Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Flourishing of Arts in Floyd (Part II)

A Flourishing of Arts in Floyd, Part I is HERE. This story originally appeared in The Floyd Press on March 27, 2008.

Another sign that the arts have grown in the community is Floyd’s active nightlife. Music lovers and fiddle players spilling over into the streets for the Friday Night Jamboree is part of Floyd’s heritage and its music reputation. Held at the Floyd Country Store, the Jamboree has been written about in the Washington Post and other regional and national publications. People from all over the country and the world have attended. Most recently a home schooling family of four red-head girls and three boys from Alaska performed on the Jamboree stage. On the road with their band, The Redhead Express, learning more about Bluegrass music was part of their home schooling curriculum.

“They found us online and asked to play,” Jackie Crenshaw, one of the Floyd Country Store owners said. “They loved seeing the multi-generational mix – adults and little kids – and were especially surprised to see the teenagers here,” she added.

The Jamboree and the County Sales store, renowned for providing an extensive selection of Old Time and Bluegrass recordings since 1965, are two of the good reasons why Floyd is part of the Crooked Road, a 250 mile Heritage Music Trail that winds through the Appalachian region of Southwest Virginia.

Although Floyd’s musical reputation has been built on Old Time and Bluegrass music, on any given weekend night residents and visitors might also hear Reggae, Salsa, Rock and Roll, or Blues. While dancers are flat-footing at the Floyd Country Store, others are dosey-doeing at the monthly Contra Dance held at The Winter Sun Music Hall, or enjoying a jig at Oddfellas’ monthly Irish Night.

The Winter Sun Music Hall, where an African dance troupe and a South American band are promoted and booked from, has played a role in stimulating a cultural exchange of the arts in Floyd. International, national, and regional acts have played on the Winter Sun stage. The Music Hall’s sprawling wood floor is great for dancing or practicing yoga at one of the classes they offer. Part of a complex of businesses housed in an old renovated textile factory building, the Music Hall has hosted a Halloween costume party, several benefits, and provides a stage for Floyd’s Young Actors Coop.

In many cases the venues in Floyd that feature dining and live music also promote the visual arts. Café Del Sol, Oddfellas Cantina, and Blackwater Loft all have regular rotating art exhibits on display. Over the Moon, above the Harvest Moon Food Store, is a café as well as a fine arts gallery.

Some establishments focus entirely on the arts and have built on the momentum of earlier community efforts. The June Bug Center specializes in the performing arts, everything from Shakespeare to Kid-interactive Story Theater and dance classes. Last year they hosted a Middle Eastern celebration called a Hafla, and a Poetry slam that brought the youth of the community together. Before the June Bug Center, The Floyd Theater Group filled the niche for community theater, hosting plays and Skit Night during the 80’s and 90’s. Around that same time the Mountain Rose Dance Center’s yearly dance recitals filled the high school auditorium with attendees.

The Jacksonville Center for the Arts, a renovated dairy barn, was home to the Winterfest Arts and Craft Fair before the renovations and before it was heated. Today at the Jacksonville Center you can take a class on blacksmithing, glass works, pot throwing, paper making and more. Their Hayloft Gallery is a popular venue that regularly features exciting exhibits of contemporary and folk art of local, national, and international artists. Winterfest, still going strong at the Jacksonville Center, will be hosting their 13th annual fair this coming winter.

Although much of Floyd’s art and music scene happens downtown, stretching from one end of Locust Street to the other, county residents have been creative in the way they showcase their arts. 16 Hands, a group of ceramic artists and one woodworker, helped set the stage for the recent surge of arts in Floyd with their biyearly self-guided studio tours. The open house tours began in 1998 and have grown to include visiting artists. Members of 16 Hands have gained national and international recognition for their art. Catherine Pauley recalls that several of the founding members were some of the earliest artisans to move to Floyd and believes that other artists coming to Floyd twenty years ago may have followed on their reputation.

Musical events held in farmhouses and local inns, known as House Concerts, are an old country tradition that is becoming popular again. Blues musician Scott Perry, who teaches music and hosts “Back Porch” concerts at his music store, The Pickin’ Porch, thinks they’re great.

“They’re music and musician focused events, as opposed to the music being secondary to dining and drinking.” Perry said.

Perry, who recently performed his second House Concert at Ambrosia Farm Bed & Breakfast, appreciates that at these venues he can do what he does best without having to think about asking for tips. Concert-goers are happy to pay a reasonable pre-set musician’s donation in exchange for a front row seat in an informal setting that includes a chance to meet and talk with the performer.

Post Notes: Photos are of The Floyd Country Store (home of the Friday Night Jamboree), and a sculpture in front of the Jacksonville Center, made by high school students who attended a week long sample course in the arts last year. Click HERE for the final installment of this story.

Friday, January 29, 2010

A Flourishing of Arts in Floyd

This is the first installment of a three part reprint from a story that originally appeared in a Floyd Press special insert on March 27, 2008.

Whether it’s food and shelter, or creative arts and entertainment, Floyd Countians have a long tradition of providing it for themselves. Although Floyd has been home to talented musicians, quilters, woodworkers, and resourceful types for many generations, the county has recently been experiencing a renaissance of creative arts.

Native Floydian and high school art teacher, Catherine Pauley doesn’t remember anything organized going on in Floyd in the area of fine arts in the late 1970’s when she and several others decided to start an art association, which would become The Old Church Gallery. She does remember their earliest efforts promoting the arts in Floyd as playful.

“We were doing sidewalk art and art shows on the courthouse lawn. We ran wire along metal posts and hung up paintings. Kids, adults, everyone made them,” Pauley recalled.

Around the same time that The Old Church Gallery was being formed, young artists and musicians, pursuing the self-sufficient lifestyle and natural beauty Floyd has to offer, began moving to the area. Adding their input to the existing creative culture, they developed markets that showcased their arts, such as The Barter Faire, a Renaissance style event that was once held yearly on the Pine Tavern lawn. The Annual Floyd County Arts and Crafts Festival – which started in the high school cafeteria and has since spread onto the grounds and elementary school – was also taking off during this time of seeding the arts.

Many of the homespun endeavors that groups began back then to highlight the arts have recently been coming to fruition or have spawned new growth. New venues and businesses related to the arts have been cropping up, more music and art classes are being taught, and downtown improvements and opportunities for entertainment are drawing more visitors to Floyd.

Jayn Avery has been making her living in ceramic arts for more than thirty years. She’s recently been able to retire from traveling long distances to craft shows, finding more market venues at home. Weekend treks to sell her wares at The Roanoke Farmer’s Market have proven successful.

“Since doing the Roanoke Market, my sales in Floyd have increased. It’s provided consistent exposure and a new clientèle. When people ask where they can get my work, I send them up to Floyd,” Avery said.

Avery’s lace impressed production pottery has always sold well at the New Mountain Mercantile, one of Floyd’s earliest shops to feature local arts and crafts. Her large hand built vessels and blue glazed heron sculptures were first exhibited at Floyd’s Jacksonville Center for the Arts, where she is an active board member.

