October 2022 VOCAL Songwriters Showcase

 

The October 2022 VOCAL Songwriters’ Showcase took place virtually via Zoom and FB Live on Monday, October 18, 2022. Two of VOCAL’s long-time members, Glenda Creamer and Jim Puckett, shared their well-crafted tunes with the group.

Glenda opened the evening with a spook-filled set and she was dressed for the occasion with her black witches hat! She opened with Saurena’s Song, describing the melodic hook reeling her in – swallowed the bait – he’s the best fisherman, and she’s waiting to see if she’ll get thrown back in or if she’s a keeper. Lazarus recounts the Biblical tale (a bit creepy/spooky) where Lazarus awakes from the dead. Scary, indeed! She then delivered her signature (and timely) song I’m a Witch Today, conjuring up evil emotions, vibes, etc. that you don’t want to come your way! She then brought us Ghost House, which was inspired by a crazy dark dream. They had just moved to a rental house and started experiencing really weird things, realizing then that the house was haunted. Moonshine Sky is another one of Glenda’s signature songs, a minor-keyed haunting number inspired by the moonshine-making days in Franklin County, VA during the Depression. Fortune Teller is a cool song she co-wrote with former VOCAL member and UofR Speech Professor Jerry Tarver. It “tells” about his love foretold, which then he stupidly betrayed, so he’s now asking the Fortune Teller to tell him a lie – he’ll even pay her double to reward her for her trouble! Glenda ended her set with another haunted tune Never Sing About the Moon (the crescent moon is for the witch, the full moon for the werewolf, but no moon is when all the creepy things come out!) If you don’t want him to fall in love with you, then don’t sing about the moon when you’re looking into his eyes, and don’t act pleased when he gives you a surprise.

Jim Puckett then took the virtual stage with his numerous guitars, swapping them depending on the desired tuning. He opened with Mabscott, an ode to the old coal-mining town, remembering his grandad driving the grocery truck around the mines. The Only Stars is a cool number about not only seeing billions and billions of starts in the sky, but also seeing millions in the darkness of your lover. Mississippi Line reveals a current theme of standing in line for assistance in some form or another, whether it’s food, gas, or most recently bottled water in the case of Jackson. You never know when you may be the one who has to stand in line, especially when your life and dreams have suddenly dried up. In Richmond is a tune where the city is calling out and waiting for you from all corners of its rich and sometimes dark history. From “Hollywood on the James” to the church on “The Hill” there is something for everyone. Jim brought his harmonica for Giving Me Ideas, where he and his lover are taking a drive in the country, the music cranked up to free them. Don’t have to tell me twice, she’s giving me ideas! It’s Okay is a new song from Jim with a “don’t worry, be happy” attitude to life and what comes along. Doesn’t matter what it is, someone borrows and wrecks your car, someone crashes on your sofa, etc. there’s always room at the Inn! Into My Arms is another cool song in alternate tuning that Jim describes as an “apocalyptic love song”. Regardless of all the gloom and doom and despair, I will always be there with arms wide open to take you in. Riverside is one of Jim’s signature tunes, a dark “Appalachian Murder Ballad” tale of taking your lover down to the river where the cool water feels good on a hot summer night. What begins as young passionate lovers trying to get away with everything they could ends with her being shot by a jealous lover who is then “taken to the water”. When The War is Over was written several years ago but is very applicable today with the situation in Ukraine. The parent compares the noises of war to the weather, with the rain and thunder – it will all be better when the war is over. Things Happen Fast describes the situation of many when they are living high on the hog, taking things for granted, when suddenly they find themselves in a free fall and lose everything they had. Jim ended the evening with Winter Town, where he initially is inclined to get out of town when the cold and snow arrives, but then realizes that is where his roots are, so decides to turn around and stay.

Great sets, Glenda and Jim!


 

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

September 2022 VOCAL Songwriters Showcase

One of the qualities I've always admired about VOCAL is its ability to deal with change. From securing performance venues, to challenges presented with the pandemic lockdowns, and a host of other "little things" that would bog down other non-profit arts organizations, Matthew Costello and the leadership and membership of VOCAL have managed to find unique, workable solutions to these and other issues.

