August 2023 VOCAL Songwriters Showcase


Our August VOCAL Showcase featuring 2023 Songwriter of the Year Carol “Torch” Torricelli continued the recent “live at O’Toole’s” performances that we have returned to after three COVID online showcase years. What a relief!

Steve Nuckolls
Steve opened the showcase with a song reminiscing about “Gossen Mines”, a place he knew in his childhood near Galax, and spoke of the risky thrills of exploring the old mine that his dad explained to a small boy while the minor key infused the memories with a tension and longing well suited to Steve’s solid tenor.

He followed that with the jaunty “Everything’s Just Two Good” that included some excellent and unexpected word play in a story about being grateful for a significant love relationship. Some great high notes in the melody showed off Steve’s mature vocal control. “What If She Liked It” was a memoir about meeting the woman who would become his wife, another relatable song drawn from his personal life. He explained that this tune was co-written with another musician in New England through a Zoom meeting.

What Keeps You Up At Night”, Steve explained, was one of many of his tunes that he didn’t “know where it comes from,” as he began writing with just a title and a guitar riff. What developed was a message about his significant other being able to count on him to be around to comfort her at tough times. “If You Want To Know My Love” had some strong guitar lines surrounding a tale of starting a relationship while feeling vulnerable from other hurts because “sometimes it’s not what’s said, it’s the words that go unspoken” that can reveal the truth of someone’s love. “A Future In Us” wrapped up his set with a song about compromise and a plea for patience and understanding to build up a relationship he believes in.

Carol "Torch" Torricelli
Headliner Torch also won (with co-writer Glen King) the Song of the Year award and she opened with that, delivering “Give Me The Simple Life” on her ganjo, a six-string banjo tuned like a guitar, with a tune that showed off her finger-style skills and her firm and flexible vocal delivery. Her next was COVID-inspired, her song “People Need Each Other” evoking the craving for intimate connection during the pandemic-necessary personal isolation, where touching wasn’t physically possible but forced us to reach out into a virtual space.

Switching to “Highway to Your Heart” (also co-written with Glen), she sang of missing home and a lover while her fingers kept a percussive beat on the strings. “Come to Virginia” was a love song to our state with details drawn from Torch’s long service with the state tourism agency.  This opened with a nice descending guitar line and moved to minor sevenths while Torch’s high-register vocal delivery and vibrato brought thoughts of early Joni Mitchell to mind when the melody ranged over several octaves.

Don’t Slow Me Down” drew on a “bucket list” trip to Italy some years ago to visit the origins of her immigrant parents. The trip included “my guitar, too” to help “lose the winter blues.”

Swinging and Swaying” recalled a trip to a national meeting, discovering a new friend that she was now missing, and used a compact chord structure to demonstrate the feeling of a desired closeness in the melody, which showed off her vocal chops and emphasized her expressive vibrato. Continuing the stories of personal liaisons, “Tossing Like A Salad (Over You)” used the fun and memorable metaphor to describe the difficulty of a long distance relationship that included unanswered messages by text, Facetime and email that “tossed” the singer’s feelings. This tune was distinguished by an interesting jazzy chord structure and arrangement that brought a “samba” feeling to the room.

The final two songs both concerned her nephew, Tommy. They showed a clear distinction in Torch’s songwriting development as the first about his birth, “Miracles Like This,” was written early in her musical life and the second, “Major Dad,” was penned decades later as Tommy concluded a long military career. “Miracles” used a simple straightforward chord pattern and a sweet melody line for a heart-felt homage to her sister and the new baby. “Major” was more melodically complex and leaned on Torch’s songwriting maturity to point to Tommy’s admirable strengths and accomplishments. Torch’s strong and accurate vocals and fine guitar work made both songs shine at the showcase.

~ Russell Lawson

Showcase Photos

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July 2023 VOCAL Songwriters Showcase

The July 2023 showcase resumed at O’Toole’s for the third month since our COVID hiatus. This was a very intimate evening featuring two of VOCAL’s fine talents, John Ellis and Ken Roller.

John Ellis

John kicked off his acoustic-electric set with A Band of Silver, born from overhearing a conversation of a couple discussing the style and purchase of their wedding band. Needless to say, the stone/metal/shine/cost of the ring is nothing compared to the love it should represent! Honestly (featuring really catchy guitar licks) is the tale of the feelings and emotions you experience at the end of a relationship that didn’t go well. Sometimes you just need to let off the steam. He next treated us to his signature tune The Stranger, where he deviated a bit from his usual delivery of this song with a subdued acoustic vibe rather than a driving electric guitar. In this tune he recounts various relationships that were doomed for failure, hence the stranger to love. John ended his set with Autumn Hours, which also has some really cool guitar licks to draw the listener in, dancing around the lyrics of preparing for a cold winter while clearing your mind with cool peaceful nights. Great set, John!