“My higher end art pieces are selling in Floyd now, and they never used to,” Avery said. The range of interest in her art has also increased.

“The Bell Gallery has sold pieces to people across the country,” she added.

Some artists, like Avery, work at their craft full-time out of their home studios. Others support themselves by combining their art with part time jobs. Still others wait till they retire to tap their creativity.

Bob Grubel, a founding member of the band Grace Note, supplements the income his music brings in with a job supporting individuals with disabilities. Over the years Grubel has recorded nearly a dozen tapes and CDs of his original music and the music of Grace Note. He sings and plays piano at local and regional venues and even finds time to keep a large garden, although he gave up his goats a decade ago when his music career started to take off.

“I enjoy wearing a different hat several times a day, going from music to supporting the individuals I work with, to farm activities,” Grubel said.

Grubel, who also performs at churches in the region, is set up to record music at his home. He also uses recording studios throughout the New River Valley.

“I love being in a community with so many musicians finding their niches,” he said.

Gretchen St. Lawrence, who relocated to Floyd with her husband David two years ago, is a late blooming artist, retired from years of working in the corporate world. The availability of art classes at Floyd’s Jacksonville Center was a factor in the St. Lawrence’s move to Floyd, but Gretchen says the main draw was the friendly and encouraging people. One of her first connections with Floyd artists was through The Floyd Figures Art Group, a non instructional art group that first began meeting in the early 1990’s and uses live models for figure drawing.

“Artists here foster each other. Everyone at the Floyd Figures group accepted me without question or judgment,” St. Lawrence said.

St. Lawrence, who is currently a member of Art Under the Sun – a grassroots art association that hosts a gallery and offers art classes – explained that the support of other artists helped her to feel comfortable as an artist. From that place of acceptance her work flourished.

“It just took off. People started commissioning me to do pet portraits,” she said.

Post note: The photo is of a Floyd sign in front of noteBooks and the Black Water Loft. Click HERE to continue this story.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Floyd Poet Wins Symposium Award

The following was published in The Floyd Press on April 10, 2008.

Floyd County poet, Mara Robbins (pictured on the left) was one of three students representing nine regional schools to receive a first place award at a Poetry Symposium this past weekend. The symposium, titled "The Power of Poetry," was a first time event, sponsored by Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in Lexington. Robbins, a Hollins University senior with a major in creative writing, is a founding member of the Floyd Writer's Circle and one of the hosts of the third Saturday Spoken Word Night at Floyd's Café Del Sol. She was chosen from area college applicants to present in both featured categories, original poetry and critical papers on poetry.

The two day symposium began with a Friday evening reading by guest poets, Claudia Emerson and Bruce Weigl. Emerson, Professor of English at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, is from Chatham, Virginia, and at one time was a rural mail carrier in Danville. In 2006, she won a Pulitzer Prize for her third collection of poetry, "Late Wife." The book was aptly described by Jeffery Brown when he interviewed Emerson for the PBS NewsHour as one about "loves lost through death and divorce." He also rightly called it an examination of the newfound love between Emerson and her second husband, who came together late in life. The poetry Emerson shared at her reading revealed her masterful ability to use concrete images - the furnace, the hairbrush, a quilt - to relate indirectly to underlying emotions.

Weigl, also a professor of English, is best known for his Vietnam War poetry. At the reading, he followed his first poem, about witnessing a young Vietnamese girl after she had been napalmed, by saying, "I'm not going to gloss these." Weigl, who was just out of high school in Ohio when he was sent to Vietnam, says in his memoir, "The Circle of Hanh," "The paradox of my life as a writer is that the war ruined my life and in return gave me my voice."

It might seem unlikely that a poetry symposium, especially one hosting a poet like Weigl, who writes with graphic honesty about war, be held at a military academy. On the VMI (Virginia Military Institute) news website, symposium organizer and VMI professor of English and fine arts, Gordon Ball, explains the institute's interest in poetry, "Today's creative writing classes are filled to capacity, and the student literary magazine "Sounding Brass" showcases our many student poets; the symposium capitalizes on such interest and productivity." Ball, who has documented the beat poet generation through film and words, was close friends with beat poet, Allen Ginsberg. He points out that Iraq War veteran, poet, and author of "Here, Bullet," had also read at VMI. At The Power of Poetry Symposium, a number of VMI cadets participated in poetry and prose readings. One revealed during a question and answer segment that he wrote much of his poetry in his head while marching on the drill field.

The symposium readings of papers and poetry by a total of thirty-six students were broken up with a luncheon and keynote address given by Emerson. Speaking on "The Power of Poetry," and the measure of it, as opposed to the meter, Emerson said, "Poetry is a way to measure emotion and manage events ... We measure what we care about." Emerson spoke about her past experiences as a literacy volunteer and of her love of Emily Dickinson's poetry. She also shared what her students had to say about the power of poetry. "Poetry is measured by alcohol proof and not by nutrient fact," one student had said.

It was Robbins' paper, titled "The Sacred and Everyday in Two Ancient Goddess Poems" that won her formal recognition, a monetary gift, and complimentary books by Emerson and Weigl. The paper (which tied for first place with another student's) compared two ancient Goddess poems, one of which was originally written in cuneiform, the earliest known form of written script created by the Sumerians in 3,000 BC. The other, "Invocation to Aphrodite," the Greek Goddess of Love, was written by the ancient Greek female poet Sappho. Robbins read, Spirituality has elements of mystery, and we need a sense of mystery and ritual in our lives. We also need to eat, drink, sleep, bathe, and procreate, and when the divine is set apart from these necessary activities it becomes less applicable, and therefore less meaningful. In order for the sacred to be sustainable it must have a place in people's daily lives ...

Katherine Swett, a student from Virginia Tech, won the poetry component of the symposium. One of her poems, "A Documentation of Grief" (which she referred to as 4/16 poem), particularly struck a chord with those in attendance. My first thought was that the literacy journal would have to have a special edition ... or specifically not have a special addition ... and that this wasn't the right kind of first thought ... I was in my towel and was thinking about the fact that I was in my towel and that I would probably always remember that I was in my towel ... Swett read and then continued... I didn't cry at the convocation ... it was too much like a football game, Nikki's words echoing in the stadium ... like an alien in our heads ...

On the steps of VMI's Preston Library, after the award announcements, Robbins was exhilarated and exhausted as she recalled how her Hollins professor, Jeanne Larsen, encouraged her to submit to the symposium. She expressed excitement at having met and interacted with Bruce Weigl, who she dedicated a first line to in one of the poems she read that day. "Poem beginning with a line from Bruce Weigl," it was called.

"Claudia Emerson is my hero," Robbins, who was primarily home-schooled as a girl, announced. Daughter of Wayne and Vera Bradburn, Robbins relates to Emerson's rural Southern background and was inspired by her keynote address. "Her reason for writing made more sense to me than any successful published writer. She doesn't write because she has to. She doesn't write because someone told her to. She writes because it is essential to her existence," Robbins said.