For instance - what happens when the VOCAL Songwriter of The Year and the composer of the VOCAL Song of The Year, both member-voted accolades, who have the honor of sharing the playbill for the next Songwriters Showcase...but both award winners are the SAME person?!? And there's never been a Songwriter's Showcase featuring a SINGLE performer?!?

Solution - you put aside tradition for one evening, hand the virtual microphone over to the "Cute Girl with Glasses", and get out of her way!

This was the case at this year’s September Songwriters Showcase, when Keely Burn, the 2022 VOCAL Songwriter of The Year, and composer of the 2022 VOCAL Song of The Year, "Your Company", stood alone, center stage, and showed us why she was so deserving of this year’s top honors.

Keely performed a 12-song set of her greatest hits, alternating between her keyboard and several ukuleles, while recovering from the travel lag associated with a wedding she sang at the weekend before. Oh, and there was the unplanned technical delay due to Facebook's procedure change for livestreaming without notice or warning (see VOCAL’s ability to deal with change above).

Keely shared insights into her songwriting process and inspirations along the way, and the common theme for her is relationships. Her opening selection "Waltz" explored the dynamics of marriage. "When I'm Acting" searched for acceptance in a complicated relationship. "Masterpiece", a classic Keely Burn song, clearly laid out parameters and expectations in a troubled relationship. "Broken Heart" was originally a collegiate exercise in Dorian mode that evolved into a breakup song. Here, the audience was treated to a wonderfully fresh freedom in Keely's lyric and melody.

Keely took a moment to say that yes, relationships are her guiding songwriting inspiration, but her lyrics often explore conflict and the resulting reactions that are NOT typical of Keely personally. "Your Company" was such a song, where she drew her inspiration from close friends and a Sondheim work with a similar name. Keely followed our 2022 VOCAL Song of the Year with "Lightning" a fiery, spirited ukulele song.

Keely has an EP project in the works, which she tells us is all about anxiety. "Bed of Nails", one of the songs from her forthcoming project, deals with adults making friends in the digital age, and how individual backgrounds can, well, complicate things. "Doorstop" was her audition song for the prestigious Summer Camp of the Interlochen Center for The Arts. It was a treat to hear a song from Keely's younger years, a clever song of empowerment. In this song, the audience could hear clear lines between yesterday's raw talented teenager and today's polished energetic artist.

The set continued with "Come Down Love" - a primal and declarative work, because what's a love affair without a few rough edges to work out? Keely's next song was a change-up, called "Strike Three" - but it wasn't about baseball (wink). The next song was one of our favorites, "Cute Girl with Glasses" - love her, don't love her, it's all good! But don't forget the ukulele!

Keely wrapped up the night with "Out of The Flood", a reminder that even in hard times, life washes away the things that drag us down.

Congratulations on a historic, vibrant Songwriters Showcase performance, and congratulations to the 2022 VOCAL Song of The Year writer AND Songwriter of The Year, Keely Burn!

~ David Atkins

August 2022 VOCAL Songwriters Showcase

August 2022 Vocal Showcase.

Another stellar night of music was provided by two long time VOCAL members, president Matthew Costello and Glenda Creamer. Hosting was another long time member, David Atkins.

Opening the program tonight, while waiting for attendees to show up, were two recorded examples of the songwriters works: "Lady You" by Matthew was a jazzy tune and "I'm Leaving Cody" a popish cowboy song from Glenda.

Matthew Costello
To start the live portion of the show, Matthew began with "Train of Thought" which outlined the dual thinking processes of the singer and the object of his attention. Next, "Life Is A Movie" described all the different contrasts one finds going through life, such as country life/city life, friends/strangers, heroes/villians, and shows the complexity of what we experience. A major piece of work by him "The Artist That Hung The Moon" (John Atkinson Grimshaw) is a picture itself by a song, of a picture by the artist with imagery and music. "If You Knew" was a song about being smitten, secret feelings the singer harbored for a woman he sees across a room and wonders if she has picked up on his feelings. Next in his set, Matthew presented "Bound By Walls of the Past" which included some lines how the title can affect a person, such as "Freedom in the future, walls in the past" and "Why pay remorse for rent". This question , "What is Happy", probably crosses most everyone's mind at least once in life. The answer, as Matthew explains, is "In The Eye of The Beholder" in his song "Get Me Some Happy". It shows up when we least expect it, and from unexpected sources, from the aura of strangers to our own inner being, it is a contagious feeling one can not ignore.

