Artist Profiles, Concert Reviews, Music, Podcasts, Retro Rock, Virginia Artists

Chris Keaton with the Kings: Roanoke’s Quintessential Band

Earlier this year, vocalist Terry Brown of Roanoke’s legendary band the Kings temporarily stepped down due to some health issues. Finding a stand-in substitute could have posed a problem for long-time Kings leader Larry Wheeling.

In finding a fill-in pinch hitter, Wheeling didn’t have to call Ghostbusters.  Instead, he found Roanoke native Chris Keaton to sing and play saxophone for the Kings while Brown is convalescing from his illness.

The Kings were founded in 1965 by Perry Caligan, who still acts as the business owner of the band. Current leader and manager of the Kings is Larry Wheeling, who joined the Roanoke based group during 1969.

Larry Wheeling and Perry Caligan at Elmwood Park in July 2018.

Over four years ago, I featured the Kings on a music blog message and attended one of the band’s concerts in downtown Roanoke.  Here is the link for The Kings Rocking Roanoke Since 1965:

The Kings in concert in downtown Roanoke on July 5, 2018.

While Terry Brown recovers from his health issues, the Kings have been fortunate to secure the services of Chris Keaton. I had the opportunity to interview Keaton last month, just before he and the Kings had a concert at Roanoke’s Black Dog Salvage.

Chris Keaton was born in Roanoke, Virginia and grew up in the town of Vinton.  After graduating from William Byrd High School, Keaton spent a year at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond. Chris then following in the footsteps of Bob Dylan left college life to pursue a career in music.

During the mid 70s, Keaton played saxophone and toured with pop/rock bands ranging from Gary U.S. Bonds to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. He also had gigs with Jay & the Techniques during this time period.

A few bands that Keaton was a member of during the 70s and 80s were High & Mighty, Dazzle Boys and Band of Oz.  Interestingly, Chris also had two separate stints performing as a member of the Kings during his younger years.

In 1993, Keaton moved to Nashville, Tennessee and became a business partner with another Roanoke native Tommy Holcomb. Eventually, Holcomb moved back to Roanoke while Keaton stayed in the “Music City” to venture into a new career path.

Since the mid 90s, Keaton’s career has become multifaceted.  His official bio states: “Chris is a Nashville-based entertainment industry executive, award winning music publisher, artist management consultant and a 2016 Inductee in the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame.”

When I interviewed Chris last month, 3 words stood out to me that describe Keaton’s current profession: connector, influencer and encourager. Keaton utilizes various forms of social media during his day-to-day activities.

One social media avenue Keaton uses is podcasting. He describes his “Random Acts” podcast, “of kindness, stories, a song or two, seeds of hope and love, and the randomness of it all through the eyes of Chris Keaton.”

Another fascinating venture of Keaton’s work is with the fashion industry.  For a number of years, Chris has been a member of Macy’s Style Crew as a “brand influencer.” As a result of his Macy’s gig, Keaton published a book in 2020 called “Dapper.”

Published at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, “Dapper” was written by Keaton and the text is supported by photographer Keith Charles.  The book conveys, “Serious tips on being a dapper gentleman tempered with a dash of humor.”

Two years ago, Keaton was a guest on Larry Dowdy Mic Side podcast and talked about his book “Dapper” along with some of his past musical performing career.

Versatility and Chris Keaton go hand-in hand as he has been a long-time voting member of the Recording Academy (Grammy Awards) and is a reviewer for an Internet country music site.

2016 was a memorable year for Keaton as he was inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame. Working with the beach music group Band of Oz, Keaton composed an award-winning rendition of the song, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” for his induction.

Considering all of the activities that Keaton has been involved with during the past few years, the influencer hasn’t performed many in-person concerts. However, that changed a few months ago when Larry Wheeling asked Chris to play with the Kings on a temporary basis.

Chris Keaton singing a cover of the Time’s song, “Jungle Love” with the Kings. First Fridays downtown Roanoke in September 2022.

The current 2022 lineup of the Kings:

Terry Brown–Vocals

Mike Feamster –Drums

Brian Jones– Bass

Chris Loder–Guitar

Melody Irby — Vocals & Keyboards

Alan Walker— Sax

Randy Wheeling–Trumpet & Trombone

Larry Wheeling —–Trumpet

Chris Keaton—- Vocals & Sax

Chris Keaton singing a cover version of Wilson Pickett’s song, “Mustang Sally” with the Kings. Black Dog Salvage Roanoke on October 15, 2022.

With Keaton temporarily performing with the Kings, he plays saxophone and shares lead vocal duties with Melody Irby.  The brass section of the band is superb.

Chris Keaton singing cover of Justin Timberlake’s song, “Can’t Fight this Feeling” with the Kings. Black Dog Salvage Roanoke on Octotber 15, 2022.

Musically, the Kings are a pop/rock band and have a large following in central and southwestern Virginia.  The band plays a wide variety of cover tunes, ranging from the 60s through songs from the past ten years.

The Kings are Roanoke’s quintessential band and have been fortunate to secure the services of Keaton on a temporary basis. Providing his vocal talents and excellent saxophone skills, make him a perfect fit with the Kings.

My assessment of Keaton can be summed up as “renaissance man.”  He flows within a wide mixture of diverse areas, bringing his talents and knowledge for positive results.

Without a doubt, Chris Keaton is helping to make the world a better place by being an encourager, spreading peace, love and tranquility to everyone on his path in life.

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Album Review, Artist Profiles, Music

Locks: Fresh New Sara Niemietz Single from Upcoming Superman Album

Sara Niemietz with guitar. Photo credit:

I describe the new single “Locks” by Sara Niemietz as hot, hip and happening indie rock. The song is now available for purchase and is the first track from an upcoming October 2022 Niemietz album release called “Superman.”

The “Locks” single and the remaining 13 other tracks from the new “Superman” LP are a collaboration between Sara Niemietz and her musical partner Linda Taylor.  This dynamic duo merged their musical talents together over the past two years: Niemietz-Taylor are co-producers for “Superman” and co-wrote every song on their collaborative project.

Niemietz is a singer-songwriter, musician, actor and member of PostModern Jukebox, who has recorded 3 albums during her career.  Taylor is a superb guitarist, composer, music producer and plays guitar on ABC TV show “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”  Together, the Niemietz-Taylor team creates musical magic!

Sara Niemietz and Linda Taylor before a Smith Center concert in Las Vegas, Nevada May 2022.

With the production of “Locks” and “Superman” by Niemietz-Taylor, the duo employed session musicians for their recordings. Personnel on all 14 songs include:

  • Sara Niemietz – vocals
  • Linda Taylor – guitars
  • Léo Costa – drums
  • Ed Roth – keyboards
  • Daniel Pearson – bass

Here are my thoughts about the new Niemietz-Taylor single.   When I heard “Locks” for the first time, I responded back to Sara and Linda via email with the following reply: “The track is a good choice for a first single. It is a catchy, up-tempo groove.  Excellent interplay with the drum, guitar and bass. I love the special effects with the switching of tune tempo. Outstanding vocals and harmonies. A Superb production. Pleasing to my ear.”

What does the co-producer team of Niemietz-Taylor have to say about their new single?  I asked Sara and Linda about “Locks” and they answered my inquiry from two different continents.

Sara Niemietz and Linda Taylor in studio during the “Superman” album recording sessions. Early 2022.

Taylor’s answer came to me from her Los Angeles, California home, submitting a quote from an official press release on “Locks” and the “Superman” album: “The bluesy “Locks” captures the bittersweet side of getting through life challenges. Here, Sara’s rich and sultry vocals imbue the song with a sense of burnished hope befitting the lyrics. One choice passage reads: “Who’s that looking out from the mirror/A little bit leaner, meaner/She figured it out/Can’t believe what I see/It’s almost hard to believe/This other side of the street I’m standing on.”

Album art for new Sara Niemietz single “Locks.”

My question for Niemietz: “Why did she and Taylor choose “Locks” as the first single to be released?  Sara replied via email, on a bus somewhere in Austria, as she was touring with PostModern Jukebox last month: “We have new versions of some previously released songs on “Superman” but “Locks” was the first idea specifically for the album. It went through several re-writes and re-records before we found its heart. In fairness, it got a little beat up, but we weren’t willing to let it go. Now we find it just feels like the start, the start of the setlist, the start of the album, the opening chapter, it sets everything in motion and the obvious first single.”

“Super” Sara in costume.

Link for purchasing “Locks” single:

Sara’s official website:

Linda’s official website:

 As I mentioned above, “Locks” and all the songs on “Superman” were written and produced by Niemietz-Taylor.   The album will feature five new studio versions of previously released singles of the past two years: “Come to Me”, “Superman”, “Lovely Lies”, “The Dimming”, and “GOODX3.” From these five existing songs, the last two have already become fan favorites for those who follow the Niemietz-Taylor musical pair.

A second single from “Superman” called “I Want You” was released on September 23.

Considering that Niemietz has recorded three excellent albums during her career, “Superman” promises to be a musical delight.  The collaborative Niemietz-Taylor album is now available for pre-ordering from Bandwear. Link to purchase album is below:

Album art for Sara Niemietz “Superman” album.

For anyone searching for new music to purchase this summer, look no further than “Locks” and the upcoming “Superman” album from Sara Niemietz and Linda Taylor.  I guarantee that you will not be disappointed.  Rock on!

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Artist Profiles, Broadcasting, Music, Radio, Retro Rock, Virginia Artists

Tommy Holcomb: Roanoke’s Marvelous Music Man

All photos on this message are courtesy of Tommy Holcomb.

If you have lived in central or southwestern Virginia over the past 50 plus years, chances are you have heard music written by Tommy Holcomb. The Roanoke, Virginia native has created hundreds of musical TV/radio commercials, which have been aired throughout Roanoke/Lynchburg media markets, as owner of Tommy Holcomb Productions.

Holcomb musical talent is much more than just creating ads for clients. He is also a founding member of two successful Roanoke pop/rock/folk bands during the 60s, 70s and 80s: The Vikings and Woodsmoke.  Holcomb’s journey creating music is renowned among those associated with history of the rich Roanoke music scene.

Tommy Holcomb performing in Atlanta, Georgia 1975
When Glen Campbell came to Roanoke. From left: Tommy Holcomb, Rita Matthews, Glen Campbell, Nancy Holcomb Fisher and Jack Fisher.

I had an opportunity to conduct a phone interview with Holcomb earlier this month, as we discussed a musical career spanning over 60 years. I have known Tommy since 1975.  We first met at WROV 1240 AM Roanoke, when Holcomb was delivering a commercial that he produced to the radio station where I was employed.

Vikings cover of Simon & Garfunkel song, “Keep the Customer Satisfied.”

