March 2024 VOCAL Songwriters Showcase

Another fine night of music as Glenda Creamer and Jim Puckett, two of VOCAL's  regular members, shared their talents with the assembled audience.

Jim Puckett

Jim was first to perform. Five songs were brand new. He started his set with "The Act of Mercy" which was a confessional song hoping to receive atonement for breaking the rules of life. This was followed by "Ragged Edge" then a song about mortality "Kicking Up The Coals". "The Speed Of Sin" told about a person who acted foolishly and paid the price for her actions. "Everybody Needs A Home" described the anxiety the singer felt about returning to his roots and how he might feel when walking through the door once again. Next: "Pick Up The Phone" was a desperate plea to a loved one to answer the phone and hopefully, be alone and not with another lover. Going back into his catalog, "Poor Elena" was based on a true story about a midwife in the back country who despite her own loss of children, brought forth many others in her life's work. This was followed by "Home, Tonight" wishing to satisfy his need for love.

Glenda Creamer

Glenda is a long lime VOCAL member and a frequent showcase performer. She began her set with a series of song inspired by the Bible. "Wherever You Go, I Will Go" has the singer pledging herself to follow the love of God and God himself. "Your People Will Be My People" gives comfort to those who follow Jesus by assimilating His words. "This Wine" refers to turning water into wine, and being a "mighty fine wine". In order to fully understand the message of Jesus it is important to "Slow Down" while walking with Him and more so, to get back on your feet should one fall down on the way which was told in "I Fell Down, Last NIght" . Moving away from the testament, Glenda switched to some humorous songs "Frogs" being first up. As she tells it, frogs are everywhere, On your windshield, in the trees and scarlily, in your toilet bowl. Like the frogs, they should make you jumpy whenever they appear. After pulling the "Horse in The River" out, we were given a a tour of "Mrs. Grizzard's Washing Machine" wringer and all. "I'm Leaving Cody" was a tale of heading back home from the Wild West to Virginia, "Moonshine Sky" was followed by one of Glenda's standards "I'm A Witch, Today" describing the singer's feeling of casting spells and flying. "Confessions Of A Germaphobe" was self explanatory about the fear of being infected by things like a dog bite. Returning to Bibical references, her last song of the night was "The Splendor of King Solomon".

Thus, the showcase concluded with a wide spectrum of musical subjects and styles.


Showcase Photos

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Photo Credits: Matthew Costello and John Ellis

February 2024 VOCAL Songwriters Showcase

The February 2024 showcase took place on February 19th at O’Toole’s. An intimate and attentive crowd attended the event with one patron even seeking out a tip jar!

VOCAL President Matthew Costello opened the accompanied by backing tracks as he is unable to play guitar at this time. Walkin’ Willie is a catchy number many of us can relate to about a bomb-surviving war veteran whose purpose in life seemed to be walking the streets all over the town. Not sure exactly where he needed to be but he was heading there anyway! The Ghosts of Centre Hill is a Petersburg-based story about ghosts inhabiting the house and grounds of this early 19th century mansion. Shadows of September is one of Matthew’s more recent signature tunes that I believe came out his songwriting classes with Harriet Schock. The tune has some beautiful imagery and play on words describing the long shadows of the short days in September.  Get Me Some Happy is the story of curbing a life of excess and taking the correct turn at the crossroads of life, occasionally resulting in “getting’ some happy”! He then delivered The Artist That Hung The Moon, one of his most touching works describing the wonderful artwork of John Atkinson Grimshaw. Missing Planks is a new song containing numerous images of a deteriorating dock observed over time and etched in your memory. The heart pine from a tree was like the branches of a family. Matthew ended his set with Behind the Scenes, a vision from a dream where he seem himself out front on the stage, but there’s a backstage crew making everything happen. Way to go, Matthew!