Glenda Creamer
Glenda began her set with the "Frog Song" a delightful tune describing all the antics of a frog and it's characteristics, slimy, green, hoppy, jumpy, swimming in the toilet bowl and other assorted traits, and she included some very froggy sound effects to complement the song, as well. The next song (Woman on the path?) comes from a suite of songs about Jesus and the Bible, in which the woman asks Jesus to bless the children He encounters in His walk through life. "Hit On By Older Men" tells the tale of how her wedding ring (a sapphire not a diamond) misleads men into thinking she is available and how she has to fend them off. Next in her set was "September Wind" and describes the changes the coming autumn is creating, pushing waves back to the shore, rustling leaves and cooling temperatures. One of her well known songs was next: "I'm A Witch" in which, she exemplifies all the traits of a witch, casting spells, shooting green darts and generally creating havoc in people's lives. "Ghost Town" to keep the halloween theme going, was a song about a haunted house invaded by kids who spend the night exploring for ghostly powers, to which she added spooky sounds. "Moonshine Sky" came from her experience growing up in rural Virginia, and related the exploits of local moonshiners who made their brew in the dark of night in the shadow of the mountains. Last song in her set, Glenda presented "Let The Cool In" and mister cool himself saunters in on a hot summer day to the delight of those suffering the heat.

One of the outstanding results of tonight's showcase proved that VOCAL has great songwriters who create meaningful and thought provoking lyrics and complimentary music skills.

 

 

July 2022 VOCAL Songwriters Showcase

The July 2022 Songwriters Showcase took place on July 18, 2022 via Zoom (streamed live on FB). Two long-time VOCAL members Bill Kaffenberger and Matt Manion were the featured writers.

Bill Kaffenberger

Bill opened the show in a dropped-D tuning with Acts of Random Blindness, the story of someone out of control with serious non-earthly problems who defied everything and cashed it all in – don’t mess with God or he’ll mess with you! In The Morning was a partially-written tune from the late 60’s – early 70’s that he had written with a friend who has since passed away.  He’s sorry he walked out on his friend when he needed him most and doesn’t blame him for anything that happened in the past – I’ll be heading out when the morning comes. The Ghosts of Laurel Canyon is the title track of his newest release, describing his ventures into the canyon in search of the muse from past musicians who lived there. The ocean breaks for miles and miles – are these ghosts of the canyon even real, or are they walking these hills? Dad is a very sentimental tune about his father, remembering all the great times they had together. Summer Day Summer Sun was co-written with his high school friend Jim Howard, a salute to the summer fun and sun and the idea of leaving everything behind and dream on a new horizon. The next tune, also co-written by his friend Jim, was inspired by the Don McLean’s song Vincent. Asking what Van Gogh’s life could have been like, he encourages us to never give up on our dreams despite how despondent things may seem at the moment. She’s So Real is a signature tune of Bill’s that most everyone can relate to – trying to find that special person in your life who’s the “real deal”! She’s got a heart a million miles wide, so how can you go wrong with that? Maybe someday he will have the nerve to tell her how he feels about her. And So it Goes was written after attending a John Prine concert, where Prine encouraged all songwriters in the audience to go home and write a song. Bill took that to heart and wrote a pleasing-to-the-ear Prine-ish number. You can’t cook an egg in a toaster or comb your hair in the wind – reminded me of the advice dispensed in Prine’s Dear Abby song! He then introduced his new single Summer Rain, a rhetorical apocalyptic tune that will make you stop and think about what’s going on in our world today. His next tune, She Was Meant For Me, was written in the style of Gene Clark, a member of the former Byrds. He can’t believe that he’s the only one who understands that when all is said and done, and after a lot of time has passed, maybe she’ll see that she was meant for me! Bill ended his set with Someone Greater, a song he wrote back in the 70’s while at VCU and playing at the Grace Street Coffeehouse. After witnessing all the majestic mountains, newborn babies, etc. you certainly will believe there is someone greater! Great set, Bill!

