Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Soundcheck, The Valley Blend Magazine, "Not Just Another Roadside Attraction"

I am sitting in on band practice with the wonderfully weird Another
Roadside Attraction. The bitter cold of January melts as we warm
ourselves to a Papa Bear stove, hot tea and instruments tuning.

There is a knock on the door and Joy Truskowski exclaims, “The
Crystal Man is here!” as though pizza was being delivered. Indeed, an
earthy looking Luke enters fresh from a hike bearing excavated crystals. He
offers each band member and visitor one, and we choose a crystal calling
just to us. Crystal energy goodness in pocket, practice begins with the
spooky original, “Howling Like a Loon”.

This band has a strong sense of identity. Part circus, vaudeville, tent
revival, dust bowl migrant camp: the band has dubbed their sound: Blue
Ridge Cabaret. It has the feel of another era. It is also part freak show: I
feel the eerie excitement of wanting to peer behind the curtain to see what
really lurks therein.

“Hey! Did you know blood bounces on ice?” Jordan’s random comment before unleashing their next number, “Winter’s Dogs”. Jordan Rivers is a visionary and an inventor. He constructed the homemade kit drummer Charlie Gibson uses. He is also responsible for much of the band merchandise: a wacky mix of clothing patches, hand stamped CD covers, and matchbooks. The band also sells homemade mustache wax. Bandmate Richard Harvey says of Jordan, “He's not always grounded in the practical day to day sort of affairs: the heavenly ideas don't always work out in these earthly realms, but he has unstoppable creativity energy and enthusiasm. Jordan loves to make crafts and has about 100 fanciful ideas to every one fanciful idea of the other band members.”

Lucy Coronado is Jordan’s mate, though she goes by Lucy De Los Rios
(translated “Lucy Light of the Rivers”). The beauty of this makes me gasp.
Lucy has studied dance and has a passion for costume making. Much of the
band’s musical material begins as collaboration with the couple. In fact,
they are the band’s inception. Lucy plays a dizzying washboard and also
constructs them for sale.

Charlie Gibson was the next member to join.  The self-taught drummer grew up in Callaway, Virginia in a musical family. With no drum kit, he would
beat on anything he could find. He plays the homemade “Clockworks”,
keeping a steady sort of burlesque show beat at times. Other times, it’s the
perfect circus beat to the man on the tightrope. I asked him the weirdest
thing he has encountered in Roadside. He says on a recent tour through the
South, they wheeled the band equipment in on a wheelchair. Then, Charlie
used that as his drum throne for the set.

Joy Truskowski is by far the most traveled member of the group. She was
born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, studied film in Chicago, taught video skills
in Southern Mexico. She came to Roanoke to begin a tour of intentional
communities intending a documentary film. Instead, she fell in love with
Richard Harvey and began to attend Chris Shepard’s Studio One Open Mic.
Here she met The Roadsiders and eventually joined them. With melodica
and flute, she with Richard offer the melody.

Richard Harvey has lived in Roanoke all of his life and is influenced by
every kind of music. He has studied mandolin, violin, and, most recently,
tenor banjo. He kept crossing paths with Jordan at Irish jams and open mics.
“ I liked their joyful energy and thought that it might be fun to try my hand
at providing some melody and improvisation to their songs which they were
chunking out on ukuleles, a guitaron, a resonator guitar and a homemade
drum kit!! So I started playing with them, and Joy, who was tagging along
for fun, began getting drawn in more and more.”

Step this way, Ladies and Gentlemen! See before YOUR VERY EYES a
genuine, melodic symphony of Houdinic proportions!! I leave you with a
Tom Robbins quote from his book that inspired the band.

“Logic only gives man what he needs. Magic gives him what he wants”

Places: The Third Street Coffeehouse

In 1988, I was living in Birmingham, Alabama and working for Norfolk Southern.  In that capacity, I traveled to the Roanoke offices once a month.  Burning up I-81and eyes blazing with dreams of singer-songwriter stardom, I searched for venues in which to perform that would match my itinerary.  It was then that I discovered the warm haven in the Star City known as The Third Street Coffeehouse.
This venue thrives in southwest Roanoke City in the basement of the Trinity United Methodist Church, and the space once served as a Boy Scout den.  Church members had renovated it only a year earlier.  Their dream was to build a coffeehouse. The result is the “mother of all coffeehouses”.  It has more simple rustic charm, warmth, and acoustic goodness than 1,000 pricier and more ambitious establishments.  Long before there was a Jefferson Center or a Kirk Avenue, Third Street wrote the book on “listening room”.  It was here that Roanoke won my heart.
For the last 25 years, the little coffeehouse that could raises the roof in song every Friday night.  It is a non-profit operated by volunteers for the love of song.  Open mic starts at 7:30, and the headliner goes on about 8:15 PM.  It is also home to the monthly meeting of the Southwest Virginia Songwriters Association (
It features hardwood floors, genuine log walls, a little stained glass, and candlelight by teacups.  The low ceiling is printed with the names and bare feet prints of Boy Scout initiates nearly 100 years ago.  Were this in Austin, we might call it a Mecca for the troubadour.  But, in gentle Roanoke, it seems to remain a secret.  Walk down those three little steps at the corner of 3rd Street, SW and Mountain Avenue, and one enters a different world.  Time seems to slow down just a little bit.  People are kinder and gentler.  When performers are performing, the audience speaks in a library whisper.
At intermission, all proceeds from the hat that is passed throughout the room go to the entertainer.  Coffee, tea, sodas, popcorn, and desserts are offered for modest price.  Nobody gets rich there, at least, not in money.  No, the rich part comes in other ways in this unique ministry.  In all these years, no one has bid me come to a service.  No one has preached to me (though musicians are asked to keep it family oriented).  Rather, there is a simple, quiet welcoming and acceptance of everyone.  For the audience member, Third Street offers a relaxing night of song, usually (but not always) singer-songwriter based.  The greatest gift may be to the performer, for the room listens to your every word: your every note.  It is the perfect room to hone one's craft as a teller of stories.  Many of the people who signed my mailing list in 1988 remain on that list to this day and still support my music.
So many performers wish to play there, and it is tough to get a date.  Just some of the amazing songsmiths include; David Simpkins, Chris Shepard, Another Roadside Attraction, Tim Seeley, Dollar & Walker, Greg Trafidlo, David LaMotte, Bill Hudson, Marc Baskind, Al Coffey, Grace Pettis, the late Samuel Thomas Mann, Pops Walker, Bill E. Payne.  All of these and so many more have stood on this stage.  The venue draws touring musicians as well. Last summer, Tim Rice from Portland, Maine performed.  Michigan native Matt Kroos entertained on a double neck guitar in February.
On April 13th, the Third Street Coffeehouse celebrates its 25th Anniversary.  I am honored to be making an appearance.  Of all the venues in eleven states in 25 years, The Third Street Coffeehouse remains home to my musical heart.  You are invited April 13th, and any Friday night.
Sign up for open mike 7-7:30; open mike performances 7:30-8:15; featured performer from 8:30-10. This is a smoke-free, alcohol-free, no cover charge venue!  A hat is passed for donations to the featured performers. For more information, please contact Marian McConnell at 540.309.4707; or email Check them out online at: and also on FaceBook.