April 2022 VOCAL Songwriters Showcase

The April 2022 VOCAL Virtual Songwriters Showcase featured two of our long-time members, James Lester and David Atkins. This was another virtual showcase using Zoom while streaming via FB Live, which has been our standard operating procedure during the pandemic.James LesterJames opened the show, zooming in from Halifax County. He brought us a sampling of some of his finest blues-ery, treating us to the tunes he has written during the pandemic. He opened with Love To Share, accompanying himself on guitar and harmonica, grooving to the rapper’s beat and rhyme – throw me a line if you have some love to share! Another harmonica-driven blues song is Backdoor Man, where who knows what’s gonna happen if he shows up again at my back door looking for my woman. Confused and Blue is a tune many of us can relate to, where we are showing the signs of age, a sharp contrast to our youth when we knew everything! Mr. Gray Cat describes his relationship with a semi-feral cat who is friendly enough to allow you to feed him but don’t even think about petting him! Jody Got Your Gal and Gone, and Army-inspired tune, where you are taught to kill because God is on your side and if you come home with only one leg consider yourself lucky! The US Capitol events on January 6th inspired his next tune, Trying to Get Along, where he walks down both sides of the sidewalk, just trying to get along with the people he meets. Sing the Morning In is a minor-blues tune where his ears are ringing and voices in his head – angels looking down at him – let him sing his song! James ended his set with The Boogey Man, wondering what you would do if he came out of the shadows and surprised you – the sunlight turns him into a Nervous Nilly! Great set, James!

David Atkins

David Atkins then took the Zoom stage, accompanied by his backing tracks, with some of his signature tunes, including the honky-tonk bar-related favorites. When a Woman Smiles is one of our favorites, and we all know those smiles are too hard to resist! Gray is one of his newer tunes and takes a realistic view of society where everything is not black or white. The House on Leaksville Road is a haunting number recounting a visit to the house where he once lived with a love of the past. Emancipated is a newer song reflecting the ignorance and misguided attitudes of certain people stuck in their ways and unwilling to accept the truth. Wishing You Were Here takes us back to the bar where he’s crying in his beer and licking his wounds after being left by his lover. Southern Pride is another new song and bears the “three chords and the truth” philosophy of songwriting. He’s remembering some of his field trips from school in his youth where they visited homes/museums of Civil War heroes whose reputation has become tarnished through the years, making Southern Pride a dubious phrase. He then delivered his signature tune and crowd favorite Sing Your Own Song, a tribute to all of us writers out there just trying to get our stories out make sure they’re heard. He ended the evening with One Drink in the Bottle, another bar/honky-tonk number that he crafts so well (can’t waste a drop!). Way to go, David!

This concluded yet another wonderful evening of songwriting performances by two of our stellar writers!


March 2022 VOCAL Songwriters Showcase

The March 2022 VOCAL Virtual Showcase featured two very talented VOCAL songwriters, Dean Broga and Jeff Wagner.