Ken Roller

Ken, a new VOCAL member, then took the stage and treated us to an eclectic variety of tunes. It’s no secret that the love of family is the source of most of his inspiration. Lost Myself in You is a beautiful love song about falling in love with his wife. Goodspeed You Home is another tribute to his wife recounting the time she was traveling and he was home alone with the fireflies and the sunset. Song For David is a very heartfelt song written in memory of his brother whom he dearly loved. Gonna Roll All Night is the reaction to seeing that special look in her eye and not knowing exactly what to make of it (we’ll roll to the left, roll to the right, maybe we’ll roll all night!) Let Me Be There was a tender love song written about his daughter’s birth thirty years ago and which he finally finished with her wedding last year. There were some beautiful images here, always wishing for blue skies but knowing there will be rain, wishing for happiness but knowing there will be pain. The writing of a good song takes time! In Virginia was inspired by an old mill in Hanover County but goes on to describe many of the wonderful treasures in the Commonwealth, such as Shenandoah, Blue Ridge Mountains, Chesapeake Bay, and Mt. Rogers. Diversity is a funky/catchy tune telling us to look beyond the black and white and the prison that enslaves our mind, and instead focus on the beauty within. It Always Beats for You is another song written for his wife at the time their daughter “left the nest”, asking her to put her head on his chest and listen to his heart beating madly for her. Lockdown is another funky groove co-written with Jim Puckett about “Lady Covid” floating in the air, in-between the sheets, etc., a plague topic that we can all relate to! The Road is a minor-keyed number about the churning and grinding, wheels turning, feeling like the road is driving me. Can’t Find The Sunshine For The Rain is a love-gone-south number about hearing distant thunder and seeing the Heavens open up and pour out the truth, reminding me of my love with you. Excellent job, Ken!


Showcase Photos

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June 2023 VOCAL Songwriters Showcase

There was a nice, boisterous crowd gathered at O'Tooles Monday night, June 19th for our monthly Songwriters Showcase, and like the month before, we experienced a few growing pains. Specifically, we were scheduled for three performers, but due to "technical difficulties", we ended up with two. We hope to have this particular glitch figured out moving forward, but as the saying goes, "the show must go on". So we did!

Our first performer was Dave Drouillard, a singer/songwriter with a folk troubadour style that was melodic at times, tender at others, and always a joy to listen to. His set started out with a medley of three songs woven one into the other -  "Untitled", evoking personal images of home; "Get Down Sister", a love story that wafted through the venue with a Travis-picking beat; and "Robinsong", with a tender intro that morphed into a straight ahead country feel, with nice tempo variations and an affinity for "screw-top wine". After a breath, Dave continued with a self-described "Deuteronomy set to music" offering entitled "St Raphael". Dave ended his set with "Voyager", with a haunting melody, minor chord progressions, and visions of raven hair. Dave handled a less than attentive crowd well, and we look forward to hearing more from Dave in the future.

Our next performer, Doug Patrick, suddenly found himself in the featured songwriter slot, and handled it with all the grace and ease we've come to expect. Out of the six song set list Doug handed me before his set, he played nine, including two or three he kept in his back pocket, just in case. If you give him a nice chair, a front porch, and a tuned-up guitar, it's this writer's opinion there's not much that would phase Doug!

Doug's set contained some familiar favorites as well as a few surprises…

  • "Special Place In Heaven" - a love song for the one who's been most patient with the performer
  • "Molly" - an ode to the struggles and loves of the Civil War
  • "One Lone Georgia Pine" - a tribute to a Civil War ere relative
  • "Til The Boys Come Home Again" - a haunting Civil War era melody with guest vocalist/collaborator Kelly Kennedy joining Doug on stage.
  • "Full-Time Love" - a quirky love song lamenting a 2nd fiddle status
  • Granddaddy's Knee - a tribute to the beloved patriarch of the family and the life lessons he imparted
  • "Getaway" - a Doug Patrick classic, re-envisioned, with Kelly Kennedy once again singing harmony
  • "I'll Hold You As Long As I Can" - grandchildren and family roots run deep in this song
  • "Leave It Like We Found It" - a timely plea for Mother Earth

Congratulations to Doug Patrick and Dave Drouillard for a wonderful night of music at O'Tooles on Forest Hill Avenue, and for helping VOCAL as we slowly but surely find our way back to normal. Until next month…!


Showcase Photos

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May 2023 VOCAL Songwriters Showcase


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.


Showcase Photos

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April 2023 VOCAL Songwriters Showcase

Monday evening, April 19, marked VOCAL's return to live performances!! Well, sort of...

There were over 20 people gathered at O'Tooles' Forest Hill location, to celebrate our first "live" Songwriters Showcase since the pandemic lockdowns. However, the perfect storm of miscommunications and misunderstandings. Due to the confusion, Jeff Wagner, who was scheduled, wasn't in attendance. He was missed.

Hours before the show it was discovered that O'Toole's closes its kitchen at 9 PM on Mondays and were advised that we shouldn't play past that time as the whole restaurant may close down if there's no bar business. We had a good crowd, and some people had driven a some miles to get there, so someone suggested that we just play without the sound system and see how things went.

So what is one to do? You gather in the bar side of the restaurant, place your drink and food orders, pull your guitars out of their cases, and you stage an unplugged, impromptu "guitar pull"! Erik Gaines, Steve Nuckolls, Jim Puckett, and Ken Roller, passed around their guitars and performed before an appreciative group. Before the evening ended, even a few of the O'Tooles regulars found their way over to our side of the bar.

This reviewer gave up trying to identify titles by the third song, because as good as the songs and performances were, that wasn't the point. What caught my attention were the smiles and hugs, the handshakes and laughter, the music and applause. For the first time since March of 2020, VOCAL was gathered together in the same room, at the same time...that was the point!

And a good time was had by all...

Showcase Photos

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