As a student and single parent of a nine year old daughter, Robbins would soon need to get back to the routines of everyday life. But for this weekend, she was content to savor her experiences. Surrounded by friends and few new admirers, she paused to take a phone call from her sister, who was calling from Floyd to offer congratulations on Robbins' outstanding accomplishment.

Post Notes: The first photo in this post is of Mara (on the left) and Katherine. The last one is of Mara with other Hollins poets who participated in the symposium. Left to right: Melanie Lynn Huber, Sharon Mirtaheri, Julie Lawrence Abernethy, and Mara.

~ First posted on loose leaf notes on April 8, 2008.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Floyd Scrabble Players Win Tournament Game

~ The following was published in The Floyd Press on March 27, 2008.

Those monthly Scrabble games I've been playing with friends at the Café Del Sol have paid off. I was one of three players from our informal group representing Floyd in a Scrabble Tournament to benefit the Literacy Volunteers of Roanoke this past Thursday. With a score of 458, Virginia Nathan, a literacy volunteer; Chelsea Adams, a Radford University writing teacher; and I played as a team and earned a first place prize for one of the two games played.

More than one-hundred players filled Fitzpatrick Hall in the Jefferson Center for the 3rd annual competition, hosted by the Literacy Volunteers of Roanoke Valley and the Roanoke Library Foundation. The games were played in two teams of three with two rounds lasting forty minutes each, just enough time to use all the letter tiles if we adhered to the three minute time limit for each play. For a $30 entry fee, the fundraising event included two games, a light supper, and desserts. A member of the Literacy Volunteers made introductions and announced the game rules from the podium stage. Shanna Flowers (pictured to the right above), a Roanoke Times columnist, was our gracious master of ceremonies.

The pre-game atmosphere was festive, but once the games commenced the pressure was on and everything but the task at hand faded into the background. Immersed in our team huddles, we were playing against the whole room for the best score. At our Floyd café games an occasional play might take as long as ten minutes. In this case we had only three minutes, but, working as a team, we had three brains between us. Virginia, the calmest of our group, sat in the middle, adjusting the tiles while listening to input from Chelsea and me. Chelsea kept score and I drew the letters from the drawstring bag, which I had to do quickly. During the first game my hands shook as I placed the seven tile letters on our rack and tried not to drop them. By the second game, we were all more confident in our abilities and teamwork.

In between games, we socialized with other word lovers.
There was a strong showing of employees from the Roanoke Times, one of the tournament sponsors. All of the six players on the teams we competed with were from the Times. George Kegley, a retired business editor for the Roanoke Times, was the evening's official Scrabble judge.

Some teams boosted their team spirit by wearing matching clothes. One group of three women stood out, with feathered boas around their necks and large floppy hats with letter cards attached to them on their heads. T-shirts with words and Scrabble logos were worn by some players and volunteers.

Dictionary look-ups were allowed but cost an additional $3 donation. Every table was equipped with a Scrabble board, a timer, and three colored flags. With a wave of a yellow flag a volunteer would appear to assist with a dictionary look-up. A red flag brought the Scrabble judge to determine if a "challenged" word was acceptable or not. A green flag could be waved if players needed rules clarified.

I learned from my teammates that JENNIES are female mules. It was a word that could have scored us a Scrabble Bingo worth 50 bonus points if we had found a place on the board to play it. LATHER, JAILED, QAT, ZEES, TOKEN, and RODEOS were some of the words our team put down. We were able to make as many as three words in one play when we played a word that attached to existing ones on the board, expanding on them.

Our prize for the best score of the second round was a $50 gift certificate from Barnes and Noble for each of us. Prizes for the lowest team score of each game were copies of the Official Scrabble Player's Dictionary. A prize for the most interesting word, HALOGEN, was a round of golf for four at Westlake Golf and Country Club in Smith Mountain Lake. The best team name also won a golf package. Some of the team names this year were Victorious Secrets, Word Warriors, The Tilettes, and "Surely, This Name Will Win the Name Contest." The award went to the Chixtionaries.

At the close of the evening, Virginia, Chelsea, and I (aka Two C's and a V) struck up a conversation with a fellow player about the 2008 National Scrabble Association's Tournament, which is being held this summer in Orlando. I don't know if any of us will ever make it to National Tournament, but I'm pretty sure we'll all be back in Roanoke next year for the Literacy Volunteer's 4th annual tournament. In the meantime, maybe we'll purchase some books about Scrabble with our Barnes and Noble's gift certificates that will help us improve our game.

Post Notes: The first photo is of, left to right, Colleen, Chelsea, Virginia, and Shanna Flowers.

Originally posted on loose leaf notes on March 24, 2008.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Music of Coriander Woodruff

The Following appeared in the regional newspaper insert “All About Her” in January 08.

Coriander Woodruff has been her own kind of musician since she was a toddler making drums from empty coffee cans.

When she was ten years old, she heard a segment on NPR radio about GarageBand, a software program that features a virtual soundboard for mixing and recording sound. She knew it was the next step in her music exploration. With GarageBand, Coriander could sample a variety of instruments, loop sequences, and synthesized sound to create her own musical collages in the comfort of her home.

Her father is a computer programmer and her mother is an artist. Her older brother leads a Floyd Ghost Tour with a theatrical flair, and another member of the Woodruff household is a musician. Considering Coriander’s background, it’s no wonder that by the time she was thirteen years old she had composed and produced two CD’s of electronica music.

“What was your party like?” I asked her. We were in the Black Water Loft, a café in downtown Floyd where the October release party for her second CD, Black Light Blue Frog, was held.

“There were plasma balls and lava lights,” she answered. She described how her father projected a light show onto the café wall. And what would electronica music, also known as house party music, be without a black light? There was one, she said.

In between sips of tea, Coriander’s mother, Pat Woodrufff, told me that the October 26th CD Release Party was also Coriander’s 13th Birthday Party. Coriander described how the black and white costume she wore to the party and in the photo on her newest CD cover came from a Halloween costume search. “I wanted to be an “optical illusion,”’ she said.

According to Coriander, her early music was “awful stuff that had me pulling out my hair.” In the first year working with GarageBand, she did a lot of “testing.” It took a year before she composed something she was proud of, a song from her first CD, Spirit Web, entitled Galaxy Seeker. More recently some of her music was featured in “Floyd Home Companion,” a parody of Garrison Keillor’s Radio Show, Prairie Home Companion, with a Floyd twist. The play was recently performed in Floyd by Coriander and other cast members of Floyd’s Young Actors Co-op.

As with her early coffee can drumming, Coriander has been using a computer since she was very young. She taught herself touch typing after being involved in an “adventure chat room” in which you had to type fast to keep up with the game. That kind of self-motivation is a thread that runs through her and her family’s life. As a homeschooler, Coriander’s curriculum is based on the learning that is inherent in pursuing her interests. Her parents encourage her hands-on learning style. Working with GarageBand puts music making in Coriander’s own hands. It also allows her family to avoid expense recording session fees.