Holcomb’s musical roots started the summer before his senior year at Patrick Henry High School in 1961. Tommy started a band named the Vikings, along with his fellow classmates Allen Nelms and Lane Craig.

The Vikings band as a trio. Sometime in early 60s.

After Nelms and Holcomb graduated from high school, the young adults left Roanoke to attend the University of Virginia (UVA). The Vikings occasionally played gigs together, when Nelms and Holcomb were in college at UVA between 1962 and 1966.

Vikings cover of Linda Ronstadt & Stone Poneys song, “Some of Shelly’s Blues.”

Upon graduation from college in 1966, Holcomb and Nelms returned to Roanoke and resurrected their Vikings band. One of the guys joining this new version of the band was the legendary WROV 1240 AM DJ Fred Frelantz.  Another prominent person that was added to the Vikings was Joy Ellis in 1969.

The Vikings Band in 1972.

For the next 7 years, the Vikings became the house band for the historic Coffee Pot Roadhouse restaurant and concert venue.  The band signed a recording contract with London records during 1967.

During the early 70s, Holcomb’s Vikings band recorded a couple of albums before the group broke up in 1975.  Forward to 1982, the Vikings came back together again and held a series of reunion concerts at Caesar’s Club in Roanoke. After the success of those shows, the band decided to resume performing live concerts.

Vikings band continued playing shows during the mid 80s, and the group changed their name to “Roanoke” when they signed a record contract in 1984.  The following year, two singles were released but received limit airplay locally on the biggest Top 40 station in the Roanoke Lynchburg market: K92 FM 92.3. Consequently, these songs did not chart nationally.

The Vikings band at Caesar’s Reunion 1982

The final ending for the band became reality in 1986, with the tragic, untimely death of group member Fred Frelantz.  For a complete history of the Vikings band, I am providing a link to an article that Holcomb wrote for the Roanoker Magazine in 2006, that is reprinted via the WROV History Online Website.

Fred Frelantz and the Vikings: Mr. Bojangles (Video produced after his death)
Woodsmoke band during mid 70s.
Medley of Woodsmoke songs.

The other band that Holcomb was associated with during the 70s is Woodsmoke. Along with Joy Ellis, the band was formed in 1975 and attracted a younger audience than patrons who came to attend Holcomb’s original Vikings band shows.

The Vikings performing at Festival in the Park concert, Downtown Roanoke.

While Holcomb is known for his singing and playing in Roanoke bands since the 60s, he is not just a one trick pony.  Equally as impressive is his creative talent writing music with Tommy Holcomb Productions.

Vikings cover of Kingston Trio song, “Scotch and Soda.”

In the field of advertising, Tommy has created hundreds of commercials featuring his musical genius. Before starting his own ad agency, Holcomb joined fellow Vikings band member Fred Frelantz, to work at Creative Advertising in Roanoke.

During his time at Creative, Holcomb wrote a musical jingle for Smartwear clothing store. Tommy enlisted his Vikings bandmates playing music and utilized Joy Ellis on vocals for the spot.

Smartwear music jingle ad 1971

Much to the surprise of Holcomb, his Smartwear commercial actually won a national ad agency award in 1971.  After his multiple success writing musical spots at Creative, Holcomb decided to launch out with his own ad agency.

Over the years, Holcomb has created many wonderful, catchy musical ads.  Below is a Roanoke jingle medley, a compilation of various musical ads that Holcomb has produced.

Roanoke Jingle Medley of Tommy Holcomb created musical ads.

Three years ago, Holcomb was honored by the Roanoke chapter of the American Advertising Federation (AAF), with its Silver Medal Award.  This AAF 2019 achievement recognized Tommy’s “outstanding lifetime contributions to advertising furthering the industry’s standards, creative excellence, and responsibility in areas of social concern.”

An 11 minute mix of some of the jingles that Tommy Holcomb created over the years. Many aired in the region around Roanoke, Virginia, Tommy’s hometown.

Tommy Holcomb doesn’t just write music for advertising.  He also has written songs about and for the city of Roanoke.

Vikings cover of Nilsson song, “Without You.”

Roanoke’s centennial happened in 1982 and Holcomb was commissioned by the Virginia City to write a song for the 100-year celebration. The composition is called “Roanoke Shining Through.” A YouTube video of this tune features paintings by Eric Fitzpatrick and photographs by Terry Aldhizer.

Another excellent tribute to Roanoke is a song written and performed by Holcomb called “Looking Back.”  Tommy fondly remembers living in the “Star City of the South” during younger years.

During 2011, Holcomb tried his hand in radio and hosted a show called Retro Roanoke Radio (RRR) on Sunny FM 93.5. The format of the weekly program had Holcomb playing 60s/70s oldies, talking about Roanoke in the 20th Century, airing musical spots he created and interviewing pop/rock artists.

Some of the artists that Holcomb interviewed on RRR were Davy Jones, Melanie, Petula Clark, Anne Murray and Robbin Thompson.

Compilation of Retro Roanoke Radio Interviews by Tommy Holcomb 2011.

For the past 15 years, Holcomb has been the Music Producer for the Miss Virginia Pageant. Seven years ago, Tommy wrote an orchestra score for one of Virginia’s official state songs: “Our Great Virginia” written by Mike Greenly. Miss Virginia contestants performed this arrangement during the 2015 pageant.

Woodsmoke band in the mid 70s.

An excellent podcast I want to recommend is episode 3 of the Larry Dowdy Mic Side podcast, where the retired popular Roanoke area DJ interviews Holcomb.  There is superb interchange of information provided by Dowdy and Holcomb with this Mic Side episode.

Last official Vikings photo prior to Fred Frelantz death.

It is clear to me that Holcomb exemplifies humility, as he has woven an awe-inspiring tapestry of living experiences within the area of music.

Vikings cover of Tanya Tucker song, “Delta Dawn.”

As I reflect upon Holcomb’s music legacy, he has enriched the lives of countless Roanoke residents with musical magic. For over 60 years, Holcomb has continued to share his music talent with folks all across the Roanoke Valley and Southwestern Virginia.

Without a doubt, Roanoke continues to be blessed, receiving wonderful gifts of harmonies and melodies by this marvelous music man:  Tommy Holcomb.

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Album Review, Artist Profiles, Music, Virginia Artists

Come Home: Album from Bent Mountain: Encouraging Bluegrass Music

The CD cover of Come Home by Bent Mountain. **All photos on this music blog message were provided courtesy of Quigg Lawrence.

In my home state of Virginia, many bluegrass song lyrics are written about topics pertinent to living life in the valleys and mountains of Appalachia.  Besides the universal subject of love, many Virginian bluegrass songs mention hard living, working the land, feeding families with wages below poverty or permanently loosing coal mining jobs.

In contrast to the lyrical content of most traditional bluegrass created within the Appalachian region of Virginia, others are producing music that is full of hope and encouragement. One such project is an album called “Come Home” by Bent Mountain.

The overall message with this new Roanoke, Virginia bluegrass compilation, can be found on the album’s front CD cover, referencing Matthew 11:28 from the New Testament of the Bible: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” 

The spiritual aspect of this project comes as no surprise, as the genesis for this new 10-track bluegrass music album comes from Dr. Quigg Lawrence, who is senior pastor at Church of the Holy Spirit, an Anglican parish in Roanoke, Virginia. Lawrence has ministered with his Roanoke congregation for 32 years.

Bishop Quigg Lawrence

In addition to his pastoral duties with Church of the Holy Spirit, Lawrence also serves as a Bishop for the Diocese of Christ Our Hope, which is part of the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA). Lawrence was consecrated Bishop in February 2013.

My family and I have been members with Church of the Holy Spirit (COTHS) since 2002, so I have shared many experiences with Pastor Lawrence over the past 19 years. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Lawrence about his new bluegrass album project.

During the beginning of my first interview with Bishop Lawrence, I asked two main questions:

1. Why was the name Bent Mountain selected?

2. What is the purpose and goal for recording the album?

Scott Mulvahill and Eric Imhof at Church of the Holy Spirit Roanoke during Bent Mountain recording session.

Bishop Quigg replied, “Bent Mountain is not the name of a band but is a collaboration of musical talent by my friends. Those friends include folks from Church of the Holy Spirit, plus musicians from Roanoke, Southwestern Virginia and even Nashville, Tennessee.”

Answering my second question, Lawrence stated the purpose and goal of the album: “It is a bluegrass style offering, created during Covid and a time while I was watching my mom battle cancer and go home to Jesus.

Lawrence continued, “The common theme with the 10 tracks on “Come Home” is death, resurrection and the “life of the world to come.” It is an invitation to come and experience the peace, rest and joy of the Lord”

The Inspiration behind “Come Home.” Quigg Lawrence TV Interview with Lindsey Ward WSLS Channel 10 Roanoke.  Daytime Blue Ridge show. May 24, 2021.

Bluegrass music has always been a passion for Bishop Lawrence.  His fondness for acoustic stringed instrumental music, formulated during his high school years in Richmond, Virginia.

While growing up, Lawrence loved listening to bluegrass records on his parent’s stereo system.  He also showed fondness of watching his father, Quigg Lawrence Senior play bluegrass music.

Lawrence’s dad owned Alpha Audio recording studio in Richmond where albums from many genres of music were recorded.  Quigg Senior also played in his own bluegrass band called BlueRidge.

Photo of Quigg Lawrence Senior and his band BlueRidge during 1982.

Over the years, Lawrence’s father would often have jam sessions and play with other talented bluegrass musicians. Included in the mix of talented performers that Quigg Senior played with are Ben Eldridge, Bill Clifton, Ralph Stanley and the Country Gentleman.

As a side note, Quigg Lawrence Senior once owned a 1954 Martin D-28 guitar back when he played bluegrass music.  The guitar is said to be “one of the best on the planet” according to Bishop Lawrence. Photo below is of the vintage 1954 Martin D-28 guitar.

Just before Quigg Lawrence Senior passed away, he sold his guitar to an unidentified buyer. Eventually, this famous guitar ended up being owned by Chris Eldridge, who is a guitarist and member of Punch Brothers band. Ironically, Eldridge is one of the musicians who performed on the “Come Home” album and he actually played the celebrated 1954 Martin D-28 guitar on many of the album’s tracks.

Chris Eldridge playing the 1954 Martin D-28 guitar during Bent Mountain recording sessions, that had once been owned by Quigg Lawrence Senior, father of Bishop Lawrence.

After graduation from high school, Lawrence attended the University of Virginia for two years and then earned a degree in emergency medicine from Central Washington University.

It was during this time period that Lawrence found his main pathway for living: Becoming a Christian and following Jesus.