Russell Lawson took the stage with several of his awesome tunes. Montana Wide recounts the experience of a mission trip to Blackfoot Indian country in 2016. He has numerous vivid images of this breathtaking part of the country along with the spirituality he felt along the way, totally in harmony with the people of Montana. If You Call Now is a love-lost song with the narrator at fault. He knows that she’ll probably never come back to him but he’s leaving the door open in case she has a change in mind. Life Sentence is another love-lost number about being locked up without her love with no parole/visitors and having to spend this grueling life knowing what might have been. Russell then brought us Hallow Ground, a haunting yet beautiful tale born from attending a memorial service in Hollywood Cemetery. Wheatland is a tranquil spiritual story about departing this earthly world and looking down upon the serene river property on your way to Heaven. The grieving hearts will eventually find peace knowing you’ve found freedom in your beautiful resting place. High Road and Low describes the life of attempting to take the high road most of the time but inevitably falling down along the way – now that we’re here on this mountaintop with family and friends we’re back on the High Road! Ol’ Jack and Daddy is an interesting tale of Daddy’s love for Jack Daniels that made him run away from the family. He did have the decency to leave a note in an empty whiskey bottle along with a check for Mom to use for the kids! He then performed Charleston, an ode to his hometown in South Carolina that included vivid imagery of this beautiful country. He demonstrated some mighty fine whistling on this number! Penguin Blues is a “cool” tune that took flight when he was helping his son with a school project related to Antarctica. All I eat is fish, gotta go with the floe, etc. Wayne and Maggie’s Grill is a signature Russell tune that came from a dream. It’s a nostalgic view of an old truck diner that was torn down to build an interstate highway. Many great memories remain of its heyday when great food was being served and nightly live entertainment was held. RIP Wayne and Maggie’s Grill! Great job, Russell!

Showcase Photos

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Photo Credits: Matthew Costello and John Ellis

March 2023 VOCAL Songwriters Showcase

In March, VOCAL completed its third year of internet showcases, using Zoom, Facebook, and tonight, You Tube as well.

On the bill were Matthew Costello,  Jim Novak and Burke Ingraffia. Jim and Burke are virtually new members who signed up in January of this year and were performing for the first time.

Matthew Costello
To  start the proceedings, VOCAL president Matthew Costello began with a set of his original songs. Using tracks (sans #1) he began with a character depiction of “Walkin’ Willie” who, as the song describes, was a rather odd character in his hometown who walked everywhere including joining in street parades and causing disruptions. The singer one night gets a visitation from Willie post his demise and muses over what he, the singer, remembers about him.  “Walls of the Past” is also a remembrance of  different kind, that of an old love, rues what might have been and brings about “remorse for rent” with which there is plenty to spare.  “Life Is A Movie” ups the mood and analogizes states of mind to various movie tropes, the singer seeing himself in different roles on the screen. “Get Me Some Happy” – What you are is in the “eye of the beholder” as the singer repeats in his song.  Digging into his own personal recollections in “She Made You A Home”, Matthew tells us the story of his mother and her affect on the family she was the glue that held the family together for 46 years. In the “Artist Who Hung The Moon“(Grimshaw) we get a detailed painting of the life and times of the artist in his studio and how he created his visions on canvas. Lastly, the final song of the set, “Shadows of September“, also paints a picture of atmospheric visions and invites the listener to hear “the silent songs” that surround us. Jim Novak
Next up, Jim Novak. A recent transplant from Michigan,now lives in Prince William and also runs his own  showcase on Tuesdays. He began his set with “Blue Star in the Window” which was a tribute to his mother who served in the WACS during W.W.II. In his song, Jim tells us about the tradition of displaying flags during the war to demonstrate either a relative participating or unfortunately, a loss of someone,  by what color flag was being shown.  “Mastodon Conversation” imagines the singer talking to this beast from the past and discussing with it,  conditions for survival that, don’t seem to be much different relative to each’s living arena.  His next song “First Class View”  talked about his father working  in the auto factory in Dearborn, MI. and while not particularly enjoying that work, was dedicated to supporting his family.  This was followed by a musical musing of the erratic nature of weather, especially spring. “Maple Sugar Snow”  talked about how quickly  we can go from warm to cold in March and watch the sap from a maple tree drip and then freeze within a day or two. Jim closed out his set with “Lovely River” a sweet song about the river that flows nearby which could be  about a person as well.  In his observations this line “water doubles the sky”  helps describe the nature of what the river means to him. Burke Ingraffia
Another newcomer to VOCAL, Burke Ingraffia. Formerly from New Orleans, now in the Richmond area, brings another fresh prospective to the showcase. Once living in Independence LA. he titled his first song, “Independence, Louisiana” after that town and brought a vision of his grandfather’s farm, he worked as a child, harvesting strawberries and other crops and  the lessons he learned from that experience. In “Checks and Balances” we get a vision of the difficulty many face trying to survive with “shallow pockets” when trying to stay financially afloat.  Burke’s next song “Dusty Old Clock” reminds him that “time will take me” no matter how hard we struggle in life, the clock on the wall serves as ever present reminder we too, will be dust. Examining creativity is the theme in “Waves” his next song. We are challenged to “Live like it’s your first day and love like it’s your last”. Don’t waste time. whatever  you create, material or ethereal,  give it your all. A memory from his New Orleans days inspired Burke’s next song “Soft Shoes“.  Here he gives us a portrait of of a man dancing in the streets of N.O. probably during Mardi Gras and how graceful he appeared to be.  “Change of Heart” the final set song,  reminds us some things we have no control over, like the weather, the seasons, unintended consequences, but in life, one thing we can change is how we feel inside. The heart is malleable, flexible and exhibits our emotions and our self worth.