We left the Black Water Loft and went to Coriander’s home, where she showed me her digital audio workstation and explained how she can find a sound to match the mood of a piece by searching under headings, such as Happy, Relaxing, or Dark. She can also overlay everyday sounds into her compositions. One of my personal favorite examples of this is in a song called “Please Turn Off Your Cell Phone,” in which she incorporates recorded phone sounds into a beat, everything from dial tone, to ‘if you would like to make a call, please hang up and try again,’ and her brother talking on the phone.

When I asked her if she was working on a new CD, she explained that she wanted to create music that would feel like the stars and the beginning of the universe. “It’s going to be hard, but I want to do it.” She added that making a CD takes a year or two because she can only work when she feels inspired.

At one time electronic music was a genre of its own, but these days many well known musicians incorporate it into their songs. The term “electronica” was first used in the early 1990’s to describe the rave movement and global-influenced dance music, but now it is also created for forefront and background listening. Also known as techno-music, electronica is a fusion of many types of music. It was once categorized with jazz and has been used heavily in New Age Music.

To those who think electronica music isn’t real music because it’s more about composing and mixing than it is about playing an instrument or singing, Coriander says, “If it effects you makes you happy, and moves you; it’s music. She promised me she’d invite me to her next CD Release Party. ~Colleen Redman

Note: Coriander Woodruff’s CD’s, Spirit Web and Black Light Blue Frog, are available at noteBooks in downtown Floyd. They can be purchased by mailing $10 plus $2 postage to Gryphon Studios, PO Box 190, Emporium, PA, 15834. You can visit to hear selections from her CD’s.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Music of Bernie Coveney

The following was published in The Floyd Press on January 24, 2008.

Bernie Coveney – who has played with Grammy award winner Emmylou Harris, contributed to the soundtrack of King of the Gypsies, and taught Robert Duval how to play guitar for his role in Tender Mercies – has just released a first CD of his own music.

One of the CD’s best reviews came from his neighbor’s mother who received a copy from her son for Christmas. “There’s no yelling. There’s no swearing. And the man plays from his heart,” she said, thanking her son for the gift.

Coveney’s music has been described as mix of gypsy, jazz, and bluegrass. When asked about the meaning of gypsy music, he explained it as a musical style, both emotional and ethnic, rooted in the folk tradition of roving tribal people. The CD, named Whispering Pines, is an instrumental collection of original old and new songs that reflect the inner and outer journeys of Coveney’s life story.

Born in Massachusetts and raised in New Jersey and New York, Coveney already had an impressive musical history when he and his wife Lucy came to Floyd in the mid 90’s to escape crowded city life. It was Lucy who first fell in love with Floyd, while Bernie wondered what he would do for work in a small rural town and worried that his life as a musician would suffer. He had no idea at the time that Floyd had an active and historical music scene.

It didn’t take him long to discover the Friday Night Jamboree and to feel like he had come full circle, back to some of his earliest roots in country music. When he met Jimmy DeHart, a prominent Floyd musician and jamboree mainstay, Coveney discovered an eerie connection to Floyd that had preceded his own arrival.

In the late 1970’s when Coveney was a single father of two, he sold his old Martin guitar to a collector because he needed the money. DeHart’s daughter later bought it in Ohio for her father. It was Coveney’s first time at the Country Store jamboree when he recognized the hole near the pick guard. It took a photo of Coveney with the guitar and a matched up serial number to fully convince DeHart (who has since passed away) that such an unlikely coincidence was indeed true.

The cover design of Whispering Pines is from a photograph by Doug Thomspon. The music was mixed and recorded at Martin Scudder’s Mountain Lighthouse Studio in Floyd. Scudder also plays electric violin on many of the songs. Other Floyd musicians who are well featured on the CD include acoustic violinist, Mike Mitchell, mandolinist, Abe Gorskey, and bassist Chris Luster. Luster’s bass accompanies Coveney’s guitar throughout the CD and is highlighted in a solo segment on a song titled “Coming Home.” Another song features the rise and fall and weaving together violins in a duo by Scudder and Mitchell. Gorskey’s mandolin adds a spirited up-beat to two of the selections.

The first song on the CD, Lucky Lou, was written for Lucy who died from cancer in 2002. It’s a playful song, composed soon after they had met. “I felt so lucky to have found her,” Coveney said.

The title song, Whispering Pines, named by Lucy and inspired by the pine trees that border Coveney’s Floyd property, opens with the sound of wind and the cry of a hawk.

“BJ’s Rag,” the shortest song in the collection bears the name of Coveney’s vanity license plate and was written when his first son, BJ, was born. “The fretting reminds me of tickling a baby,” Coveney writes in the liner notes.

“Still I Wonder” was inspired by a Virginia setting where Trappists Monks once meditated. It includes the only vocals on the recording. The ethereal voices of Dorian Dugger and Kari Kovick add a sense of mystery to the penetrating melody.

“En La Frontera” is a border song written when Bernie lived in San Antonio, Texas. It was named by a local resident and plays out like the soundtrack to a cowboy adventure, complete with a love story.

For “New Love,” a song about exploring the freedom of expression, Coveney traveled to New Jersey to record it with his high school friend and fellow musician, John Carlini. Country music wasn’t widely popular in the Tri-state area in the 1960’s when Carlini and Coveney would listen to it on a car radio. They liked it so much that they traveled to Pennsylvania to hear the Campbell Hour radio show, broadcast from the back of Ola Belle Reed and Alex Campbell’s store, where Coveney and Carlini eventually were invited to play on the air. Carlini went on to play with New Jersey native David Grisman, who was a forerunner in the fusion of bluegrass into what is sometimes referred to as “newgrass.” Grisham gained some notoriety through his musical collaborations with Gerry Garcia and has played at Floyd Fest.

Coveney, who makes his living teaching music and playing private events, has headed up bands since first coming to Floyd and has finally settled on a name: Bernie Coveney with Natural Selection. Natural Selection refers to the roving roster of musicians he plays with. Besides the musicians featured on his CD, Coveney frequently plays with actor and former owner of Oddfellas Cantina, Rob Neukirch who sings as well as plays guitar.

Bernie says developing one’s own recognizable sound is what is important to him as a musician and what he encourages his students to work towards. On Whispering Pines, he closes out the rounded sound of the CD with a signature sweet guitar solo, the last plunk of which plays like a period at the end of rich conversation. ~ Colleen Redman

Post Notes: For more information, visit Whispering Pines can be purchased for $15 locally at Blue Ridge Muse, Café Del Sol, New Mountain Mercantile, and The Floyd Country Store, or online at where the songs can also be heard. Photos are: 1. Bernie at Over the Moon Café. 2. Whispering Pines CD. 3. Bernie giving a porch guitar lesson to Joe.

~Originally posted on on February 4, 2008.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

All about Knitting

The following was published in the January 17, 2008 issue of The Floyd Press and also appears online HERE.