 During the summer of 1980, a surfer friend of Lawrence gave him the book, “Basic Christianity” by John Stott.  By reading Stott’s book, Lawrence started understanding things in the Bible and began his journey as a Christian.

Obviously, proclamation of the gospel is important for Bishop Quigg.  He shared with me about his unique album set, “It has been my dream for several years to record the wide breadth of styles of music COTHS uses.  We regularly use banjo, mandolin and cello alongside electric guitars, keyboard, and bass.”

Julie Wright and Scott Mulvahill at Bent Mountain recording session: Church of the Holy Spirit Roanoke.

Two years ago, the COTHS worship team recorded an EP which included 4 original songs (both contemporary and traditional worship in style) and one cover tune. The brand-new Bent Mountain collaboration features a pleasing mixture of bluegrass and Americana genres of music.

Scott Mulvahill singing backup vocals for Bent Mountain album. Church of the Holy Spirit Roanoke.

Producer for the “Come Home” album is Scott Mulvahill, with Quigg Lawrence as executive producer and Evan Sieling handling engineering duties.

Besides Bishop Lawrence, there are four members of his COTHS congregation that contributed to the “Come Home” project:

*Eric Imhof:  Son-in-law of Quigg Lawrence, Worship Arts Pastor/Stewardship Pastor for COTHS.

Eric Imhof, Scott Mulvahill and Julie Wright taking break during Bent Mountain recording session.

*Julie Wright:  Former Worship Arts Pastor at COTHS and a current member of the praise/worship team.

*Ayden Young and Blane Young: The Brothers Young are a sibling bluegrass duo. Ayden is 15 and plays banjo with the COTHS praise/worship team. Blane age 10, is a mandolin player. Last October, I featured the Brothers Young with one of my music blogs here on DJ Dave’s Musical Musings:

Blane and Ayden Young: The Brothers Young duo from Roanoke, Virginia.

The remaining personnel who are part of the Bent Mountain collaboration, are all excellent musicians and performers.  In fact, Bishop Lawrence brought together a world-class, all-star ensemble for his debut compilation.

*Annie Lawrence:   Singer-songwriter who lives Nashville and has recorded multiple albums. She is the daughter of Quigg Lawrence and grew up in Roanoke. Two years ago, I featured Annie Lawrence’s musical story on my music blog:


Annie Lawrence performing at Church of the Holy Spirit. Roanoke, Virginia.

*Scott Mulvahiill:  Front man, singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and world-renowned upright bassist.  Has played with Ricky Skaggs and Bruce Hornsby.  Now has a solo career. Mulvahill is producer of the Bent Mountain album.

Scott Mulvahill with upright bass during recording session for “Come Home” album.

*Junior Sisk:  Lead guitarist, vocalist and front man for the Junior Sisk Band.  Lives in Ferrum, Virginia. His past bands include Rambler’s Choice and BlueRidge.  Sisk has won numerous accolades including the 2013 International Bluegrass Music Association’s Male Vocalist of the Year award.

*Chris Eldridge:   Singer and guitarist.  Member of Punch Brothers: A hybrid bluegrass/classical/country/chamber band. In 2018, Punch Brothers won a Grammy for Best Folk Album with “All Ashore.”  Past member of the Infamous Stringdusters bluegrass band. His father is Ben Eldridge, founding member of the Seldom Scene.

*Justin Moses: Dobro maestro and multi-instrumentalist. Prominent Nashville session musician. Versatile musician in all forms of acoustic music. Named Dobro Player of the Year by the International Bluegrass Music Association. Married to singer-songwriter and mandolin player Sierra Hull since 2017.

Justin Moses playing a dobro guitar during Bent Mountain recording sessions.

*Sierra Hull: Virtuoso mandolinist, singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist.  Debut on Grand Ole Opry stage at age 10, played Carnegie Hall at 12 and had first recorded album at age 13. Married to Justin Moses. Performs and tours with husband as a duo.

*Russ Carson:   Superb banjo player.  Member of Ricky Skaggs’ band Kentucky Thunder. Started picking banjo at age 10. Bluegrass Today online considers Carson to be “among one of the top banjo players in the world.”

Russ Carson playing banjo at Bent Mountain recording session.

*Ryan Ogrodny:  Polka prodigy as a teen and plays the fiddle.  Nominated for a Grammy in the category of Best Polka Album in 2004. Ogrodny is a violin/fiddle professor at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee.

* Doug Bartlett:  Fiddle specialist and multi-instrumentalist, formerly with Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver. Currently with Junior Sisk band. Received a couple of Grammy nominations in 1999 and 2000 for two separate bluegrass albums.

* Jonathan Dillon: Mandolin is main instrument with exceptional banjo skills.  Plays in the Junior Sisk band. At age 17, Dillon was nominated for “Mandolin Player – Performer of the Year” at the 2013 Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America Awards.

*Heather Mabe: Lead and harmony vocalist. Heather and her husband Tony are members of Junior Sisk Band.  Ms. Mabe is known for excellent harmonies, amazing tones and perfect pitch vocals.

Heather Mabe, Junior Sisk and others playing a bluegrass song.

There are a total of 10 tracks on the Bent Mountain album:

  1. Shoutin’ On the Hills of Glory (Featuring Quigg Lawrence)
  2. The Darkest Hour (Featuring Quigg Lawrence)
  3. Mother’s Only Sleeping (Featuring Eric Imhof)
  4. Little Birdie (Featuring Junior Sisk and the Brothers Young)
  5. Forever Ain’t No Trouble Now (Featuring Quigg Lawrence)
  6. Down the Road (Featuring Quigg Lawrence)
  7. You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive (Featuring Eric Imhof and Julie Wright)
  8. Eulogy for Dr. Ralph Stanley (Spoken by Ricky Skaggs)
  9. Come to Jesus (Featuring Annie Lawrence)
  10.  Softly and Tenderly (Featuring Julie Wright)

Four songs on the album feature vocals by Bishop Lawrence. Eric Imhof and Julie Wright sing on three tracks: Both artists have lead vocals with a single song and the pair also perform a duet together.  Rounding out the singing tracks from the Bent Mountain assemble are vocalists Annie Lawrence and Junior Sisk.  

The tenth selection is not musical but actually the spoken word:  It is a eulogy that country/bluegrass superstar Ricky Skaggs gave at the funeral for the legendary Dr. Ralph Stanley, the Southwestern Virginia pioneer of bluegrass and country music genres.

Audio for “Eulogy for Dr. Ralph Stanley” by Ricky Skaggs. From Bent Mountain album.

Inclusion of Stanley’s eulogy on a bluegrass album may seem odd to some. However, Bishop Quigg says of Skaggs’ oratory, “I have never heard a clearer explanation of the Gospel.”

In breaking down the musical tunes from the “Come Home” production, the Gospel message pervades throughout each selection, and proclamation of Christian themes is at the forefront on this project. The musicianship on the album is outstanding.

Since I had an advance copy of “Come Home” last month, I have listened to the album multiple times. Before I heard the four songs where Bishop Quigg performs lead vocals, I was curious how Lawrence would sound, since he is not trained as a singer.

I was pleasantly surprised to hear Lawrence’s ease of delivery, showing confidence with his phrasing and comfort within the bluegrass genre of music. Bishop Quigg sounds assured with his debut recordings.

Bishop Quigg striking a pose while recording a song for the Bent Mountain album.

Besides Lawrence’s four tracks, the remaining 5 musical tunes are strong and showcase excellence among the various artists. 

  • You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive:  Duet vocals by Eric Imhof and Julie Wright.  Cover of folk song written by Darrell Scott. The duo harmonize superbly and perform the album’s most melodic tune. Additional backup vocals are provided by Scott Mulvahill.
  • Come to Jesus: Annie Lawrence vocals.  Mindy Smith’s written song was a hit on multiple formatted radio stations in 2004.  Annie’s rendition is compelling and expressive. One of Lawrence’s best vocal performances during her recording career.
  • Little Birdie: Junior Sisk vocals.  Traditional bluegrass song. Most famous cover is by Dr. Ralph Stanley. The Brothers Young play on this tune performing their first recorded song. Sisk’s strong vocals are prominent on this selection.
  • Mother’s Only Sleeping:  Eric Imhof vocals.  Written by Bill Monroe in 1946. Song has been covered by the Stanley Brothers and many other bands. Imhof is effective with his engaging vocals on this traditional bluegrass tune.
  • Softly and Tenderly: Julie Wright vocals.  A Christian hymn composed and written by Will L. Thompson in 1880. The last song on the album features Wright singing a cappella and is absolutely transcendent. This outstanding vocal performance is the crown jewel on the “Come Home” album.

The new Bent Mountain album is now available on all major streaming platforms and can be purchased online at Amazon and Apple itunes.

I highly recommend the “Come Home” Bent Mountain compilation set.  Musically, it is top-notch, with nationally acclaimed instrumental performers.  One would be hard pressed to find a similar grouping of world-class musicians together, on any other music album collection.

The message of “Come Home” encompasses many different attributes:  It is calling, challenging and questioning, but also is hopeful and encouraging.  

Without a doubt, the essential theme for the Bent Mountain album is found within the “Softly and Tenderly” chorus, the traditional hymn that closes this superb album: “Come home, come home, you who are weary come home.”

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Artist Profiles, Concert Reviews, Music

Sara Niemietz in Twenty Twenty

Without any doubt, musician and singer-songwriter Sara Niemietz has made lemonade out of lemons during the year 2020. In a year where the COVID-19 pandemic reeked-havoc, music artists across America had to come up with new ways to make their music happen.

Obviously, Niemietz wasn’t the only person to have their world turn upside down, as all live concerts and performances ceased to occur. Despite the gloomy world outlook, Sara created new and different ways to bring music to her fans, with various online presentations.

So who is Sara Niemietz?  Born in Chicago Illinois, Niemietz started her career as a child actress, performing in theatre productions, television shows, film roles and multiple musical performances. To read more about Sara’s many non-musical accomplishments, please go to her official website:

Snuffy Walden and Sara Niemietz. Photo by Jeff Xander Photography

Now as an adult, Sara has focused exclusively on being a musician, singing and writing music. During the past decade, Niemietz has collaborated with W.G. Snuffy Walden, who is a musician and a composer. Walden has accompanied Sara on various music projects. Some are cover versions of songs, while other tunes are original compositions.

The other big activity for Niemietz is being involved with Scott Bradlee’s, Postmodern Jukebox (PMJ) group. PMJ is known for taking popular 21st century contemporary songs and rearranging those songs into a different musical style. Many of the PMJ songs are performed in 1920’s jazz or swing format.

For anyone interested in reading more about Sara’s musical accomplishments prior to 2020, I had the opportunity to write her musical story on DJ Dave’s Musical Musings during April 2019.  You can view Sara Niemietz: Born For the Stage here:

Photo of Sara Niemietz by Jeff Xander Photography

With this latest music blog message on Niemietz, I communicated with Sara multiple times via email about her musical activities over the past 9 months.

