For only the second time since March 2020, (April 2023 being first) the May 15th VOCAL showcase was held live at O'Toole's Restaurant. This event was billed as an open mic night for all who wished to perform members, or not.
Rona Myers Sullivan came to the mic first. She acquitted herself as a well seasoned guitarist with the following set list: "Wherever I Am" a song that was self reflexive, and after a failed relationship, has the singer deciding her best option was to follow herself in the world. "Three Forks" told the tale of what happens in a small town such as pettiness and stressing situations, causing the singer to state: "I’ll never go back there again." Next song "Beside The River" recounted living along the banks of river and how the waters flowed with memories of the past. In "Deep Waters" the singer recalls how "everything about you" caught her by surprise through her lover's eyes. Rona closed her set with "Who's Crying Now".
Matt Manion, long time VOCAL member, followed with a twosong set, accompanied by John Ellis on electric guitar. "O Rolling Sea" recounted memories of a trip to Rhode Island with his family and enjoying time at the beach. His guitar work emulated waves rolling in to the shore with timed intervals of strumming, "Thank You Chuck Berry" was a tribute song to the late performer using some the Berry's famous guitar licks in the song's music.
Gary Shaver on keyboard, presented two songs that showcased has deft finger-work on the keys and echoed with a classic country sound. "It's A Crying Shame" was the sad tale of a lost love that still resounds in his mind even after she has changed her name to her new lovers. In contrast: "I Stand Amazed By Your Love" recounted just the opposite, all sweetness and good feelings from his amour.
Next up: Carter Jordan with a singular song "Different Roads" A tale about going separate ways after a breakup.
Featured performer of the night, Jeff Wagner, started off his set with "The Reckless Kind" going into detail living life by throwing caution to the wind, taking chances and their consequences. In "Hurricane Wind" he sings about a couple who left a peaceful somewhat solitary life to enter the world and gets rebuffed and blown around by what it as to offer. In the end, they decide to return to their solitary life. "Kindness Man" is a touching portrait of Jeff's brother who left an indelible mark on him setting up examples of how to treat people who have trouble dealing with adversity and hard times, and thus: the song's title. "Rattlesnake" gives us chilling picture of a woman who plays men for what she can get by dressing provocatively, in snakeskin outfits, hanging out in bars and teasing them with her attributes. "There's Still Songs We Need To Play" reminds us that the human condition is an unending source of creativity if we stop and dig into our feelings and thoughts. The singer says there is much yet unrevealed about life. Remembering the past, times we laughed, times we danced, times we made love, are all the subject of "Sometimes" a song that reminisces about times in a life gone by. To close his set, Jeff presented "Sometimes A Fire Can Stop The Rain" which gave examples of how contradictory life can be.
Many of the attendees were happy to finally see each other in the flesh after a long separation due to the pandemic. The response to the performers bodes well for continued success at VOCAL's live showcases.
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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 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!
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!
Continuing with pandemic controlled activities, the VOCAL showcase was again a virtual affair simulcast on Zoom and Facebook. The two performers were Matt Manion and Glenda creamer.
Matt’s set list included some of his seldom heard songs like “Raw Roach M otel” which depicted conditions living in a 3rd rate flophouse. “No. No, No, No” told about a friendship that goes awry. From the 1980’s he did “Job Hunting Blues” about all the drug tests he had to go through to get a job. That was followed by “Life Can be Funky Down On the Pamunkey” with pictures of what one sees along the river such as birdlife, and foliage. “I Just Want To Be Me” was his confession about not being the perfect person, but accepting who he is in reality. “This Getting Old Is Getting Old” is another reality check about aging. His last song of the night, “God’s Rhythm” tells us, where you are now is where you were meant to be. Put your faith in god.
Glenda Creamer is on a mission to tell bible stories with her music. She has created a musical piece called “The Path”. Tonight she played the second half of that work. The collection of songs t follows a seeker as he walks along a road and confronts various voices along the way. This is told in short narraitve songs that starts with “Slow Down” answered by “Get Back On Your Feet”. In “I’m A Witch Today” she warns “watch out for me, if I get angry I shoot green darts and conjure up your dark emotions”. Then, “Share Your Burdens With The Lord’ followed by a prayer “I Want To Follow You” she cautions him not to take “The Easy Way Out” but in an a capella she advises the man to “Keep on Keeping On” along the road. To follow the straight and narrow path ahead do not climb the “Stairs To Nowhere”. He hears the voice of god saying “I Will Come To Your Aid, I Will Calm Your Fears, I Am By Your Side.” finally the man climbs the stairs and he is saved. He sees moses and the burning bush and hears “Let My People Go”. Finally he realizes he has reached the promised land and is rejoiced in “You Will Always Be My Child” and “Make A Joyful Noise”.