About fifteen knitters showed up to have their knitting questions answered by Margaret Radcliffe at the Jessie Peterman Library this past Sunday afternoon. Radcliffe, a Blacksburg resident who has been knitting for forty-five years, is the author of The Knitting Answer Handbook. She travels the country teaching knitting techniques and answering knitting questions. Her business, Maggie’s Rags, is a wholesale outlet for her original handknitting patterns.

Eleven year old Jessica Spangler, one of the event’s attendees, has been teaching herself to knit using a book her mother gave her. She asked Radcliffe one of the first questions. Several women worked on their knitting as Radcliffe, donned in an eggplant colored hand knitted vest, answered Spangler’s question about fading yarn.

“Anything that is dyed can fade,” Radcliffe said. She advised not to keep knitted yarn sitting in the sun and to watch if knitted clothing runs the first time it is immersed in water for hand washing.

Knitting has been regaining popularity, as evidenced by the number of new yarn shops and online knitting businesses, Radcliffe told the crowd.

“If you spend a lot of time knitting, people come to you, yarn comes to you,” she said, explaining how she came to teach knitting.

When asked how long she had been knitting, Eleva Smith, another attendee, laughed and answered, “Just since I got here.” She has been crocheting Afghans for years, so she picked up the knitting stitches pretty quickly. She also welcomed the help of the knitter sitting next to her.

A Floyd woman originally from Michigan spoke of a wool sweater that her mother had knitted for her sister in the 1950’s. Her sister still wears the sweater.

“As it should be,” Radcliffe said. “Knitted wool clothing lasts a long time,” she said as she moved around the room offering tips.

Towards the end of the hour long meet-up, knitters browsed through tubs of clothes that Radcliffe had brought, admiring the finished prototypes of Radcliffe’s design patterns that included sweaters, shawls, vests, socks, hats, and more.

Several women purchased Radcliffe’s book and she signed copies for them. The book has been reprinted in several languages and includes chapters titled Casting on, The Basics, Binding Off, Tools, Yarn, Reading Patterns, Stitches, Circular Knitting, Color, Shaping, Fitting, and Embellishments. It can be purchased for $14.95 through and in some knitting shops.

A list of stores that carry her original handmade patterns can be found on her website,, Radcliffe said. The webpage also features knitting tips, a schedule of her classes, and a color catalog of her knitting designs. She suggests interested knitters ask local stores to carry her products for easy access.

Artist and avid knitter, Cheryl Sweeney announced to the group that an informal knitting club has been meeting monthly on Wednesday nights at the Floyd Country Store. She suggested that anyone interested contact her for the next scheduled date. ~ Colleen Redman

~ Originally posted on January 18, 2008.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

My Famous Foot

AKA: Ahh…A Day at the Spa

The Following appeared in the regional newspaper insert “All About Her” in October. Although I sent the editor more than six photos to go with the piece, she chose only this one, assuring that my foot would be viewed by readers from all over South West Virginia.

Most young girls who play with dolls confine their hairdressing games to brushing and styling. Some are brave enough to give a haircut. As the daughter of a hairdresser, Elaine Braley (pictured in the photo) showed signs at an early age that she would follow in the family business. While other girls her age were perfecting the use of barrettes and making ponytails, she was dying her Barbie doll’s hair.

Eight years ago, Elaine made her interest in beauty and personal care official when she became a licensed cosmetologist, after graduating from the Virginia Hair Academy. In the spring of 2005, she opened “The Salon and Day Spa,” Floyd County’s first full service spa. Located at the Cross Creek Complex in a bright, plant filled suite, the spa offers manicures, pedicures, foot reflexology, body waxing, massage, and facials. Hairdressing services are also available and are provided by Elaine’s mother, Ellen Ambrose, whose business card reads, “Master Stylist.”

I tried hard to stay out of the garden in the days leading up to my scheduled manicure, but it was harvest time and there were potatoes to dig. “I guess I’m not they type who cleans the house before the maid comes,” I told Elaine, explaining the rough condition of my fingernails. She assured me that she had seen nails dirtier than mine and, as a gardener herself, she understood.

Although I’m hard on my fingernails, they are strong and grow easily. Some people have nails that peel and split, Elaine explained. For that problem she recommends taking Vitamin B, ingesting gelatin, which can be purchased at the supermarket, and following a regiment that includes the regular use of a nail hardener.

“Genes and diet determine whether you have good nails or not,” she said while rubbing exfoliating crystals into my hands and forearms. “If you’re having a problem it will show up first in your nails and hair.”

She hydrated my cuticles with almond oil. “Olive oil will do the same thing,” she said while applying a base coat to my nails, followed by two coats of polish and a top coat, which acts a sealant. The color I chose for my newly filed, buffed, and soaked in warm lotion nails was a neutral one with a shimmer of pink, called “Privacy Please.”

Nails are a big part of the spa business, especially at prom time and during the wedding season. Elaine applies artificial nails made of acrylic, but most often recommends gel nails because they are hypo-allergenic, odorless, and non-porous.

“How do you decide on what products you use?” I asked.

“Personal experience,” she answered. Her favorite products are from the Creative brand. She continues her cosmetology education and keeps up with the latest trends through study and by attending regular seminars.

“It keeps you excited,” she said.

We moved to a small alcove in the front of the salon where pedicures are done. There, I became convinced of the importance of using a pumice stone on my heels, which are prone to dry and crack. Following Elaine’s direction, I briefly soaked my feet water to which eucalyptus oil was added for its germicidal and anti-bacterial properties. She sat on a pedicure cart that looked like a hassock on wheels with pockets on either side to hold products. She clipped, shaved, buffed, and polished with the deftness of a skilled technician, but when she talked about the products she uses and why, she made the beauty business sound like a science.

My favorite part of the pedicure was when she rubbed an exfoliating cream made from lavender and sea salt on my feet and ankles. I learned that my heels will be less likely to harden, peel, and crack if I regularly remove a layer of dead skin with an exfoliant and a pumice stone. Although she isn’t a certified foot reflexologist, like the masseuse who works out of the spa, Elaine has studied it and uses reflexology massage techniques while doing pedicures.

“Oh! This is my new favorite part,” I said as she massaged reflexology points on my feet. Some people fall asleep during pedicures. Others are ticklish during a pedicure, she told me.

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I could have drifted off but found myself instead following the hubbub of spa activities; several women getting haircuts came and went, a few friends dropped by to say hello, a woman and her daughter came in to inquire about getting matching dyed purple streaks in their hair.

“We’re having a mother and daughter day,” she told Elaine, who explained the difference between permanent dye and a stain that washes out but can be reapplied when desired. Decided on the stain, but still deliberating on whether to go with purple or fuchsia, they agreed to come back in 20 minutes.

After Elaine had put the final touches on my toenails with a polish named St. Petersburg Burgundy, I was admiring the color and marveling at how soft my heels felt when the woman and her daughter returned.

They took their places in the salon swivel chairs that faced a row of mirrors. Elaine, Ellen, and Paige (Elaine’s apprentice) gathered around them enthusiastically making plans for the matching streaks, as I got ready to leave. I didn't stay long enough to find out whether the streaks would be purple or fuchsia, but I imagined I would run into them later in town and give a knowing nod.