At the start of 2020, things looked promising for Niemietz.  Plans to record a live album actually took place during February.  Sara also had scheduled concert tours to take place in the spring and summer.  However, Coronavirus changed all plans starting in mid-March.

 As Scottish Poet Robert Burns once wrote, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”  All live concerts, shows and performances came to a screeching halt.

Sara Niemietz: Photo by Julien Garros

I asked Sara about her quarantine and social/distancing engagements when lockdowns started happening in her home state of California. She outlined to me about the wide range of new ventures she participated in, which differed from normal musical activities prior to COVID-19 pandemic days.

Over the course of the next 9 months, Niemietz utilized many new functions to keep active with her music fans on social media.  Sara coped and survived during the Coronavirus crisis by implementing fresh alternatives to live concerts:

  •  Live virtual mini concerts

Although Niemietz regularly performed mini concerts virtually prior to COVID-19, she ramped up the number of these online interactions on social media platforms.  The vast majority of the mini concerts were in the comfort of her own home: With Sara playing a variety of instruments (guitar, bass, keyboard and kazoo).

  • Sixty Second Sara videos

Early on during the Coronavirus outbreak, Niemietz created short videos that lasted around 60 seconds.  Some of the videos Sara generated were original compositions while other performances utilized cover versions of popular existing songs.

  •  Saraband

With a computer, sound board, musical instruments and various other audio equipment, Niemietz “cloned” herself and created “Saraband.”  The  Saraband video for the Smokey Robinson cover song, “You’ve Really Got a Hold of Me” is absolutely brilliant.

  •  Weekly Wacky Wednesday

Like clockwork, every Wednesday afternoon during the COVID-19 pandemic, Niemietz holds a weekly virtual live stream on social media. With these Internet performances, Sara performs a wide variety of songs and she encourages major interaction with her fans during these weekly sessions.

  • Saranade Podcast

At the beginning of November 2020, Niemietz produced her first podcast called Saranade.  Her debut message featured the song, “Don’t Walk Me Home” which is the third song on Sara’s new, “twentytwenty” live album.  I personally enjoyed listening to the first podcast: Niemietz did an excellent job imparting information and mixing in her music, for a pleasing balance of verbal communication and musical harmony.

Saranade Podcast audio link:

Sound engineer during the recording sessions of Sara’s “Twentytwenty” album.

Another major project that Niemietz worked on during the summer months was putting together a new live album which came to be called “twentytwenty.”  Sara, Snuffy Walden and a group of hand-picked musicians, performed two Santa Monica, California concerts in front of live audiences, during late February. The plan was to release a live album from these two shows, around the beginning of the summer. 

Just a couple of weeks after recording the February concerts, COVID-19 pandemic raged in America.  Once again, Niemietz had to switch gears with music endeavors and postpone the release date of her new “twentytwenty” album until October. 

Sara, Snuffy, musicians and singers during “twentytwenty” album recording sessions.

Before I give my overview of the new “twentytwenty” album, I want to share some of my email conversations that I had with Niemietz and her responses to my questions on how she dealt with the Coronavirus shutdown as a musician.

DJ Dave:    Please share anything related about the two concerts during late February that resulted in the “twentytwenty” album?

Sara:  It was a supreme joy to play with my friends, knowing this night would be captured forever! With that in mind, one could think the pressure would be high, but there was such a lovely, relaxed atmosphere in the room. The audience were close friends and select fans, so we could feel the love from the stage!

DJ Dave:   Can you tell me about the process of taking the live concert tapes and making them into the final product of a new album?

Sara:  It certainly helped keep us occupied during COVID lockdown! There was a lot of excel sheet making and note taking on my end, as Snuffy and I listened to the shows and decided which takes from which nights we’d use. It was like living the show all over again! Many times, in fact. A first for me, we could not all be in the room during the mixing process. Snuffy, George Landress (our mixing engineer for a decade), and I passed many files back and forth. Plenty of FaceTimes later, we got it all finished!

DJ Dave:   Do you have any comments about the recording of individual songs on the “twentytwenty” album?

Sara:  Our goal on this album was to capture a moment in time. Snuffy and I have been playing shows together for a decade and we wanted to capture the magic of a live show – really document this moment – and share it with listeners. I love studio recording and that environment is my second home, but there is something about playing live that is very hard to capture unless you’re there… in the room… with people… on a stage!

DJ Dave:  Describe being an independent musician/singer/songwriter without a major record label contract?

Sara:  Yes indeed! I am in it for the long haul. Nothing against all of the different paths musicians take to get their songs out there, but the indie path has been good to me. Miraculously, the album landed on the Top 100 Albums list on Billboard, which is very rare for an indie. It is really thanks to those that listen. I know everyone says “I have the best fans… yada yada…” but seriously – these friends of mine are the best and I am so grateful for their support. I feel weird saying “fans” because I just feel like we are all a bunch of wacky music lovers hanging out together.

Snuffy Walden and Sara Niemietz. Photo by Jeff Xander Photography

The day before “twentytwenty” was released on October 16, Sara and her musical partner Snuffy Walden, held a live stream virtual concert to promote her new album.  Joining Niemietz and Walden at this show were Jonathan Richards, Martin Diller, Andrew Kesler, Alex Nester, Mollie Weaver, Mihi Nihil, MWO and Kiya Schafer.

Most of the band members who played with Sara and Snuffy during the October 15th album premier concert, were also part of the two February shows, which culminated in Sara’s newest LP, “twentytwenty.”  The album was recorded live at Apogee Studio, Santa Monica, California, and all songs were produced by Niemietz and Walden.

From the “twentytwenty”  liner notes, here are the artists and musicians who performed on the live compilation album:

  • Guitar – W.G. Snuffy Walden
  • Guitar – Sara Niemietz
  • Piano – Andrew Kesler
  • Drums – Martin Diller
  • Bass – Jonathan Richards
  • Vocals- Sara Niemietz
  • Background Vocals – Alex Nester
  • Background Vocals – Mollie Weaver

There are 17 songs on the “twentytwenty” album.  Five of the selections are cover versions, while the other twelve songs on the live set are originals.   Niemietz is credited with writing or co-writing all 12 of the original songs:  Sara also shares co-writing credits with Snuffy Walden, along with a handful of other musical artists, on the outstanding compositions.

Here is the song order listing for the “twentytwenty” live recording:

  • Smile
  • I Smile
  • Don’t Walk Me Home
  • Made to Last
  • Monroe
  • Let Me Be
  • The Nearness of You
  • Go With the Flow
  • All Your Love
  • Feet Don’t Touch the Floor
  • Calling You
  • Hear Me Now
  • Out of Order
  • Shine
  • Waiting On the Day
  • On Ten
  • Stand By Me
My personal CD copy of “twentytwenty” autographed by Sara

Instrumentally, Sara and her band play a wide variety musical genres on the “twentytwenty.”    The musicians flow seamlessly combining pop, rock, jazz, blues, folk and country throughout the course of any given song. 

As I have listened repeatedly to the new live album, I have been impressed with the quality of musicianship with the band.  The live performances of existing songs from Sara’s musical catalog, brings new energy and freshness to many of the beloved tunes that Niemietz has recorded from past studio albums.

Of course, the main attraction of ‘twentytwenty” is the voice of Sara Niemietz.  Adjectives like exceptional, spectacular, incredible and impressive all come to my mind when I try to convey Sara’s accomplished vocal range. Niemietz expresses vocal excellence throughout her new live album set.

While there are many marvelous songs on Sara’s new album, I will be highlighting just a few of the sensational tunes with my review. I would encourage you to purchase a copy of “twentytwenty” so that you can discover and enjoy the full range of songs that Niemietz released last month.

Photo of Sara Niemietz by Jeff Xander Photography

When I survey the setlist of Sara’s new album, I am struck by a possibly unintentional foreshadowing of dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic.  The first two songs that Niemietz and her band played in late February, just a few weeks before COVID-19 consumed America, were “Smile” and “I Smile.”

  • Smile: Written by Charlie Chaplin, John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons (1936/1954)

“Smile, though your heart is aching, Smile, even though it’s breaking,

When there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by

If you smile through your fear and sorrow, Smile and maybe tomorrow,

You’ll see the sun come shining through for you.”

  • I Smile: Written by Kirk Franklin, James Harris, Terry Lewis and Frederick Tackett (2011)

“Today’s a new day, but there is no sunshine, Nothing but clouds, and it’s dark in my heart,

And it feels like a cold night, Today’s a new day, where are my blue skies

Where is the love and the joy that you promised me, Tell me it’s alright,

I almost gave up, but a power that I can’t explain, Fell from heaven like a shower

I smile, even though I hurt see I smile,  I know God is working so I smile, Even though I’ve been here for a while, I smile, smile.”

There is an overriding theme with the above two songs and with many other tunes that Niemietz recorded for the new album:  When times are bad and bleak, don’t give up.  Smile.  Things will get better. This affirming message from Sara is powerful and is encouraging for me as I navigate through these final troubled months of 2020.

  • Monroe

Perhaps the most melodic song on the new live album is “Monroe.”  This tender ballad features Sara on acoustic guitar and outstanding standup bass playing from Jonathan Richards.  Niemietz provides superb emotional outpouring with her heavenly vocals on this wonderful tune. This selection is my current favorite on “twentytwenty.”

  • Made To Last

Snuffy Walden is an excellent guitarist and his guitar presentation on “Made to Last” is absolutely transcendent.  I appreciate Walden’s world-class guitar licks and the interplay of the other musicians with Sara’s stellar vocal range.  The tune has an infectious rhythmic section and is a hot rocking, flame throwing masterpiece.

  • On Ten

One of the encore songs for Sara during her February concerts is the lively, “On Ten.”  Musically, the song is a crown jewel:  A combination of rock, pop, jazz, blues and old school funk.  The band is in hyper-drive as they lay down fast-paced, up tempo grooves on this unforgettable musical treat.  Sara and the musicians are joyful performing this celebratory delight.

I highly recommend Sara’s live set compilation. For those who do not yet own a copy of the new album, here is the link to order this outstanding performance from Niemietz and her band.  Available in different formats:  Vinyl, DVD, CD and Digital Download:

With anyone who is new to Sara’s music, her “twentytwenty” album is an excellent introduction and overview of the music Niemietz has recorded over the past 10 years.  No matter if you have been a fan for years or just learning about Sara’s music for the first time:  The “twentytwenty”  live set should be considered a priority, for adding to all personal music libraries.