Once again: VOCAL performers demonstrated a wide range of subject matter, form and creativity to make this night of music enjoyable and thoughtful.


January 2023 VOCAL Songwriters Showcase

The January 2023 showcase had two veteran VOCAL members and two newer ones scheduled, but unfortunately Dave Drouillard, a new member, had some technical difficulties preventing him from performing (we’ll take a rain check, Dave!).

The show opened with longtime member Carol Torricelli (aka Torch) who delivered some very intriguing and dreamy tunes reminiscent of Joni Mitchell. Come to Virginia could be the official Tourism song for the Commonwealth of Virginia as it describes all the wonderful sights, smells and sounds of the state. Give Me the Simple Life was the first of two songs co-written with longtime member Glen King. This tune embodies many images and thoughts we could all take away, the many benefits of living a simple, uncomplicated life.  Don’t You Slow Me Down was written about a trip she took to explore her roots in Sicily and featured her signature stellar whistling ability! She has her bags all packed and is ready to go, so don’t anyone get in her way! Tossing Like a Salad Over You is a jazzy-ish tune describing her relationship with an individual, wondering if he would continue texting her and where their relationship was heading. Highway to Your Heart was the second number co-written with Glen and was written fairly recently for the truck song challenge VOCAL had. They’re burning up the highway trying to get back home to the one they love. Saw someone who looked like Jesus standing by the road and definitely had a country station dialed in on the radio. Keep it in the road! Great set, Torch!

Veteran member Keely Burn then took the virtual Zoom stage and delivered several of her signature tunes, presenting a theme that could probably be turned into a musical. You’ll Like Me More When I’m Not Me was the beginning of the journey in the life of the fictitious woman named Blue, where she doesn’t have much self-confidence, doesn’t like the limelight and would be more attractive if she’s just being herself and not acting. “Act II” of this story is someone new coming into the story who thinks they’re more attractive if they’re outgoing.  The next chapter in Blue’s life deals with terms and conditions, where you need to lay the groundwork up front to get on the same page (I may not want you as a companion but would welcome your company). Masterpiece reveals the conflict that often arises in a relationship where you have a misunderstanding of your terms and conditions, and in this case Blue and her companion are not on the same page. Waltz tells us that love is not a written-in-stone foregone conclusion, but that there are ways to fulfill a relationship other than the traditional one. You Were My Guiding Light, the conclusion of the narrative, is a heartfelt number every cloud has a silver lining but all you see is gray. I heard your voice beside me, your song showed me the way, you were the guiding light. Great job, Keely!