“By the way, my feet haven’t felt this good since I was a baby!” I shouted out as I left. ~ Colleen Redman

~ Originally posted on looseleafnotes.comm on January 11, 2008.

Friday, January 15, 2010

A New Cowboy in Town

The following was published in The Floyd Press on January 3, 2008.

You know the saying ‘everything under the sun?’ Now you can get Mexican food there. A new restaurant called El Charro recently opened in the lower level of the Winter Sun building on Locust Street in downtown Floyd.

El Charro means “the cowboy” in Spanish, said Malena, wife of one of the new restaurant owners. She pointed out a large sombrero on the terra cotta wall to my husband and me while describing the traditional dress of a Mexican cowboy. Her father was a cattle raising cowboy, she told us as she wrote down our lunch order.

The restaurant is a family business, owned and operated by two brothers, a cousin, and their families. The extended family lives in Galax and has one other restaurant in Radford, Malena explained.

“You’re all going to love Floyd and want to move here,” I joked to her. She motioned to her daughter who was cleaning off a nearby table and explained that her daughter wouldn’t want to change schools or move away from her friends.

From our comfortable booth by a big picture window, my husband and I watched Christmas shoppers stroll up and down the tiled hallway just outside the restaurant. The hallway and restaurant décor continues the South American theme that began with the first shop in the building, the one that bears its name – Winter Sun – an outlet featuring clothing hand painted in Ecuador.

I don’t remember what my husband ordered because I was happy with my own meal – grilled chicken fajitas, sautéed onions and peppers, guacamole, salsa, and beans – and so I was not tempted by his. It was a few days before Christmas and the atmosphere was festive. A family of about fifteen was celebrating together at a group of tables that had been put together to make one long one. Many of them had arrived carrying stacks of wrapped gifts, which they deposited in a pile nearby.

El Charro is the newest establishment in the building that once housed a textile factory before it was purchased and renovated by Winter Sun clothing store owner, Anga Miller. Other shops in the recently remodeled downstairs include The Craft Cottage, which sells homemade candles and soaps; Art Under the Sun, a Floyd Artist Association's working gallery; Studio One, which offers art instruction to students of all ages; Wildfire Pottery; and the Anderson Gallery and Press. Upstairs is home to Café Del Sol; Winter Sun clothing store; and Winter Sun Hall, where performance art, dances, and concerts take place.

“This is about as close as Floyd gets to a Mall,” I said to my husband, impressed that everything in the building was so inviting, conveniently located, and locally owned. Looking out the restaurant window and waving to a friend, I added, “And the food here gets my four stars.”

Originally posted on on December 31, 2007.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Radio Drama Comes to the Winter Sun

The following was published in the Floyd Press on December 13, 2007.

The Floyd Home Companion is a theatrical performance scheduled to open at the Winter Sun Hall on Friday and Saturday, December 14th and 15th at 7 p.m. and Sunday December 16th at 5 p.m. The show is a take-off on The Prairie Home Companion, a satirical radio show created and hosted by Garrison Keillor. It will be performed by The Young Actors Co-op, a Floyd theater group.

Inspiration for Keillor’s popular variety show, which airs live from Minnesota Saturday afternoons on Public Radio, came from the Grand Ole Opry. Both Keillor’s show and Floyd version of the show include comedy skits, musical acts, fake ads, and storytelling featuring local references.

There’s also a movie based on The Prairie Home Companion, directed by Robert Altman and staring Keillor, Meryl Streep, Lilly Tomlin, Lindsey Lohan and others. The director of The Floyd Home Companion, Rose McCutchan (pictured below), hasn’t seen the film. She doesn’t want the pressure of comparing the local production with a Hollywood one, she said.

Rose, who graduated from Floyd High School in 1997, has lived in New York City, Los Angeles, and Baltimore, where she’s acted in community theater, auditioned for TV and film roles, and has had what she calls “brief moments of minor successes.” But she began to feel like a “tiny fish in a great sea,” especially in Los Angeles, so eventually she moved back to Floyd, where she manages The Black Water Loft, part of the McCutchan family business.

Both Rose and her husband, Josh Bosniak, graduated with degrees in theater from Mary Mount Manhattan College, where Rose first directed children’s theater classes. rosedirector.jpg I sat next to Josh, a musician who graduated from Floyd High in 1996, at a recent play practice. He explained the premise of the play and Rose’s contribution as writer and director.

“What’s your role in it? I asked.

“Everything else,” he answered, referring to the support he gives Rose doing whatever is needed.

Upon her return to Floyd, Rose was asked to share her theater training at a children’s camp hosted by the owners of Ambrosia Farm, a local B&B. The Young Actors Co-op was formed and productions hosted by the Jacksonville Center were performed throughout 2005 and 2006.

The current Young Actors Co-op is made up of twelve actors who range in age from eight to sixteen. Most have written their own skits. Their parents are also involved. Because of the parents, “we have professional tickets stubs, a play bill, ad spots, and so much more,” Rose said.

Pat Woodruff, a parent with two children in the play explained how sound effects are a big part of the radio variety show, just as they were during the Golden Age of Radio. I watched as two girls practiced their lines while pulling a chain across a wooden board. Pat explained that they were creating the sound of children climbing up a tree house while carrying a kitten for a skit Coriander Woodruff wrote, called “A Sleepover is an Oxymoron.”

Many of the skits are holiday themed. Two other young actors were rehearsing for Christmas skit titled “The Cat and The Stocking.” They used paper clips attached to gloves for the sound of cat claws scampering across the floor. A box of beads and bells were shook at the appropriate time to mimic the sound of a Christmas tree falling down.

Coriander, who is thirteen years old and has recorded two CDs of her electronica music, has contributed much of the music production’s soundtrack. Josh Bosniak and local musician A’court Bason have also provided original music.

In some ways the production is a play within a play. Many of the children have duel roles, first playing stage managers getting ready to air a show, and then taking on the roles of radio show performers. A game show of Floyd Trivia, a skit about a UFO landing in Floyd, and an ad for Oddfellas Cantina in which three actors perform dressed in the Oddfellas logo – a farmer, a hippie, and a businessman – are all part of the show.

The Floyd Home Companion, a play about what it’s like to put on a variety radio show, is scheduled to be aired on a real radio show. Hickory Dickory Dock, a children’s program on Virginia Tech’s Independent Radio Station, WUVT-FM 90.7, which airs on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 11, plans to play recordings of the show.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Emily Brass Band Shines On

The following was published in The Floyd Press on December 6, 2007.

Roberta Flack meets Bob Marley, that’s how I first described the music of Emily Brass when she was lead singer for the popular Floyd-based band, Foundation Stone. Back then I considered Foundation Stone to be a hometown “house band.” They regularly played at The Pine Tavern Restaurant, renowned for its Sunday Night Open Mic, community gatherings, and the Italian cooking of chef, Michael Gucciardo.

