May 2024 VOCAL Songwriters Showcase

Our May VOCAL Songwriter’s Showcase was again live at O’Toole’s with performances from long-time members Steve Nuckolls and Rona Sullivan.

Steve opened the showcase with a great tune reminiscing about his childhood home in southwest Virginia, a town that was “Two Hours From Everywhere.” Then his solid tenor took us to “The Gossen Mines”, a place he knew in his childhood near Galax where you would get “iron your clothes” just by walking through. His song spoke of the risky thrills of exploring the old mine that his dad warned him about. The minor key infused the memories with a tension and longing well suited to his range.

Steve introduced us to a song “rewritten a hundred times” concerning “you know when you toil Monday and it seems you’ve already worked the whole week.” Despite the “workplace bull”, the singer is still headed for “Destination Party Time.” Next, he gave us a new song about a lesson from his dad on the subject of appreciating life and understanding rather than “things I have to do,” “You Get To” participate. “There’s a Future in Us” called on Steve’s high register and expressed the singer’s longing for relationship and the opportunity he felt was eluding him with someone who was once part of his life.

Another new tune was a stellar story about “my favorite waitress” who might not know the narrator yet but at least “She Remembered My Beer.” There was a nice sense of anticipation in the lyric that paid off at the bridge when they “finally got to know one another” and the lady “knows my beer by heart and now remembers my name.”

The song “Married to the Same Person” was based on acquaintances whose first marriages had been unsuccessful because of the similarities of each other’s spouses. The good news in the song is their new relationship represented “a just reward for our painful past…now that we’re married to the right person.” Steve closed with “Praying for a Rocky Top” where the singer hoped to find in his new home a place that recalled his fond childhood memories of a hometown “Rocky Top” establishment. The tune was another that rested in Steve’s higher register and you could hear the yearning for the security and sense of belonging from an earlier time. Well done.

Rona Sullivan’s set reintroduced VOCAL to her powerful alto and muscular songwriting after a couple of decades absence “because I lived on a farm.” She brought “Just Gimme the Truck” alive as the narrator told off her ex and dismissed the settlement for the mode of transportation most desirable at that time. Using an off-meter line to highlight the titled refrain made the message even more clear.

Next, she softened the delivery for a finger-picked “Beside the River,” an ode to her current home and the charms of waterside living. This used several augmented and ninth chords to accentuate the poignancy and allowed the nice vibrato in her voice to be accentuated in the longer notes during the mournful melody. Next, Rona took us to “a scary place in Virginia” to tell us the story of Three Forks, where “the snakes they handled” and the “secrets held by folks in the grave” spooked her so much, she was glad she “got out alive.”

The next song performed (she said it was out of her “angry” period) matched the stronger female narrator against a less skilled guy to whom “For the Cowboy at the Bar” was dedicated. The singer asserts, “I’m a gypsy [and] you think you are a cowboy.” However, the storyteller could see right through the bluster and wouldn’t be put on the “chain around your neck.” Similarly, “Expert” took issue with a narrow-minded fellow who claimed Rona wasn’t the right person to sing the blues, so she immortalized his appraisal by writing a blues tune to give him “your 15 minutes like Warhol said you would” while dismissing his “expert” opinion and proclaiming “I’ll sing whatever I want to.”

Woman in Black” was the tale of a self-described confident woman who is “a little bit weird” but sees herself in demi-god terms with “wings on my back” and later “flames on my back.” This was followed by a newer song about relationships where she admitted “Wherever I Am” she was always the person making the choices. She had some regret that “I follow me wherever I am” and she “can’t get far enough away from me.”

Songs can come from the weirdest places, Rona explained, introducing “I Don’t Need You” as an example, taking that phrase as a title when a friend asked her to stop looking over his shoulder in a project. The lyric confirmed her goal of making her own way as a singer/songwriter and not be silenced.

A lightly picked “Words” featured Rona’s compelling vocals in a folky ballad reminding listeners that she’s “got stories to tell.” The creativity will be in lifting the stories from her own life says the lyric. The final “Boggie Man” was a raw blues number about a character who “curse[d] the day he was born.” With “friends in high places” there’s a threat that he’ll “put you down” if you don’t steer clear. Glad you’re back in the fold, Rona. Let’s hear some more.