Newcomer Erik Gaines then took the stage and treated us to some mighty fine tunes. Drunk ‘til New Year’s was reflective of a recent visit to the ABC store where a customer had a fully-loaded cart and was going to get obliterated for the entire week via his Christmas spirits. About to be three sheets to the wind, he’s ready to just pass out on the couch where no one will notice. Fools Tread Where Angels Fear To Go tells reveals that he’s a fool for her love and will do anything, walk the wire, etc. to win her love. In Bad Dog he portrays himself as a tail-waggin’ somewhat well-behaved puppy willing to do anything to make the girl take him home.  I Only Mean The Best is a new heartfelt song about someone just trying to do the right thing and be the best they can, even though someone thinks the worst of them. The words may sometimes come out wrong, but no harm is intended. I’m Coming Home To You recounts the experiences of being out on the road far away from home living out your dreams but having other people tell you what you can and can’t be. It took him a while to figure it out but he’s finally come around. I’ll Love You Even More Tomorrow is a testament to the value of twenty years of marriage with many more to come! They were able to work through the ups and downs through the years but are in it for the long haul. Way to go, Erik!

December 2022 VOCAL Songwriters Showcase

Our VOCAL Christmas showcase took place on December 19th, and 6 songwriters, some new to our group as well as tried and true VOCAL veterans, banded together to carry on our traditional annual event.

Glenda Creamer was up first. She opened with "Love Came Down At Night", a light waltz filled with Nativity imagery. Next up was a melodic study just waiting for the right words, loosely titled "Song With No Words". She followed up with "After Christmas", its lyric urging the listener not to give up hope when the holiday season loses its glow. Glenda rounded out her set with "Christmas Cookies" - lots of cookies and lots of calories!

Next up was Roy Kauffman. Roy opened with "Dream of Me (Woodstock to Hollywood)", giving us images of memories of love left behind on the highway. His nostalgic set continued with "I'm Not Gone", reminiscing on departed friends. Roy concluded his set with "Any Other Way", an ode to appreciating what one has.

Dave Drouillard, one of our new VOCAL members, offered two songs this evening. The first, "American Flyer" gave the listener images of post-war America and a lonesome railroad as it made its way past winter on the Great Lakes. His second offering was "Unsung Carol", a child's heartfelt expression of the Nativity, and of faith.

Longtime VOCAL member John Ellis was up next, with two songs as well. "Autumn Hour" was a reflection on transitional themes between fall and winter. "Me & My Baby On a Cold Winter Day" was a sassy, romantic, Christmas blues.

Another or our newest members, Eric Gaines was next to perform. His first song, "Black Dog", used a strong, well developed lyric to deal with the darker side of love. His next song, "Iron Bound", spoke of a commitment as strong as steel and chain. Eric rounded out his set with an ode to commemorate his return to music, entitled "Coming Home To You."

Our final performer of the evening, James Lester, favored us with three of his original works. "Spending Christmas With You" was filled with traditional Christmas warmth, while "Christmas Boy" was a jazzy, romantic holiday number. His fnal song, "Piedmont Blues", was a study in the blues, Piedmont-style.

Wishing one and all a safe and prosperous 2023!

November 2022 VOCAL Songwriters Showcase

In November VOCAL presented three singer-songwriter members in a program simulcast on Facebook and Zoom. Chaired by VOCAL President Matthew Costello, the showcase began with some sample songs by each of the participants while waiting for the live viewers to assemble before their devices.

John Ellis

Once done, the showcase started off with John Ellis who amped up his Taylor guitar and began with the instrumental "Chimes" which was complemented by a nice run of arpeggio chords that suited the title. This was followed by "Sweet Blues" a sad reflection of lost loving. Next came "Honestly" a more honest title would not have sufficed to describe the lyrical content of this song. "You gave me very little of yourself", "unending agony" were a couple of the lines and the kicker was the singer saying "you can go to hell". "Winter Solstice" is a staple instrumental in John's repertoire and this tune rang out with some big chords perhaps describing the darkness that the title suggested. "Autumn Hour" included some picturesque lyrics of the changing season and the declarative by the singer "I find my tranquility" in this time of year. Closing out his set was "Band of Silver" extolling the virtues of an inexpensive wedding ring preferring to offer this rather than a gold one as "there's no such thing as a second had wedding ring, (when) a band of silver will do".