Matt Manion

Long-time member Matt Manion then took the virtual stage, opening with one of his signature tunes I Don’t Need to be Perfect. Definitely a message many folks can relate to – let me just be myself and get on with my life! Looking for a Man’s Man describes the search for that perfect mate – doesn’t have to be rich, just someone who will grab me by the heart. Blue Springs Hideaway recounts the heavenly trip to the mountains in southwest Virginia, soaking in Mother Nature miles away from the city lights – rocky ridges and forest trails. Definitely a peaceful place for a great weekend! Another dreamy ode to Mother Nature is Life Can Be Funky Down on the Pamunkey, a really cool song describing all the wondrous aspects of natural life along this lazy river. Matt then treated us to a new song using sampling from the Simple Minds’ song Don’t You Forget About Me. I Just Wrote a Song Today asks the listener to just let him know if you don’t like it and he’ll stop it! Matt took us home with Rolling Sea, which included soothing backing tracks he recorded on the beach by the ocean. I could almost feel myself floating and bobbing peacefully with the gentle roll of the waves. Way to go, Matt!

 

June 2022 VOCAL Songwriters Showcase

 

The June 2022 VOCAL Virtual Songwriters Showcase featured two fine songwriters who represent distinctly different points within the spectrum of our membership, Keely Burn and Doug Patrick. This was another virtual showcase using Zoom while streaming via FB Live, which has been our standard operating procedure during the pandemic.

Keely Burn

Keely opening the evening, sharing both her Richmond home as well as her favorite four-legged audience with us! Keely has been with VOCAL since 2013, where even as a teenager her creative potential was clear to see. Her songwriting is filled with smart, challenging lyrics, joyful melodies, and confidence in the face of a challenging world. Her set tonight opened with the self-affirmation anthem Not Afraid. From her forthcoming sophomore album release (stay tuned for more info), Bed Of Nails explored the difficulty of making friends in the digital age, and “friending” someone who ultimately isn’t worth one’s time. Switching instruments, we were next treated to “Ukalady”. (Don’t ask, just watch the showcase on our website archive!) Keeping with the 4-string theme, Keely charmed us with her quirky tongue-in-cheek bio-pic, Cute Girl With Glasses. Her next songs dove further into her new album project, in the form of anxiety studies, including Drowning On Thin Air and Your Company, in honor of Pride Month; addressing those dealing with the pressures of trying to conform to society’s expectations. Rounding out this portion of her set was The Flood, a call to prioritize real life issues over personal drama. Concluding with a song of empowerment, for anyone struggling to carry both themselves and a partner, Keely delighted us with one of our favorites, Masterpiece. Thank you, Keely, for a great set!

Doug Patrick

We then turned from one of our freshest songwriters to one of our most enduring. Doug’s standard of excellence has endured as long as many of us can remember, and no one tells a story in song like Doug. Doug’s stage was his screened-in back porch, complete with rocking chair and crickets for background ambience!

Doug opened his set with the dreams of a small-town boy looking for a faster life, in Good Time Train. Next, when things don’t work out, we took comfort in the promise of a home to come back to, in Rivertown.

I try not to use words like “old”, “seasoned”, and “experienced” in these reviews, but when the artist sings a song of fatherly love, written for his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren(!), the artist leaves me little choice! Congratulations, Doug, both on the great-grandchildren, and for your tender song I’ll Hold You.

Doug continued with a story of Kentucky migrants looking for better days during the Great Depression, in Getaway, an old (sorry!) VOCAL favorite made new again with a slightly slower tempo and a soulful, poignant singing of the lyrics.

Hot dogs just taste better at a baseball game, and baseball just looks better when the coach finally relents and puts your grandson in the game, in Put Him In The Lineup.

Doug’s interest in Civil War history came in handy for his next few songs. Molly told of the horrors of battle through the eyes of one soldier’s final lament, while One Lone Georgia Pine romanticized a dark time from the performer’s ancestry.

Doug then concluded this night of original songwriting excellence with a song of hope for the future, “food for thought” as he put it, in I Believe.

Doug Patrick and Keely Burn. Separated by generations, but united in the craft of songwriting and the pursuit of excellence. Thanks to you both for a wonderful evening of music!