I am always amazed by musicians. And not just people who can “play an instrument.” I took piano lessons for years; I could read music and touch the right keys. But I’m not a musician. Musicians can improvise. They can hear a tune and mimic it. They can tell you how they feel through music. They communicate in the same language as their instruments, and that understanding conveys to other instruments. If they learn one instrument, it’s like they unlock the door to several. For example, a musician who plays the piano can most likely play any keyed instrument–accordion, xylophone, glockenspiel–because he gets his instrument. And musicians, just like other artists, create.
Harrisonburg’s got some crazy good musicians. And I was privileged to watch them work on March 16 during the acoustic night of Rock Lotto.
This year–Rock Lotto’s fourth year since its hiatus back in 1997–the event took place over two nights at the Blue Nile, one for acoustic acts and one for electric.
In brief, here’s how the whole lotto thing works: a whole bunch of local musicians throw their names in a hat, and depending on how they’re drawn, they form bands. Bands of relative strangers. Bands of people who’ve maybe never played together before at all. You people are brave. Then for two months-ish, they work together to write 25 minutes of original music. (Bands are allowed to play one cover, but only one.) I say for two months, but remember that these people all have jobs and lives and responsibilities and other projects, so finding a time–or multiple times–when they can all get together to write, practice, and rehearse is quite a challenge. After all the performances, the audience “votes” for their favorite using quarters. I thought this was a neat idea, until I remembered that I didn’t have any quarters, because every time I go to Kroger or Food Lion, my kids ransack my wallet for quarters for the gumball machine. Dang it! Despite my lack of change, the event raised more than $2500 for local music programs.
I love Harrisonburg.
On acoustic night, there were four bands: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea; Shoelace Face; Strange Fruits and Creative Juices; and Space Sex and Robots. The place was packed, inside and out, and while Brandy took photos, I scooted around and asked for people’s names and set lists. In the craziness I wasn’t able to talk to everyone, so this is only a partial list of participants, and if I’ve left you out, please comment… but we did see Brent Finnegan, whose band performed first. They were fantastic and I was quite impressed with Brent’s vocals–hadn’t heard him sing before. Also in attendance were Megan Tiller, Marybeth Kananen, Heidi Smith, Wes Harper, and Old Stevie; Garrett Stern, Sarah Murphy, and Sheila Newman; Ashley Hunter’s group performed fourth, and two brothers–Josh and John Yoder–performed, but in different bands. This was interesting to their parents, who sat next to me that evening. They were so nice to talk to–so excited to hear their boys play… and if memory serves, both of their sons play the drums.
The photos of this night really tell the story–Brandy is so good at that. I’ll leave you with a few moments that moved me in some way:
1. The lyric, “You’ll be just another woman that I used to know.”
2. The cover of Neil Young’s “Old Man.”
3. The cover of Nancy Griffith’s “Looking for the Time (Workin’ Girl).” That was freaking amazing.
4. The insane instrument switching. Again, these were musicians.
5. The crowd chanting “Shoelace Face! Shoelace Face!”
6. The use of a washboard.
7. The joy on everyone’s faces… including my own.
One last thing, Brandy took tons of gorgeous photos at this event, so we’ll be featuring groups of them all week. Congratulations to everyone who participated and to the organizers of this event. This is one Harrisonburg tradition that MUST continue.
See you soon!