Two very different performers, each with their own approach to music making.
The video of the showcase can be viewed at the VOCAL Facebook page Videos section.
An intimate and attentive crowd gathered at O’Toole’s for the April, 2011 showcase. James Lester opened the show with his fine bluesman-ship. I Like Your Love is an uptempo bluesy number – I’m usually kinda shy, but you have a way of bringing me out of my shell every time you hug me. Circus Blues is a “near-bluegrass” song – something hasn’t been right since the circus came to town – she’s been going out alone and hanging out with the clowns. Now the clown is knocking at our door – should I stay or should I go? Coatesville Blues is a drinking song searching for four-leaf clovers and other things to turn your life around. It only takes a buck and a little luck to get by in this town, but I need the doctor to give me something to take these blues away. Generation Blues is a contrast of life from yesterday and that of today – my dad told me to save for a rainy day, but I pray for a sunny day. There’s plenty of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, but Jesus is nowhere to be found. Satisfried is the story of a man with a great wife who has a good job and knows how to cook. She makes me feel like a king on my throne – I’m satisfied, satisfried. Blues Sky Blue was co-written with Steve Yates. This tender love song tells how his woman makes all his blues go away – I love my odds with you, in a formation of two, you turn my blues sky blue. Why I Sing the Blues was in an alternate tuning that sounded really cool. I get so depressed watching the news – everyone’ fighting ‘cause God is on their side. Whatever happened to a positive vibe? The “addiction” song Lame Pony told us I don’t want no woman don’t know right from wrong – she tried to hold me under her ball and chain – the tears came down like pouring rain – I gave her a lot of money, but it was not enough – I’m gonna take off walkin’, the pony’s going lame. James’ next tune was an instrumental called “E Thang”. Drinking Again was a sad tale about a woman walking out on her man – the last time I saw you was when you walked out the door – you don’t love me anymore – I can’t win – here I am drinking again. It’s All About Money says there ain’t a damn thing funny about the sad situation I’m in – my congressman doesn’t care about me, so my campaign contribution is in the mail. Deva (short for deviant?) is about a bad cat that’s always trying to kill things. Why can’t you just get along – why do you have to be jealous of all the other cats? James ended his set with the country-flavored Make My Day. As I watch you pack your bags, I wonder if we could have a last lusty fling. One more roll in the hay sure would make my day!
Matt Manion then took the stage, opening with a couple of numbers reminiscent of the 70’s. Don’t Remember Thinkin’ took him back to when I don’t remember thinking of the hassles we’d been through – in my state of loneliness, things seemed to be brand new. The Crossroads travelled back to the early days of the Crossroads Coffeehouse in the basement of St. James’s Church – the wooden chairs, coffee and cookies, and guitar players. Going to the Crossroads – I wanna play, I wanna sing, just put me down for anything. Nesmith and he grew up together but apart along parallel paths – raised in the country, but off to Richmond you roamed – I’m sure glad I reached you. God’s Rhythm asks God to help me find my rhythm, find my beat, shake this clumsy body, move these wooden feet – I can feel you in the floorboards – let him work things out.
Matt then invited Valerie Rourke onto the stage, and she performed two lovely a cappella numbers. If You Should Go is reminiscent of Patsy Cline – if you should go, I won’t come after you, or try to hurt you – now you have gone, but I’ll never know why you decided to leave, and I only torture myself when I believe you still think of me. Valerie left us with Torn in Two, which tells of one who is undecided on whether to stay or leave – one side of me loves you so, the other hates you because of how you treat me. My friends all say I should leave you, because you will never change – my heart thinks different, so what am I to do?
Matt returned to the stage with two fellow Vocal-onians, John Ellis (guitar) and Norm Roscher (“sin” thesiser). The thoughtful and dreamy Old Rolling Sea was inspired by body surfing (Norm was surfing his keyboard) and told of the power, depth, and age of the sea. You can feel and taste the salt spray just thinking about it! Don’t Need to be Perfect states that I don’t need to be right, macho, or bright, I just need to be me. Man’s Man is a call for a man who’s not afraid to take me by the hand and be a loyal friend to the very end – don’t care if he’s shy, don’t care what people say – if they talk, I don’t give a damn! John Ellis joined in with his smoking electric guitar on this number. Matt ended the set with Sit Down for Standby, an all-too-familiar story about trying to get home on a standby flight. John & Norm joined in again for this tune. We’re all just travelers stuck in the same boat – if I don’t get a flight, I don’t get home.
Submitted by Steve Nuckolls