Photo of Sara Niemietz by Jeff Xander Photography

The year of 2020 has been extremely hard, unpredictable and sometimes down right depressing for those around the world.  This is especially true for music artists.  With live concerts not being an option during COVID-19 pandemic, performers like Sara has turned negative situations into positive outcomes.

I imagine that Sara will be singing a cover of Wet Willie’s 1974 hit, “Keep on Smilin” into the year 2021.

“Keep on smilin’ through the rain, laughin’ at the pain

Rollin with the changes til the sun comes out again

Keep on smilin’ through the rain, laughin’ at the pain

Rollin with the changes, singin’ this refrain”

Turning lemons into lemonade is what Sara Niemietz has done throughout the year of 2020.  I am confident that she will continue the same course of action until Coronavirus has subsided in our world.  Keep on smiling, Sara!  Rock on!

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Artist Profiles, Music, Virginia Artists

The Brothers Young: Virginia Bluegrass Phenoms

Traditional Appalachian stringed instrumental mountain music has always been an important part of Southwestern Virginia’s heritage. In our portion of Virginia, we celebrate the rich legacy of two Appalachian mountain music pioneers:  The Carter Family, founders of country music and Dr. Ralph Stanley, from the first generation of prominent bluegrass musicians.

Since the early formation of Appalachian mountain music, the bluegrass genre of music has flourished in Southwestern Virginia. There is now a new generation of musicians playing bluegrass in my home city of Roanoke: The Brothers Young.

The Brothers Young are a duo of actual siblings:  Ayden and Blane Young.  Older brother Ayden is 15 and plays banjo, while Blane handles mandolin duties at age 11. Parents for these talented bluegrass performers are Melissa and Chad Young of Roanoke.

Ayden and Blane have been playing together for the past three years. Their mother Melissa Young provided the following text on how her sons became a musical bluegrass duo:

“The Brothers Young is a brother duo playing bluegrass in the mountains of Roanoke, Virginia.  Close to the Crooked Road – Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail of SW Virginia and heart of traditional music. Their love for Bluegrass music came from growing up listening to classics such as Flatt & Scruggs, Ralph Stanley, Osborne Brothers and many more.

Ayden found an old banjo at his grandparents’ house about 3 years ago and it was an instant connection!  He had to learn “Foggy Mtn. Breakdown.”  We were given a mandolin to borrow from a family at church since they knew Ayden was into bluegrass, but his younger brother Blane took to the mandolin and the Brothers Young was born.”

My first experience hearing the Brothers Young play music live was during May 2019, at an Anglican parish, Church of the Holy Spirit (COTHS) in Roanoke.  The event was celebrating the 30-year anniversary of Quigg Lawrence, being lead pastor for the COTHS congregation.  Lawrence is also a Bishop with the Anglican Church in North America.

Bishop Lawrence loves bluegrass music and he invited guitarist/vocalist Junior Sisk from Ferrum, Virginia, to perform music at this celebration. Ayden and Blane joined Sisk that afternoon to play various bluegrass tunes.

The second encounter that I had hearing TBY was earlier this year at Church of the Holy Spirit, just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. In February, COTHS had a chili cook-off fundraising event, to raise funds for Rwanda missions.  Brothers Ayden and Blane provided music throughout the event that was pleasing to my ears.

In preparation for me writing this music message on TBY, I had the opportunity to speak with Ayden, Blane and their mother Melissa, with a 30-minute interview via Zoom.  We spoke on a wide variety of topics, including playing with Junior Sisk and recording a couple of bluegrass songs at Mountain Fever Studios in Willis, Virginia.

During my interview, I asked the Blane and Ayden when they started listening to bluegrass music?  Ayden attributes listening to old bluegrass records when visiting his grandfather, Allen Worrell of Courtland, Virginia as a younger boy. The Brothers Young were also exposed to other types of music genres, by their parents Chad and Melissa.

The pivotal moment for heightened awareness of bluegrass music came during 2017 when Ayden brought home an old beaten-up banjo from his grandparents’ home. Soon after, Ayden started taking banjo lessons and his love for the instrument grew. Just two years later, Ayden placed 2nd at the Galax Old Fiddlers Convention for Youth banjo during August 2019.

Ayden playing “Shuckin’ the Corn” and winning 2nd place at Galax Old Fiddler’s Convention for Youth Banjo. August 2019.

Ayden disclosed to me that he considers Earl Scruggs as his biggest influence with the three-finger banjo picking style. The older brother is also versatile and accomplished, playing two other instruments:  Guitar and the piano. Ayden is talented with his piano skills and has composed a few songs with this instrument, including a tune called, “Roanoke Rag.”

Blane is the quiet member of TBY and plays the mandolin.  Considering that he took up his instrument just two years ago, his mandolin dexterity is strong and his skills continue to improve on a monthly basis.  It is impressive to me how smooth Blane performs when playing his mandolin. Ricky Skaggs is the bluegrass artist that the younger brother admires, in relation to excellent mandolin musicians.

Obviously, music is a big part in the lives of Blane and Ayden.  Spirituality also plays an important role with the daily routines for the boys.  An important mentor is Bishop Quigg Lawrence, who provides both musical and spiritual guidance for the Brothers Young.

I asked Bishop Lawrence for some of his opinions on the Brothers Young as he has watched the boys grow with their musical talents over the past three years: 

“It has been really fun to watch these boys progress in their musicianship.  They have gotten really good, really fast.  I remember the first time I heard Ayden play banjo, I thought, “that little dude is pretty good and has potential.”   At the time he had been playing for maybe a year.”

“Blane is a kid to watch.  Instead of chopping rhythm, (his little hands are too small for four finger chords), he mainly plays lead.  With his current rate of progress, by the time he is 16 he will be turning heads and able to play with most anyone. Crowds find little Blane, endearing; He just grins from ear to ear and “goes for it.”

“One of the things I love most about these boys has nothing to do with their talent.  They are humble and know that the Lord has given them these talents.  They are never preachy but neither are they shy to give the Lord credit.”

October 2020 has been an exciting month for the Brothers Young.  The duo had two Roanoke TV interviews after the release of their debut single, “Pretty Polly.”  TBY spoke with Melissa Gaona on the WDBJ, “7 @ Four” show and then were featured on the WFXR, “Loving Living Local” program by Kianna Price.

The bluegrass duo recently performed their latest single, “Roanoke” live on the WDBJ7 afternoon program 7@Four and was interviewed by Melissa Gaona on July 13, 2021.

Blane Young, Melissa Gaona and Ayden Young on the set of WDBJ7 program 7@Four on July 13, 2021. Photo courtesy of Melissa Worrell Young.

Both of the Young brothers TV appearances focused on the duo recording two songs at Mountain Fever Studios in Willis, Virginia, with well-established bluegrass artists.  Ayden and Blane expressed to me how thankful they were for the opportunity to be with Junior Sisk and the other musicians assembled for their debut recording experience.

The Brothers Young had an outstanding lineup of musicians according to Melissa Young:

“The boys got an amazing opportunity to collaborate with some amazing musicians back in August.  Ayden plays banjo and Blane added mandolin chops.  The amazing vocals from Junior Sisk and Heather Berry Mabe.  On mandolin: Johnathan Dillon, guitar: Heather Mabe, fiddle: Doug Bartlett, bass: Scott Mulvahill. 

On that hot summer day in August, Blane and Ayden recorded two songs with the consummate bluegrass band: “Pretty Polly” and “Little Birdie.” Also in the studio that day was Quigg Lawrence, who was the connection between Junior Sisk and TBY coming together to record music with the bluegrass all-star musicians.

Here are some observations that Lawrence had when he saw the Brothers Young in the recording studio for the first time:

“I was struck by how confident these kids were in the studio.  At their age, I would have wet my pants to play in a recording studio with one of the best in the country, but they just jumped right in and played their hearts out.  When Junior Sisk and his band heard them play during the warm up at Mountain Fever Studio, I THINK THEIR JAWS DROPPED. Sisk could not believe how much the boys had improved in one year.”

Two weeks ago, “Pretty Polly” was the first TBY song to be released as a single.  The debut tune features vocals by Junior Sisk and Heather Mabe. The second TBY single to be released will be “Little Birdie” on November 13.  Here is the link to purchase the “Pretty Polly” single:

I enjoyed speaking with Ayden and Blane about playing bluegrass music and being in a recording studio for the first time. At the end of our Zoom conversation, I asked the brothers about their plans for the future: Is playing bluegrass music for a living something that the brothers want to pursue when they become adults?

The consensus among the Brothers Young on future bluegrass career plans are unclear at this time.  Both Ayden and Blane said they wanted to attend college after graduation from high school and explore different options with career paths.

Blane and Ayden also proclaimed wisdom to me when they shared how they wanted to be guided by the path that God was directing for them, as they grow from boyhood into adults. Being a positive Christian witness is important for TBY.

Official Facebook page for the Brothers Young:

Official YouTube channel for the Brothers Young videos:

For the immediate future, playing bluegrass music is a focal point for the Brothers Young.  They are committed to improving their banjo and mandolin skills, wholeheartedly maintaining excellence as musicians. 

I am encouraged to see the dedication and loyalty that Ayden and Blane show as they endeavor to hone their craft of playing bluegrass music together.  Obviously, we do not know what the future holds in store for the bluegrass boys. I am confident the Brothers Young of Roanoke will be a positive force within the local Southwestern Virginia community from this point forward. Rock on!

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Artist Profiles, Music, Radio, Retro Rock

You Say: Lauren Daigle’s Surprise Crossover Hit

Once in a blue moon, there will be a Christian song to crossover and be a hit on secular radio in America. In 2019, that song is “You Say” from Lauren Daigle.


I keep fighting voices in my mind that say I’m not enough

Every single lie that tells me I will never measure up

Am I more than just the sum of every high and every low?

Remind me once again just who I am because I need to know


The only thing that matters now is everything You think of me

In You I find my worth, in You I find my identity, ooh


Taking all I have and now I’m laying it at your feet

You have every failure God, and You’ll have every victory, ooh


You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing

You say I am strong when I think I am weak

You say I am held when I am falling short

When I don’t belong, oh You say I am Yours

And I believe, (I) oh I believe (I)

What You say of me (I)

I believe


“You Say” by Lauren Daigle is truly a surprise hit song. During the 21st century, it has been rare for a Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) song to crossover and become a secular hit on multiple secular radio formats.

However, Daigle’s song has broken the mold: “You Say” became a huge secular hit this year and seems to resonate with many folks outside the traditional Christian music genre.

So how rare is it to have a Christian song become a hit here in 2019?   The last time a CCM song crossed over and became a secular hit was “I Can Only Imagine” by MercyMe in 2003.





I can only imagine what it will be like

When I walk by Your side

I can only imagine what my eyes will see

When Your face is before me

I can only imagine, yeah


Surrounded by Your glory

What will my heart feel?