Tonight’s showcase, simulcast on Zoom and Facebook, featured two longtime VOCAL songwriters, Bill Kaffenberger and Matt Manion. After some brief opening remarks by VOCAL president Matthew Costello, and two introductory songs by the featured artists, the show began.Matt Manion
Firstup, Matt Manion began his set with one of his standard songs “Don’tStand By Me” which is the hilarious tale of a band member who is leery of being on stage with another band member because he is getting shot at by a cuckold. This was followed by “Power Play” a song about job frustration. “Song For Speculators” describes half hearted love affairs, and part time lovers who don’t commit as “a bitter pill to take”. At this point in his set, Matt switched over to his keyboard, using organ tones, to present, what was a sad and mournful song “A Terrible Dream” which depicted musical scenes from the Ukrainian war. Quoting from the late civil rights leader, John Lewis, Matt created a song entitled “Necessary Trouble, Good Trouble” a phrase associated with Lewis, and exhorts those, such as LGBT people to stand up for their rights which leads into the next song “Boys On The Beach“. In this song Matt, sings about the singer who enjoys watching the young men on the beach cavort about in their swim suits which keeps him entranced. However, at the end, we learn the singer already has a companion who is enjoying the sights with him. The last song in the set was one to which most of us can subscribe “This Gettin’ Old, Is Gettin” Old“. Outlining all the aches and pains old folks suffer, he ruminates, “Golden Years are over sold” Indeed. Bill Kaffenberger
Bill Kaffenberger (Berger, not Burger) now lives in L.A. but still participates in VOCAL activities. He has recently completed a CD entitled “Ghosts Of Laurel Canyon” from which he chose a couple of songs. But before those, he kicked off his set with an older song (Co-written with Jim Howard) “A Clear Day For Peace” which, in a way, piggy backed on Matt’s “Terrible Dream” but in a more positive tone. “She’s So Real” describes a lady with a smile as big as the sky, and eyes that sparkle and dance in the sun. In fact, as he stated, this song could have been titled “She’s Surreal” for all the idealistic metaphors he used. “Summer Day, Summer Sun” follows in the same path, though descriptive more of nature than a person musing of long lost days looking at mountain vistas and babbling brooks. “Oh Dad” is a tribute to his departed father in which Bill, presumably at graveside, talks to hi sfather about how much he misses him and loves him. It was touching to say the least. As mentioned a couple of songs Bill did came from his latest CD. This one, the title tune, has the singer searching the canyon and oll the SoCal locations looking for a lost love but so far, only finding the ghosts and asks, at the end, “are the ghosts still there, is the magic still there”. “The Weeping Time” takes place in Savannah Ga. during a sad time in history during the middle 1800’s during the slave trade era. It castigates those who profited off this despicable practice. “If I Ask” was a pleasant tune about seeing someone the singer likes and inquires if he can dance with her. “Without You” from the new CD follows through on the title with the plea “How Long Can I Go through(life) without you.” Bill ended his set tonight with a plea to God as “Someone Greater” we need in our lives and invites us to be “part of His plans’. That ended tonight’s showcase.

Click here to view the showcase on Facebook.

February 2022 VOCAL Songwriters Showcase

The February 2022 VOCAL Virtual Showcase featured two very talented VOCAL songwriters, Dean Broga and Jeff Wagner.

Dean opened the show with a variety of song themes. He started with Jersey, recounting his desire to get the heck out of the rat race in a large city and find a peaceful ranch in Wyoming. This is Dean’s first song and it has undergone several rewrites. The rocking/driving Open Road is his tribute to all the truckers out there and was written to meet the VOCAL challenge to write a trucker song. Life is a Dead End One-Way Street tells us we should just be nice to all the people we meet, as we are all going to end up in the same space, wondering why we ever joined the Human Race. Winter is a very beautiful and tender love song describing two lovers in the moonlight at midnight. This was another tune written to a VOCAL challenge for holiday/seasonal writing. He followed with another beautiful, romantic love song When I Met You (?), describing his love who found him when he was falling out of love and immediately took over his heart. Dean left us with Rodeo, inspired by hearing about a rodeo in Tulsa. Blue-eyed and pony-tailed in blue jeans describes the lady who stepped out of his dreams and caught his eye.

Jeff Wagner then took the virtual stage with several of his finely-honed folkish straight-from-the-heart tunes. He opened with The Reckless Kind, an older song of his that depicts his life according to some (I’ve sometimes resembled that remark!) He then sang a broken-heart-bound-to-be-mended song Sometimes a Fire Stops the Rain, where his strong heart is willing and able to jump in and save the pain of a distraught lover. Borderline describes a lot of folks in our ilk, where you’re pulling the 9-to-5 every day, but your heart has a side gig trying to come to life, writing the songs for all to hear. A newer song, Grace Street 1975 reminisces the old college years and the fun times had in all the great haunts. Yet another new song is Ruin My Day, an ode to a former lover after a tumultuous breakup. The Facts of Life was inspired by his becoming a grandfather and tells the tale of giving away his old guitar to his grandchild, where all the songs contained within were from the facts of life. My Ocean Girl is another new tune with a cool, island-inspired vibe, written for his wife. A lot of refreshing and calming “beachey” images here to relax by! Sometime is another sad breakup song which tied for the Song of the Year award a couple of years ago. Another new breakup song was Devil in the Details, where the Devil is his memories, as he remembers all the sordid details! She Was Raised on Sad Songs speaks for itself, where she would rather go stand in the rain than stand in the bright lights. Jeff ended the evening with You Carry Me, a memorable and thoughtful tune written for his brothers, who were always there for him when he needed them most.

Another wonderful virtual VOCAL Showcase!

January 2022 VOCAL Songwriters Showcase

The January 2022 VOCAL Songwriters 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 at the VOCAL Songwriters Showcase 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!