But then the Pine Tavern closed and later Foundation Stone folded when Emily and her husband, Jacques, the band’s bass guitarist, broke up. It felt like the end of an era, significant losses that would lessen my opportunities to dance with and socialize locally with friends.

The Pine Tavern has been open under the new management of Reed and Jane Embrey for over two years now. They serve down home Southern cooking that the Roanoke Times has rated with 4 ½ stars. Tom Ryan, a satirist who authors the online Floyd Enquirer, tends bar in The Tavern Room. This past Friday night, the venue and the sound of Foundation Stone were reunited. Emily, a singer, songwriter, and saxophonist, hosted a party for the release of her new CD with her new band, The Emily Brass Band.

In the old days bands played in the restaurant’s main room. Tables were moved to make room for dancing. Over the years, I and others wore down some of the Tavern’s wood floor shine with our enthusiastic and persistent dance steps. Since then the place has expanded. On this night, the last of November, we danced under the Tavern Pavilion, closed in with plastic and warmed with portable heaters. But it didn’t take long for people to throw their coats over the backs of chairs. Emily has a stage presence that encourages a feeling of celebration, and when she plays sax she reminds me of snake charmer with a talent for getting everyone up and shaking to her rhythmic grooves.

“Who knew?” I asked more than once of those who danced near me, after hearing lead guitarist Richard Ursomarso play. I’ve known Richard, a Floyd Market Gardener, for years but didn’t know he could play guitar riffs like a top chart musician. Other band members who rounded out the reggae, jazz, and hip-hop influenced sound were bass guitarist John Lindsey, keyboardist James Pace, and Foundation Stone drummer Dave Brown.

Emily, who is originally from Montreal Canada, is an environmental activist, and her lyrics reflect that. We once shared a group bus ride to Washington D.C. to protest the start of the Iraq War. She wore a large silver Statue of Liberty crown to go with her hand painted sign that read “Protest is our Patriotic Duty," one of the slogans we came up with at a sign painting party the night before the march. She volunteers her time to help put a local newsletter together, which frequently happens on my kitchen table, and sells Guatemalan clothing when she’s not busy writing and playing music.

The name of her new CD, “Open Door,” suggests the hopefulness that is an integral part of Emily’s style. With a sultry voice ranging from soothing to commanding, she raps and sings lyrics that prod listeners to think about how they live, urging global awareness with a hip upbeat that causes me to look around and smile at my dancing neighbors.

Although most of the songs Emily performed were new ones off her CD, every now and then she would shout out to the crowd that it was time for a “Foundation Stone fix,” and the audience would cheer and prepare to sing along.

Emily’s website,, best describes her music and what it’s like to dance to: Like a musical shape-shifter, Emily Brass takes you on a psychedelic hippie-hop journey, channeling the ghosts of old school rap, rock-steady reggae, ragtime jazz, and 60's rock & soul, while relentlessly keeping you in a sweat-inducing, smile-inspiring trance-dance, all night long.

Maybe not all night long for some of us, but when it comes to the music of Emily Brass, I’m good for at least a first two hour set.

~ Originally posted on on December 3, 2007.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Students Interview WWII Veterans

This is what I did last weekend. The story (posted below) that resulted from the day appeared in The Floyd Press yesterday, November 15, 2007.

Last Spring Floyd County Historical Society archivist, Kathleen Ingoldsby, and Joe Klein, an integrative education advocate, traveled to Bland County to learn about Place Based Education from John Dobson, a Rocky Gap High School teacher. Dobson, a past winner of the McLaughlin Award for teaching excellence has been using Placed Based Education successfully for the past fourteen years. He teaches a class on History and Technology in which students learn to collect and archive oral histories from local residents.

“Place-based education is learning from what’s going on in your community through hands on experience. It involves geography, biography, culture, values, and learning directly from your elders,” said Klein.

This fall a collaboration of Floyd County High School, The Floyd County Historic Society, The Old Church Gallery, and Radford University resulted in the inception of an Oral History Pilot Program involving eight Floyd high school students who agreed to volunteer for the extra-curriculum project. About the benefits of such a program, Floyd County High School Principal, Barry Hollandsworth, said, “It ties the community together. Young and old alike all have something in common, and whenever we can connect them, it’s good for the school and the community.”

After the students participated in a follow-up visit to Mr. Dobson’s class, and then a visit to the Old Church Gallery, where local art and culture is showcased, their enthusiasm was peaked. In preparation to conduct interviews in the community, they began meeting weekly to draft questions, practice interview skills, and learn about taping technology. The group is being mentored at the high school by Radford University Anthropology Professor, Melinda Wagner; Anthropology graduate, Ashley Herwald; Kathleen Ingoldsby; and Catherine Pauley, director of the Old Church Gallery.

Last week the students conducted their first interview, which took place in the Old Church Gallery Suite, one of the new locally themed rooms at The Hotel Floyd. Another interview is scheduled for this week.

Although the overall project goal is to record a variety of stories about past life in Floyd County, the students are initially focusing on WWII Veteran histories. That focus got a jump start when the group was invited by the American Legion Auxiliary to meet local veterans at a VFW luncheon on Veterans Day.

Two students of the Oral History Project were able to participate. High School Senior, Donald Broome, and tenth grader, Dakota “DJ” Jarrell, first attended the Veterans Ceremony at the Courthouse where they took some video footage, and then the luncheon, held at the VFW Hall. After being introduced by Auxiliary member, Barbara Spangler, they explained the project to a full house of veterans and their families.

“My grandfather served in WWII, but he passed away before I could get his story,” Broome said. He told the vets that he was interested in the project to learn more about what his grandfather went through. Jarrell was initially drawn to the project because he wanted to learn about media technology.

After a lunch of ham, cabbage, and all the fixings, VFW Post Commander, David Poff, introduced the students to Willard Dulaney, a highly decorated WWII veteran born and raised in Floyd County. Mr. Dulaney agreed to an impromptu interview, which was conducted by Broome and videotaped by Jarrell in a corner of the noisy hall. Mr. Dulaney shared some of his experiences participating in D-Day and other campaigns throughout France and Germany. When Broome asked what stood out the most about his war experiences, Dulaney responded, “Will I ever get home?” It was a question ever present in his mind.

Later, at the Canteen, held near the staging area of the Veterans Day Parade, Dulaney introduced the students to his buddy Robert Bugg, assuring them that Bugg had some good stories to tell. Bugg, whose nickname is “Patton” because of a direct encounter with General Patton, was paired up with Jarrell for a brief interview before the parade.

Both veterans invited the students for a longer follow-up interview in which they plan to invite a third WWII vet buddy. Several other veterans also offered stories and signed up to participate in the project.

The students of the Oral History Program plan to produce written transcripts and edit audio and video versions of the interviews for storage in the Old Church Gallery Archives. A Story Center at The Old Church Gallery is an idea that is being explored. Future plans also include a database and webpage where residents can access written transcripts, audio, and video recordings of interviews. ~ Colleen Redman

~ Originally posted on on November 16, 2007.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Taste of Floyd

The following was published in the Floyd Press on September 20, 2007.