Will I dance for You, Jesus

Or in awe of You be still?


Will I stand in Your presence

Or to my knees will I fall?

Will I sing hallelujah?

Will I be able to speak at all?


I can only imagine

I can only imagine

Occasionally, a country artist singing about Christian topics will crossover to Top 40 radio. Just after Carrie Underwood won American Idol, she recorded the song, “Jesus Take the Wheel” in 2005. This song was a huge number 1 country hit before crossing over to Top 40 radio. It was the first of many hits by Underwood, to chart on multiple formats.

Rarely do songs like “I Can Only Imagine “ or “Jesus Take the Wheel” ever become crossover hits. But that hasn’t always been true on secular pop radio.

During the late 60’s and early 70’s, songs on various Christian topics were regularly played on Top 40 radio. Here are a few of the songs that charted on the Billboard Hot 100, in the golden age of Top 40 radio:


  • Oh Happy Day—Edwin Hawkins Singers
  • Jesus is a Soul Man—Lawrence Reynolds
  • Spirit in the Sky—Norman Greenbaum
  • Are You Ready—Pacific Gas and Electric
  • Superstar—Murray Head
  • Mighty Clouds of Joy—B.J. Thomas
  • I’ll Take You There–The Staple Singers

  • God, Love & Rock N’ Roll—Teegarden & Van Winkle
  • Why Me Lord—Kris Kristofferson
  • I Knew Jesus (Before He Was a Superstar)—Glen Campbell
  • Morning Has Broken—Cat Stevens
  • That’s the Way God Planned It—Billy Preston
  • Amazing Grace—Judy Collins
  • Speak To The Sky–Rick Springfield
  • I Don’t Know How To Love Him—Helen Reddy
  • Put Your Hand in the Hand—Ocean
  • Day By Day—Godspell
  • Jesus is Just Alright—Doobie Brothers
  • The Lord’s Prayer—Sister Janet Mead
  • The Wedding Song—Noel Paul Stookey
  • One Day at a Time–Marilyn Sellars

With the growth of CCM radio stations during the mid 70’s, there were not as many Christian songs played on Top 40 stations. Jesus Music was played exclusively on newly formatted 24 hour a day CCM stations, instead of secular music outlets.

There were a few songs with Christian themes that were hits in the late 70’s. One of those songs is Bob Dylan’s, “Gotta Serve Somebody” in 1979.

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed

You’re gonna have to serve somebody

It may be the devil or it may be the Lord

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

The next significant artist to crossover and have two number I hits on the Billboard Hot 100 was Amy Grant. In 1986, Grant teamed up with Peter Cetera and recorded the duet, “Next Time I Fall” which peaked at number one. Five years later, her solo hit, “Baby Baby” was number 1, for three consecutive weeks during 1991.

Other Christian artists also had secular hits during the 90’s. Michael W Smith had a top 10 hit with “Place in This World” during the summer of 1991 and Jars of Clay had a multi-format crossover hit with their song, “Flood” during 1995.

That brings us to the surprising hit of “You Say” by Lauren Daigle.

“You Say” was written by Daigle, along with co-writers Paul Mabury and Jason Ingram. Last year, Daigle shared with CCM Magazine, the story behind the song.

“It was the day after my very first Dove awards (2015), and I remember being completely overwhelmed. I walked into the studio, and Paul and Jason, my producers, were in there and they’re like “All right what’s going on in your world, how’s it been?

It was the first time we had written since “How Can It Be”…I just remember feeling like so much had happened the night before, wondering How do I come back down to normal, how do I come back down to reality?

And I started realizing these patterns of really high highs and then, okay now there’s a low. Really high, high, now there’s a low…And Involving expectation in that space can just leave you kind of questioning your identity- Where do I fit in, where is my security, where is my footing?

So when writing “You Say,” I just remember feeling for the first time pretty conflicted. It was definitely the first moment in just being an artist that I was like Okay, where is all this going exactly?”

“And I know that we’ve all faced moments in life where we can feel a crossroads happen— where we can see the past and also see the future, and realize how we are supposed to exist in the present. And it was one of those moments where I could see where things were going and I knew exactly where I came from, and I needed those worlds to still be married.

And thus brought up the issue of identity and trying to figure out how to exist when I felt like so many things were pulling me in so many different directions. I think a lot of times we build these complexes based on insecurity, based on fear, based on rejection, and lies that we have to constantly overcome.

And so this song for me was just a reminder of identity. It was a reminder that I know when I’m weak, He’s strong—so how do I change that and bring that into my every day life? When I feel inadequate how is it that there’s always these moments where I feel like God just steps in and supersedes my inadequacies.

This entire song was so every single day I would get up on stage and remind myself—no, this is the truth, this is the truth, this is the truth. Don’t get buried in confusion. Don’t get buried in waywardness. Just remember to steady the course, steady the course.”

Daigle’s song, “You Say” was the first single from the album, “Look Up Child” and was released to CCM radio stations during July 2018. It immediately shot up the Billboard Hot Christian Songs chart and became the number one song in America.

For the week of November 2nd, 2019, “You Say” spent its final week on top of the Billboard Hot Christian Songs chart, logging 66 consecutive weeks at number 1. This broke the record that Hillsong United set of 61 straight weeks at number one with “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)” during 2013-2014.

Interesting side note: Kanye West just replaced “You Say” as the top Christian song in America during the past two weeks with, “Follow God.”

Obviously, the “You Say” single was huge on Christian radio last year, as it was ranked the 2nd biggest song on 2018, according to Billboard magazine. With such a strong showing, Warner Brothers released Daigle’s song as a single to secular radio during January 2019.

Then in early February 2019, Daigle won a Grammy Award for “Best Contemporary Christian Music performance with “You Say.” After her Grammy victory, Daigle’s song was added to many secular Adult Contemporary and Top 40 radio stations.

Her song then exploded on multiple radio formats, during the spring and summer of 2019. Here are some of the impressive stats on how well “You Say” performed on secular radio, according to Billboard:

  • Peaked at #1   Adult Contemporary
  • Peaked at #5   Adult Top 40
  • Peaked at #20 Mainstream Top 40
  • Peaked at #29 Billboard Hot 100

Daigle also won two other awards for “You Say” during 2019. In May, she picked up the Billboard, “Top Christian Song” award and last month Daigle took home the Gospel Music Association, “Song of the Year” award. 2019 has been an extremely successful year for Lauren Daigle.

The song, “You Say” isn’t the only musical success for the Lafayette, Louisiana native. Daigle’s album, “Look Up Child” spent 44 weeks at the number 1 position of the Billboard “Christian Album Chart.” The album also received a 2019 Grammy Award for, “Best Contemporary Christian Music Album.”

For those individuals who listen to CCM radio, they are familiar with three other hits from the album: The title track “Look Up Child” peaked at #3, “Rescue” reached #2 and Daigle’s current single is, “Still Rolling Stones” which is still charting during the fall of 2019.

Singer-songwriter Annie Lawrence with Lauren Daigle. Photo courtesy of Annie Lawrence.

The past 16 months have been a whirlwind for Lauren Daigle, with the unexpected success of her the song “You Say.”   A fair question to ask would be: What will be Daigle’s chart success in the future? Will she achieve multiple hits or go the way of Debby Boone and become a one hit wonder?

Although I do not know the reason why, “You Say” became a crossover hit, her song has resonated with many folks outside the CCM genre of music. Maybe there is a renewal of spiritual awakening happening in America?

Where will Lauren Daigle’s career go from here?   Obviously, that remains to be seen. The lyrics to Natasha Bedingfield’s song, “Unwritten” seems to sum it up best:

“Drench yourself in words unspoken

Live your life with arms wide open

Today is where your book begins

The rest is still unwritten”


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Artist Profiles, Music, Virginia Artists

David Hollandsworth: Musical Maestro

My music makes you dance and gives you spirit to take a chance,

And I wrote some rock ‘n roll, so you can move,

Music fills your heart, well that’s a real fine place to start,

It’s from me, it’s for you,

It’s a worldwide symphony,

I am music and I write the songs.

Bruce Johnston wrote the above lyrics for the tune “I Write the Songs,” which became a number 1 hit in America for Barry Manilow in 1976.

Although Johnston’s lyrics are referring to God and not an individual person, the concept of writing multiple musical songs for the world to hear reminds me of composer David Hollandsworth.

David Hollandsworth 2019

Over the past 10 years, David Hollandsworth has written hundreds of short, instrumental songs and melodies that have been used in countless TV shows, movies and commercials. The Roanoke, Virginia resident has also written many full-length instrumental tunes, some which have been heard by millions of listeners, via SoundCloud, YouTube and other online music platforms.

More than likely, most have never thought about the instrumental music playing while watching reality shows, movies on Netflix or even viewing commercials. Quite frankly, this is probably a topic that many have never considered prior to reading this message about Hollandsworth and his prolific career.

Some may be wondering how Hollandsworth got started on a career path of writing musical tunes. I had the opportunity to interview David earlier this month to find out how his musical past during childhood and as a young adult helped influence his career.

The seeds of Hollandsworth’s musical talent began during his high school years in southern California. Jethro Tull was a favorite band of David’s, and he asked his mother Dot Hollandsworth to buy him a flute. His mom thought a flute was too expensive so she bought him a cheap classical guitar instead of David’s desired woodwind instrument.

Young David Hollandsworth with Guitar

After Hollandsworth received his guitar, he took lessons for around a year. As a young adult, David started playing guitar during his church’s morning worship services, where his father Jimmy Hollandsworth was the pastor

During this same time period, Hollandsworth started listening to the “Jesus Music” scene in Southern California, which was being developed by the Calvary Chapel fellowship in Costa Mesa. David’s favorite artists at Calvary Chapel both played the piano: Chuck Girard, who played in the band Love Song, and singer-songwriter Erick Nelson.

With the influence of Girard and Nelson’s music, Hollandsworth decided he wanted to play the piano. Since David could not read music, he taught himself how to play the piano by ear.

In 1977, Jimmy Hollandsworth moved his family to Roanoke, Virginia and founded a new church. David and his mother became the worship leaders at the new Church of the Living Way.

David Hollandsworth with Piano 1986.

Eventually David’s mom stepped away from playing piano and David became the sole worship leader for his father’s church. Piano became the instrument of choice for Hollandsworth with these new duties.

For the next 20 years, Hollandsworth was the worship leader for the same church: first called Church of the Living Way and then renamed Grace Covenant Church in 1990. Here in 2019, David is still involved with music ministry.  Hollandsworth continues to play keyboard in the worship band, most Sunday mornings, at the church where he now attends.

