunes including “Meaningful One Night Stand” in which the singer , tired after all the morning after letdowns, find his true love. “If You Knew’ relates the singer’s reluctant to tell feelings to a would be love. And, his last song, a chestnut in repertoire, an obsession with the King, “Digging For Elvis” had the audience singing along with the chorus.

Gary Shaver

Long time member Gary Shaver followed with his set of keyboard selections helped out by guitarist James Wilkenson. “Somewhere between Her and You” details the singer’s plight of being caught between two loves, seeing her in your eyes etc. “I need A Little More Time” a sort of follow up to the previous song, talks about being in love with someone not the current one. Keeping the thme going, “Why Did You Hold Me Tight” explores falling in love with someone who has left him and wonders what went wrong with the relationship. And, finally in the quartet, is “How Did I Let You Go’ where the singer is stuck with memories of someone he should not have let go.

Gene and Gayla Mills

The main attraction for tonight’s showcase were the husband and wife team of Gene and Gayla Mills. He sings and plays gluitar and she plays the stand up bass and does back up vocals which makes a nice sounding duet. First off, “Hurricane” a new song, describes the results a hurricane and the destruction it has caused. An anti-tech rant “Carburator” bemoans all the technical advances we have made and wishes to return to a simpler time when gadgets, cars and life were easier to deal with. In a change of pace, Gene then performed an instrumental “Dying Fire”. “If Whiskey Had A Voice’ was a hoot of a song, in which while on stage performing, an inebriated audience member decides to make his debut right in the middle of the set and surprisingly, stuns everyone with his honest singing. Gayla then sang the song BITCH (Boys I’m Taking Charge Here) and intoned “It’s a man’s job, but I’ll (a woman) will show you how it’s done.. You go, girl. The final song in their set, was a long tale about the settling and growth of a section of Richmond called “Oregon Hill” which was settled in the 18th century alongside the James River and expanded to where it is now. A nice tribute to an historic area.

All in all, the night provided the audience with a wide variety of the talent there is in VOCAL and was amply expressed by the artists that performed on the showcase.