Showcase Photos

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Photo Credits: Matthew Costello and John Ellis

April 2024 VOCAL Songwriters Showcase

Tonight's VOCAL showcase was what one might call a folk festival featuring two acts of great classic folk music. Doug Patrick is a long time VOCAL member and he started off the night with a five pack of his seasoned songs. "Good Time Train" followed the longings of a down and out family with each member longing to catch a ride out of dire circumstances on the song's title. "Put Him In The Lineup" was a cry to give a much unheralded baseball player a chance to get in the game. pleading to the team manager that the guy could "hit the tater a country mile". Commenting on the wasteful conditions the world is in, "Leave It Like You Found It" was a song asking the listeners to treat the planet with respect and give recyling a chance. Doug's tender side came out next in his "Ill Hold You As Long As I Can" telling a distant lover while out on your journeys, keep me in your heart. Closing this segment of the showcase, Doug was accompanied by Gary Shaver on clarinet with a nod to "New Orleans Nights" with a tribute to the great music one can find down Bourbon Street in places like Preservation Hall.
Next up: The duo of Gene and Gayla Mills began their set with " Anna Mae" painting us a picture of a venerable lady, followed by "Eight Lanes Headed West" a musical map of how to get the heck out of Florida with all it's vulnerability to hurricanes and other disasters. "Fools Gold" is a stand in for love unrequited with is better left alone just like a worthless stone. Talking To A Stone" exhorts the listener to talk to those you love and respect before they are out of your life because a stone cannot respond emotionally. The last song in their set was the story of the "Fiddle In The Wall" which tells about how a fiddle was discovered buried inside a wall of a cabin being torn down and how it got to be there. The reason suggested that the hider's motive had to do with a religious belief that "When my Savior calls, gotta put his ( the devil's?) fiddle in the wall."
The third segment of tonight's showcase was a collaboration between Doug and the Mills, trading off songs through their set.
"Bad Luck" by the MIlls was a description of how being down can affect one's life causing them to suffer such things as bad booze and rotten meat. After all. "Bad Luck" by any other name is just a numbers game. Next, from Doug, his story song about lessons learned while growing up and being "At My Grandfather's Knee" was the safest place to be.
"Around the Lake" was an instrumental picked by Gene Mills. "Where The Wild Wind Blows" was a sad tale of lonliness by Doug. This was followed by Gaya Mills who took her turn at the mike with "Twelve Days" of an exasperated person trying to find work and not having much luck, finally declaring "I'll take any job at all." Going back to his East Kentucky roots, Doug regaled us with "Getaway" and living life back in those younger days. Finally: another going back to your roots song from Gene "Forks Of Buffalo" told us about his life away from that tiny Virginia town and how after living 40 years away in places as diverse and California and Maine, it was a pleasure to once more see that old home town again.

A very appreciative audience gave the performers a rousing round of applause for a great night of music and camaroderie.


Showcase Photos

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Photo Credits: Matthew Costello and John Ellis

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

January 2024 VOCAL Songwriters Showcase

After a week's delay due to weather conditions, The January 2024 VOCAL Showcase  got back on track at O'Toole's on the 21st. Despite the delay: There was a packed house ready to be entertained by the night’s songwriters. Performing this week were two veteran VOCAL songwriters, Jeff Wagner (with his wife Sherry) and Matt Manion.

Matt Manion.

To begin the night, Matt went up first and began his set with an old song, "Things Have Changed" which related the story of a liberated woman who decided to go out on her own. This was followed by “Don’t Stand By Me” one from his catalog, depicting the anguish a band member feels when one of his mates is fooling around and he fears a jealous husband will shoot the guy while he’s standing next to him on the stage.  “Getting Old is Getting Old” relates the emotion the singer feels as the title says, and “a long life could be considered a luxury”. Early Richmond was the seat of slavery and in “Devil’s Cafe” we get a picture of what it was like to live in those times. This was followed by “Forget Yourself” a song about forgetting yourself.  Cranking up the tempo, Matt rocked out “Playing On My Dobro” though, not on one.  Next tune “If That’s What It Takes” asks the listeners to me less self-involved and think of others in a collective way as “us” and not “’you and me”.

To finish his set, Matt revived one of his classic rock tunes “Thank You Chuck Berry” which as the title implies, is a tribute to the late great guitar and blues player.

Jeff and Sherry Wagner

Jeff and Sherry make up a husband and wife music team, though Jeff sometimes solos, at showcases. Tonight, both playing guitars traded off songs during the set.

First up “She Was Raised on Sad Songs” one of his standards, about a woman growing up on music that matched her life conditions. Sherry took a turn and gave us “Fierce Friendship” depicting the depth of commitment one can evoke when there is reciprocation. Jeff continued with “Ghost Rider” an eerie tale of imagination and then gave us “Play From The Heart” a moon shiners lullaby and life tale.  Sherry followed with “Soft Petals”, a lovely song about flowers that flourish with sun and air and give you a beautiful garden to love.  This was followed by “the Devil’s In The Details” and then an epic song about “The Old Guard”. Based a real life experience, Jeff relates the tale of four of his friends who have grown up together and the paths their lives have taken. Some of the lessons they learned appear in the lyrics. “we have seen our share of life” and “we suffer no fools”.   Good advice.  Lastly, “Musicland” presented the audience with a musical tour Jeff and Sherry took of Nashville and the sights and sounds it offers.  Music being the main thrust with people singing everywhere even “someone singing in the sheets”.

A great night of music, friends and food.

Showcase Photos

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Photo Credits: Matthew Costello and Norman Roscher