David Hollandsworth Playing Guitar 1986

When the Internet grew in popularity during the mid 90’s, Hollandsworth took his love and knowledge of Contemporary Christian Music from his teenage years and made a website called “ A Decade of Jesus Music 1969-1979.”

David wrote about the early days of Jesus Music, covering artists like Larry Norman, Randy Stonehill, Keith Green, Love Song, 2nd Chapter of Acts and many other pioneers in this genre of music.

Although this website may seem antiquated by today’s standards, Hollandsworth’s website was one of the first to document the history of “Jesus Music” on the Internet. Below is a quote from David about the beginnings of his creation:

“The idea for this site started as a wild thought back in 1995. This thing called the World Wide Web was the new buzzword all over the world. As I surfed around I realized that there wasn’t much to be found about the Jesus movement, its history and music. Then and there, I decided that I would put together a site dedicated to this music and the artists who created it. Call it a historical, pictorial, musical archive of a very special time in Christian history.”

While Hollandsworth doesn’t currently maintain or update the “Jesus Music” website he created, it is still available for viewing on the Internet.

During the mid 2000’s, David slowly exchanged his “Jesus Music” historian activities for composing instrumental music tracks. This undertaking was not an overnight venture for Hollandsworth, as he slowly developed his skills and learned how to record music on a professional level.

Ten years ago, Hollandsworth started the process of composing music on a computer, utilizing the Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI). With the MIDI technology, David used a keyboard to create multi-track files.

Since that time, David has created hundreds of music tracks. Some songs are full-length songs, lasting 3 minutes or longer, while “production” tunes that Hollandsworth creates are shorter segments of music, generally lasting less than two minutes in duration.

In my interview with David, I asked him to classify the type of music he composes and he replied, “I would classify most of the music I have out there for the public as new age, neo-classical and ambient. I also have some albums of orchestral and vocal/choir music.”

“Flow” is the most played track of David Hollandworth’s music on social media sites.

Hollandsworth went on to explain to me how TV producers and commercial writers utilize his instrumental music. “Reality TV uses a lot of different genres of music these days. If you listen to a show, you will hear dozens of short cues used throughout a program. The most commonly used are quirky, “dramedy” shows with a hip hop/urban feel and tension music. Tension music is big with all the crime, CSI, investigative type shows on the air.”

David continued, “Other types of music used a lot in commercials and ads are what they call positive, uplifting, or corporate music. Often these have a pop feel to them or use a piano motif to convey what they want to get across. I’ve even done some creepy music for horror/alien type use.”

“A lot of times I will hear something on TV that will spark an idea for a composition. I have dozens of unfinished projects that I will often go back to years later and finish,” Hollandsworth said.

Below are various links for David Hollandswoth’s music:

“Discovery” album was voted Best Ambient album 2015 by One World Music Radio.

The song “Flow” has been streamed over million times on Soundcloud:

The official Webpage of David Hollandsworth music:

The IMDB link:

David Hollandsworth 2019

Before ending my conversation with David, I was curious to find out what artists and genres of music that he listens to on a regular basis. Hollandsworth quickly stated, “Anything with piano is my favorite.”

Core artists that Hollandsworth plays frequently include: Windham Hill artists; pianists/keyboardists Yanni, George Winston & David Lanz; synthesizer artists Vangelis & Tangerine Dream; Progressive rock bands Emerson Lake & Palmer, Pink Floyd, Traffic & Yes; plus jazz fusion artists Pat Metheny and Spyro Gyra.

David’s music is available on multiple outlets, throughout a variety of sources on the Internet: streaming platforms such as Soundcloud, Pandora, Spotify, Apple and Amazon. His music is also available for purchase on his official website and various other online media platforms.

David Hollandsworth 2019

As I think about the prolific musical scores of Hollandsworth, I am amazed by how this man has written hundreds of tunes over the years but can’t read music. (Paul McCartney is also a person who can’t read music but it hasn’t hurt his career). Obviously, the fact the David doesn’t know how to read music hasn’t stopped him from creating professional music either.

The other thing that I admire about David is his tenacity to start a new career writing and composing music later in his life. His perseverance to switch careers and perform in an area in which he is gifted is extremely encouraging to me.

When all is said and done, instrumentalist David Hollandsworth is truly a musical maestro.

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Artist Profiles, Music, Radio, Virginia Artists

Robin and Linda Williams: The Shenandoah Valley’s Musical Pioneers

When I want to hear quintessential Americana music, all I need to do is to travel up the Shenandoah Valley, 90 miles from Roanoke to Staunton, for the music of Robin and Linda Williams.

Known to many for their regular performances on Garrison Keillor’s live radio show “A Prairie Home Companion,” the husband and wife duo have been making music from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia since the 1970’s.

As their official website states: “For more than four decades now, Robin & Linda have made it their mission to perform the music that they love, ‘a robust blend of bluegrass, folk, old-time and acoustic country that combines wryly observant lyrics with a wide-ranging melodicism.

“Today some might call it ‘Americana,’ but these two revered music masters were living and breathing this elixir 20 years before that label was turned into a radio format.”

Robin and Linda Williams in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia

Last month, I spoke with Robin and Linda via phone to find out what the couple has been doing musically over the course of their career and to check out what their plans are for 2019.

I first met Robin and Linda during my junior year attending James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia during the late 70’s. I worked at public radio station WMRA and was the producer of a daily radio program called “Country Afternoon.”

My radio program featured folk, bluegrass and old time country music. Once a month, “Country Afternoon” would have bands and performers from the Shenandoah Valley come to the station to give a live one-hour concert on the radio. Robin and Linda performed on my “Country Afternoon” radio program. Little did I know that this husband and wife duo from Augusta County would one day be nationally known for their iconic music style.

Robin and Linda met in 1971 and quickly realized that they made beautiful music together. The duo started writing their own songs and by 1975, they recorded their first album, the self-titled, “Robin and Linda Williams” on Flashlight Records in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Around the same time, the husband and wife team met Garrison Keillor in Minnesota. As Robin and Linda’s website states: “They made their first appearance on a little radio show just getting off the ground called “A Prairie Home Companion” and their rich relationship with that icon of American broadcasting has continued for four decades.”

In my joint phone interview with Robin and Linda last month, I asked the Williamses if they ever lived in Minnesota? Linda replied “No. We would fly to Minneapolis on Thursday evenings prior to a Saturday show and then stay in the land of 10,000 lakes for a total of 11 days. We would then perform on consecutive Saturdays but still live in the Shenandoah Valley.”

The Virginian couple met Garrison Keillor, “when he came to see us at a venue about 60 miles from St. Paul,” Linda explained. “After watching us for a set of songs, Keillor asked us to come play the radio show. That was in the fall of 1975 and we have worked with him ever since: On the radio, doing concerts and performing on cruise ships.”

“Concerning Garrison, he has been a friend and a mentor to us and he’s the most talented person we’ve ever been around. And we’ve been around some legends”, Linda admired.   The Shenandoah Valley couple will be working again will Keillor again next winter on a Cuban cruise.

Robin and Linda Williams

Over the years, the duo has performed thousands of concerts across the United States, Canada and Europe. Additionally, Robin and Linda are known as superb songwriters. Emmylou Harris, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Kathy Mattea, Tom T. Hall, George Hamilton IV and the Seldom Scene have all covered songs written by Robin and Linda.

According to their website, “Robin and Linda have made appearances on such major programs as ‘The Grand Old Opry,’ ‘Austin City Limits,’ ‘Music City Tonight,’ ‘Mountain Stage’ and they continue to make frequent appearances on ‘A Prairie Home Companion.’   Having always sung gospel music, in the late 1980s they teamed up with their old friend and “A Prairie Home Companion” host Garrison Keillor and bluegrass songstress Kate MacKenzie to form The Hopeful Gospel Quartet.

Robin and Linda Williams

One of the things that I admire the most about Robin and Linda’s music is their focus on the place they have called home for over 40 years: The Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

I asked the Williamses if they could share with me the influence that living in the Shenandoah Valley has had on their music. Here are Robin and Linda’s thoughts with their four selections:


  1. “Stonewall Country”


“[This song] got its title from a little known fact that the term was used in the early to mid-19th century as a moniker for the Shenandoah Valley. Evidently the farmers used the limestone rocks they cleared from their fields as fences and walls, thus “stone wall country.”


“We changed the title to “Stonewall Country” because the song was written for the musical we wrote about Stonewall Jackson for the “The Theater “at Lime Kiln in Lexington, Virginia.


I make my home in Stonewall Country/Down a crooked lane/Where the fields steep and rocky/Took such toil to claim/Now the plows run deep in Stonewall Country/The ground gives back good yields/And the rocks that blocked the furrows/So worrisome to wield/Stand in fences ‘round the fields.


I may leave the Shenandoah/But she’ll never leave my heart/ Stonewall Country, clear-eyed daughter of the stars/Stonewall Country, clear-eyed daughter of the stars.

  1. “Buena Vista”


“Another song that comes to mind our song “Buena Vista,” a tale that mentions not only the Rockbridge County town but also some landmarks like the Maury River.”


So you beat a path to Rockbridge Baths/ ’cause blood kin won’t quit ya/

Or try to dry you out like they do in Buena Vista/

It’s a long walk from your front porch to the Maury River’s edge/

But it’s longer when you’re drunk and hauling back a broken leg/

So here’s to the sawbones who pinned you up and fixed ya/

But you’re out of action lying in traction down in Buena Vista


  1. “These Old Dark Hills”


“Linda got the title of the song “These Old Dark Hills” after a late afternoon winter walk around our property and looking over to the Allegheny Mountains. Seeing those mountains every day for over forty years, they almost seem like friends,” said Robin.

These Old Dark Hills/On which sore eyes can rest/These Old Dark Hills/Ridge after ridge to the west          

  1. “October Light”


“[This] is a song that comes quickly to mind. It’s about the beauty of fall in the Shenandoah Valley.”

Each day we walk up on the hill/And watch the setting sun/Play on the trees and fields until/It falls and day is done/Yellow, orange, blue and rose/The colors neon bright/The evening sky is all aglow/With this October Light.


Robin and Linda Williams

Obviously, the Shenandoah Valley is a special place for Robin and Linda. However, their songs cover a wide variety of topics and are respected by fellow songwriters all across many genres of music.

So I asked the Williams couple if they could share with me their top 5 essential songs. These would be the songs they would like for a person to hear, if they were checking out the Virginia duo’s music for the first time. Here are Robin and Linda’s thoughts on each song:


  1. “Old Plank Road”


“On the last day of filming ‘A Prairie Home Companion,’ director Robert Altman’s last movie, we were asked to perform one of our songs to use for the movie soundtrack. ‘Old Plank Road,’ is a song about a music party in Batesville, VA, and Altman used seven or eight minutes of the film cutting away from us singing it to other scenes that helped develop the story line.”