Steve Nuckolls

Steve is a long time VOCAL member and a frequent performer on the showcase. Tonight he offered some old and new material less often done. "Lines of Love" is a tender tale of the connection between two people in love and their means of communication in silent but meaningful glances. Picking up hitch hikers can be a dangerous thing. But, when its Eugene, as Steve tells us in "Much Obliged" it can be an entertaining ride. Full of stories he always ended his travels with the phrase "Much Obliged" no matter who was taking him to his destination. Next " The Gosson Mines" was a cautionary tale to youngsters about the dangers of getting too close to the people who worked the mines and sawmills. Something new, " A Week To Over, Time" described the mundaneness of work as the singer proffered "daydreams are my lifeline" as an escape from the boredom of it all. Closing out his set, was "What If She Likes It". His set offered a nice contrast to John's with less rock musical overtones and more soft pop tones.

Jeff Wagner

Jeff has been in VOCAL for a couple of years and has played his songs for the members in meetings and in a previous showcase. He has more of a folk sensibility. Tonight he began with "House Burning In The Town Tonight" a tale of a traveling musician who vacillates between being on the road and being at home, mostly away from those loved ones at home. This was followed by "Sacred Mountain" a song full of descriptive images of being out in the desert landscape, as something like a rejected lover might feel, living in the sagebrush, under a red sky, cold nights and out where the coyotes howl. Redemption seems like a far away mountain. Aging has it drawbacks, for sure, but it can be fun, as well as Jeff tells us in "The Old Guard" which is a self reflective song in which he and three of his buddies star. They hang out together and each one has a life talent that distinguishes them one from the other, but they have one thing in common: they "Suffer no fools or cheap whiskey". "Sometimes" "how I miss that Joy and pain" gives us an overview of a relationship and the good and bad that can accrue over the years. "Reckless Kind" pictures a lifestyle of difficult choices that put the singer in jeopardy as his life comes on "like a big red storm". Last song in the set "The Devil Claims Your Soul" is a tale of an out of luck cowboy who can't get it together as in this line:"the wind calls your name, but, plans you made are like broken bottles on the barroom floor" Heavy duty stuff.

Three different singers, three different styles of music, great variety.



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

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!

May 2022 VOCAL Songwriters Showcase

May 2022 VOCAL Songwriters ShowcaseWelcome to another edition of the VOCAL Showcase streaming on Facebook and Zoom. Tonight's host was David Atkins and performers include two long time VOCAL members, its president, Matthew Costello and Steve Nuckolls. Opening the program were two recorded songs, "Sunrise" by Steve and "Diggin' For Elvis" by Matthew and his co-writer Roy Kauffman.

Steve Nuckolls

The live portion began with a set from Steve who started with "Looking For a Rocky Top" which included a picturesque description of a small country town in mountainous Virginia of which the singer hoped he would find elsewhere in his travels. "Lines of Love" told the tale of the things that hold love together, Next song was "A Higher Bar" in which the singer holds up for esteem for the actions of two young boys who saved some classmates. In the next song, "Gibson Guitar" the singer takes the role of a young boy who visits his local furniture store that sells other items, one being a Gibson Guitar which is displayed on a wall. The singer hopes one day he can own such a desirable object. The following song by Steve was a new one entitled "When To Pray". the substance of which was we don't need a church or calendar to tell us when to pray, it should be spontaneous. "Week To Be Overtime" tell us about the drawback of work day to day. The last song in Steve's set was titled  "A Future For Us" and it told the tale of giving and taking in love and that in true love the people work out their differences and continue in their relationship.

Matthew Costello

With the help of some backing tracks, Matthew began his set, with "Bound BY Walls Of the Past" . In it he describes a past relationship and how the memories of that still come back to haunt, which segues in "You and I" about a different relationship in which the participants are bound together. "All Things Pass" ( from 1978) sets out a laundry list of what we experience in life and how they come and go such as life, love, night and day etc. The centerpiece of Matthew's program tonight revolved around "The Artist Who Hung The Moon" a haunting tale of an artist and his struggle to paint, that which he observed, and the complications in his life that stymied his creation(s). A well woven tale in words and music. "Subway To Brooklyn" was presented as a recitation about a hook up in a stentorian tone much like a Guy Noir story heard on Prairie Home Companion. This was followed by a moving tribute to moms, (his, particularly) and how she was the backbone of the house and the reliance thereof by husband and family. The final song in Matthew's set "Life Is A Movie" outlined all the characters we meet and ourselves play in life; friends, strangers, lovers and others.

Another fine night of music from two accomplished songwriters.