Charlie you’re a good old boy Charlie you’re all right/Charlie open up the store, we’re coming down tonight/Out where you can see the stars and the living’s slow/We’ll eat potluck and pull guitars down on Old Plank Road.

  1. “Rolling and Rambling (the Death of Hank Williams)”


[This song] has never left our repertoire (probably the only one) and which Emmylou Harris recorded.”

Rolling and Rambling, the women loved him half to death/He sang with whiskey on his breath/His heart broke like a child/Rolling and Rambling, the sun has set out on the trail/The hobo’s drifted up the rail/He’s taken his last ride.


  1. “Don’t Let Me Come Home A Stranger”


“[This song] was in the “Stonewall Country” musical and has made it into the repertoires and recordings of several American and British Isles singers.”

Will there come a time when the memories fade/And pass on with the long, dark years/When the ties no longer bind. Lord save me from this darkest fear/Don’t Let Me Come Home A Stranger/I couldn’t stand to be a stranger

  1. “Across The Blue Mountains”


“[This is] a local, traditional, a cappella song that we found on a party tape with Paul Clayton singing it. We’ve sung it for over 35 years and it’s the vehicle that opened the door to our friendship with the legendary Dave Van Ronk.”

One morning, one morning, one morning in May/I heard a married man to a young girl say/Go dress you up pretty Katy and come go with me/Across the Blue Mountains to the Allegheny


  1. “Famous In Missouri”


“We’re proud of it because it was sung and released as a single by Tom T. Hall, a member of the Country Music and Songwriters Halls of Fame. He was so successful and had such respect as a songwriter that folks labeled him “The Story Teller.” His recording of our song helped us garner respect as songwriters ourselves.”

I was famous in Missouri/Everybody knew my name/Kansas City to old St. Louis/They knew how well I played my game/Now it sure feels strange /To be in South Dakota, out on the range

Robin and Linda Williams in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia

Being part of the Shenandoah Valley music community has always been extremely important for the Williams couple. Linda states, “We have a network of local musician friends – some professional, some not – some old, some new – and via this musical community we’ve been able make contributions to the area.

“Robin and I started a concert series at the Lime Kiln Theater during the mid-80s. We have also helped start a couple of festivals: The Oak Grove Folk Music Festival in Verona (now in its 36th year) and the Fortune-Williams Festival with Jimmy Fortune, the Country Music Hall Of Famer, which ran for 10 years.”

Clearly, Robin and Linda have been an integral part of the Shenandoah Valley music scene for over 40 years and the duo continues to work on and develop new musical projects here in 2019.

Robin and Linda Williams

One proposed project is for a new musical TV show on Virginian music called ‘Road Trip: Virginia Live.’ Robin explains, “The idea is to go to historic venues in Virginia and present a half hour music show based not only on the musical acts but also the venues.”

The other project for the Williamses this year is the production of a new album, which will be recorded at their home in Staunton. “We called our friend Kevin McNoldy, who showed up with portable recording gear and two Townsend microphones in April and we recorded six songs,” said Linda.

“Our house in Staunton is old and has high ceilings and the room sounds wonderful, better than some studios we’ve recorded in the past,” she said. “We sat in our living room with those Townsend mics and got some really good stuff. Robin and I have recorded six CDs with Kevin in the past and it’s been fun re-connecting with him. We’ll continue recording in June and July.”

Robin and Linda Williams in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia

Touring has always been an important part in the musical career of Robin and Linda, and the couple will have concerts scheduled between now and October. Their next show will be at The Harvester in Rocky Mount, Virginia. The Williamses’ friend, Scott Miller will be opening up for the duo at this concert venue. I am looking forward attending this concert, along with my wife Priscilla. For more information on upcoming concerts and to purchase music, please go to the official Robin and Linda website.

What will be the legacy of Robin and Linda? They are leaders in the Shenandoah Valley music scene and their fingerprints are throughout the musical landscape of Virginia. Without a doubt, Robin and Linda Williams are the quintessential duo of Americana music in America!


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Artist Profiles, Music

Sara Niemietz: Born for the Stage

Bruce Springsteen claims he was “Born to Run” while John Kay of Steppenwolf singings he was “Born to be Wild.” Musician and singer-songwriter Sara Niemietz, meanwhile, was born for the stage.

Niemietz started her career as a child actress, performing in theatre productions, television shows, film roles and multiple musical performances. Now as an adult, Niemietz is focused on being a musician, singing and writing music. Her new album, “Get Right” was just released on March 22nd.

Most children absolutely have no idea what they want to be when they grow up. Not so for Niemietz. She found out early in her life that she wanted to be on a stage: Singing, playing and performing for an audience. “Music is my first language. I grew up in the arms of melody and harmony,” Niemietz explains. “My mom and dad are tremendous musicians in their own right. Dad sang in rock bands in Chicago and Mom sang in church and played accordion.”

She was just a young child when an event happened that changed her life: “When I was four, my parents took me to my first concert: BJ Thomas,” Niemietz said. “I’d learned his oeuvre, thanks to many car rides singing along with my family. I’m a big fan. He saw me sitting in the front row at his concert singing along, and pulled me up on stage to sing “Hooked on a Feeling” with him. It was even captured on film. That’s when I knew – this (whatever this is!) – this live performance thing – is what I needed to spend my time doing.”

By age 11, Niemietz was singing regularly on stage. If you go to the Sara Niemietz Youtube page, you can see a video of Sara at age 11, singing the Carole King/Gerry Goffin song, “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” at the Cat Club on Sunset Strip. Even at this young age, Sara’s vocal range was strong and she was confident with her delivery on the song made famous by Aretha Franklin.

Sara was involved with music, theatre, TV and film productions during her childhood and as a young adult. (To read more about Sara’s many non-musical accomplishments, please go to her official website.

In 2012, Niemietz reunited with B. J. Thomas on the Grand Ole Opry stage and once again sang, “Hooked on a Feeling” with the pop and country singer. She has also worked with Richard Marx and Melissa Manchester with various projects.

Sara Niemietz: Photo by Joerg Preger

During the past few years, Niemietz has collaborated with W.G. Snuffy Walden, who is a musician and a composer. Walden has written hundreds of film and television soundtracks over the years. He has accompanied Niemietz on various music projects. Some are cover versions of songs, while other tunes are original compositions.

Social media is also a huge focus for Niemietz. According to her website, “Sara’s heartfelt songs and highly interactive approach to social media have garnered over nineteen million views and over a hundred fourteen thousand followers and subscribers across various new media platforms.”

The other big activity for Niemietz is being involved with Scott Bradlee’s, Postmodern Jukebox (PMJ) group. PMJ is known for taking popular 21st century contemporary songs and rearranging those songs into a different genre of musical style. Many of the PMJ songs are performed in 1920’s jazz or swing format.

Niemietz’s musical taste is diverse. She enjoys, jazz, blues, swing, pop and rock. When I first communicated with Sara about the possibility of writing her musical story, I shared with Niemietz my blog message, “This is It: Yacht Rock” from last summer. After reading the post, she responded, “I myself am a massive Yacht Rock fan and Steely Dan is my favorite band.”

Obviously, Niemietz is an excellent singer. However, she is much more than just an exceptional voice talent. The 26-year old singer is also an outstanding musician. A quote from her website states: “Sara enjoys playing guitar, bass, and piano, and is often engaged in both singing and writing sessions. She can be frequently found in her natural habitat: live shows.”

W.G. Snuffy Walden and Sara Niemietz performing music. Photo by Danuta Lehmann

As I reflect on Sara’s passion for performing as a musician and singer, I am reminded of 1975 Seals the Crofts song, “I’ll Play For You”:

Tonight while the lights are shinin’ and the microphone is on, I’ll play for you.

So many will be the blessings and so short will the time, I’ll stay with you.

I’ve practiced many years and I have come a long, long way just to play for you.

My life is but a song that I have written in many ways, just to say to you.


And these few moments we’ll share together, and I’ll play for you.

The album cover for “Get Right” Sara Niemietz

Last month, Niemietz released a new album, “Get Right,” which she and W.G. Snuffy Walden produced together. Ten songs are on the new album. Nine-songs were written by Niemietz, along with various co-writers. The tenth tune is a cover of “Crying,” a song first made popular by Roy Orbison during 1961.

Here are some of Niemietz’s thoughts from the “Get Right” liner notes: “This album is musical journey that traces the arc of the last year. From magical highs to heartbreaking lows, last year brought love, loss, adventure, confusion, and wonder. Through it all, music helped me to make sense of life. It was a lens through which the picture became a bit more clear. When I’m at a loss trying to wrap my head around my day, myself, the world around, on even simple liner notes (Wink, Wink), music captures what I can’t say. It translates my deepest feelings into something definable and hopefully hummable. In fact, there is a friendly fragment of a melody swirling around my head while I type this. What a good feeling.”

The music on “Get Right” is pop-focused according to Niemietz, but it does incorporate other musical genres. As I listen to the album, I hear some jazz, blues, country and even a little gospel influence as part of the music mix.

The album opens up with, “Waiting on the Day,” which is a perfect tune that sets the tone for Niemietz’s top-notch vocal delivery. Up-tempo songs like, “Feet Don’t Touch the Floor,” “Don’t Leave Me Hanging,” and the title track, “Get Right” are all catchy and pleasing to the ears.

Niemietz showcases her exceptional vocal range on some of the ballads with the new album. “Made to Last,” “Shine,” “Hear Me Now,” and “Crying” all bring out superb and outstanding emotional outpouring when she is singing. To purchase the “Get Right” album, please to go the official Sara Niemietz website.

Currently, Niemietz is in the midst of her “Spring 2019 Tour,” playing in the United Kingdom, Germany, and the Czech Republic. Touring with Niemietz is W.G. Snuffy Walden and Jonathan Richards. They will play in Europe through the end of April. Sara also plans to tour in the United States during the summer of 2019.

Being an independent artist without a recording contract, Niemietz has to wear many hats. For her latest, “Get Right” album, she was a producer, musician, singer and the chief promoter for this new project. Niemietz even personally mailed pre-ordered copies of the new album to fans that purchased “Get Right” prior to the March 22nd released date.

Sara Niemietz: Photo by Julien Garros

For Niemietz, one of the positive things about being an independent artist is the freedom to set her own schedule for musical activities. She enjoys interacting with her fans on social media sites as well as performing her songs in concert settings. To view any of her videos online, please go to the Sara Niemietz youtube channel.

Ever since she was four years old, Niemietz knew that she wanted to be on a stage in some type of capacity. The small seed planted at that time has now blossomed into a radiant flower for the world to enjoy. Without a doubt, Sara Niemietz was born for the stage.

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