The "beef naturally" sausage dished up by Larry Bright of Bright's farm in Floyd was a hit. There was a line of people at the main tasting tent waiting to sample Paul Hooper's pasta sauce. Jim Politis, of Riner's Buffalo Store fame, provided a crock pot full of buffalo meat slow-cooked in its own juices.

I met these vendors and others at the third annual Taste of Floyd, a fundraising event sponsored by Slow Food USA in conjunction with the Floyd Harvest Festival. It was hosted by the Harvest Moon Food Store, which is a member of the Blue Ridge Convivium, an offshoot of Slow Food USA.

According to the Slow Food USA website, they are a non-profit educational organization dedicated to supporting the social and economic benefits of a sustainable food system, regional food traditions, the pleasures of the table, and a slower and more harmonious rhythm of life.

Colorful vending tents and tables alongside the Harvest Moon parking lot housed a variety of locally produced foods. But there were also soaps and lotions to sample made by Willis resident, Alice Moyer, owner of Shady Grove Soaps. There was mead from Dugspur's Blacksnake Farm Winery and cider from Foggy Ridge Farm to be sipped. Fred First was selling note cards featuring his photographs of Floyd County scenes, and his book, which seemed aptly named for the event, A Slow Road Home: A Blue Ridge Book of Days.

Slow Food volunteer, Gretchen St. Lawrence, said the tents went up the night before in the rain. She was happy for a sunny day and for having only the wind to contend with.

While shifting through brochures from some of the small local businesses being represented, I overheard a woman ask Paul Hooper, the Martinsville owner of Hooper's Pasta Sauces, if he grows his own tomatoes. He joked that the world would not be a better place with him as a farmer.

"Everything is homemade in small batches," he offered, but was tight lipped about the ingredient sources for his special recipes, the names of which included Basil-icious, The Angry Tomato (hot), Happy Hour (made with vodka), and Marinara Sauce.

Browsing by the festively designed booths, I stopped to chat with Sarah Shannon from Weathertop Farm in Check. I recognized the farm name and told her I had purchased her eggs before, which are sold at The Harvest Moon. I learned that her family farm, which includes her husband Cedric, children, and in-laws, produces pasture-raised chickens, pigs, rabbits, and turkeys.

Looking at photos of Weathertop Farm turkeys reminded me of Barbara Kingsolver, the bestselling author who attended A Taste of Floyd last year and later gave a well-attended talk at Floyd County High School. At the time, Barbara and her family had just moved to Virginia and she was writing Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, a book about spending an entire year eating only food she grew herself or purchased from neighborhood farms. At the Floyd high auditorium talk, Barbara read a hilarious chapter from the book about a turkey that took a particular liking to her husband.

Margie Reddit, the Harvest Moon owner, told me that Barbara was invited to this year's event but wasn't able to attend because of her book touring schedule.

On the Harvest Moon lawn, under a blue and gold tent, customers were sipping glasses of wine. Volunteers were taking orders and serving lunch cooked with all local ingredients by Over the Moon chef Scott Hutchinson. I recognized the voice of Floydian Tina Liza Jones, singing "Mama's Little Baby Loves Shortening Bread," coming from a neighboring tent, so I moved in closer to listen.

"Are you going to sing all songs about food?" I jokingly asked her. Her husband was accompanying her banjo with a fiddle. Another fiddle player and a guitarist rounded out the group. When I asked her if she was playing with was a new band or jam group, she explained that they were a foursome of two married couples, dubbed "Double Date," just for their Taste of Floyd gig. Other music provided throughout the day was also homegrown. Sally Walker sang before Double Date's set, and Grace Note also performed while I was there.

When talking with Sarah from Weathertop Farm she told me that her family sometimes uses meat processing equipment from Bright's Farm, a neighboring county farm that raises pasture raised pork and chickens, as well as beef that contains no prophylactic antibiotics, steroids, or growth hormones. I was impressed with the cooperative community spirit between local farms and saw more of that when I visited the Good Food - Good People (GFGP) booth.

Tenley Weaver from Full Circle Farm and Brett and Johanna Nichols from Five Penny Farm are owners of certified organic farms in Floyd and GFGP members. Their displays - next to the Indigo Farm Seafood truck and behind a table of Ethiopian cuisine - stretched across the back of the vending tent area and, because of the wide variety of products offered, resembled a grocery store aisle. Fresh garlic, local honey and molasses, exotic eggplant and squash varieties, cut flowers, baskets full of apples and potatoes, and tomatoes of varying shapes and color made a vibrantly attractive presentation.

A general event fee of $3 included more tasting inside the Harvest Moon, where cheeses from Meadow Creek Dairy in Galax, peanut butter made with Virginia peanuts, South Carolina rice, and tea from the Carolina Tea Plantation were available for sampling.

"It's the only tea grown in this country," Harvest Moon staffer, Katherine Chantal said.

~ Originally posted on on September 24, 2007.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Something Fishy in Floyd

The following was published in The Floyd Press on September 6, 2007 with the title “They Specialize in the Catch of the Day.”

I’ve nicknamed them the Indigo Girls, after the female singing duo from Atlanta. But this Floyd County duo goes by the name of Indigo Farms. Indigo Farms owners, Teresa Nester and Susan Handy, don’t sing. They don’t make CD’s. They sell fish.

From the back of their white refrigerated truck, they sell everything from Artic Char to Wahoo; from salmon, scallops, and snapper to catfish, crabmeat, and cod. But it all started with shrimp.

On a warm day in late August in front of the Harvest Moon Food Store, a popular stop on their fish truck route, I learned the history of Indigo Farms. What began with recreational trips to the North Carolina coast to visit Teresa’s sister became Indigo Farms in 1993 when Teresa and Susan began supplying fresh seafood to the Pine Tavern Restaurant, back when Michael Gucciardo was the chef.

Now they make weekly treks to the coast, bringing back seafood for restaurants from the Château Morrisette to those in Mountain Lake and a few in Roanoke. They also sell to the public. Besides the Harvest Moon and other Floyd locations, they make retails stops in Riner and Blacksburg. Their schedule is outlined in detail on their website, where they also share seafood recipes and photos of their trips, complete with ocean sound effects.

As the Pine Tavern began incorporating fresh seafood into their menu and receiving positive feedback for it, others started making requests, Susan, the former Floyd recreational department director explained.

“In the beginning it was only shrimp. Now we’re into octopus and squid,” Teresa joked. The best part of running their own business has been the people they come in contact with, she told me.

“We’ve become part of their lives and they’ve become part of ours. We’ve watched their kids grow up,” remarked Teresa, who was previously employed as a technical writer at the Radford Arsenal.

“Even the customers get to know one another,” I responded. “I’ve met some new people and caught up with old friends while standing in line waiting for fish. I’ve been in a line of as many as four people. Do you ever get lines longer than that?” I asked.

Teresa’s answer surprised me. “Oh, at least twenty and we’ve probably served as many as two hundred in Blacksburg in one stop.”

“Blacksburg people love fish!” she said.

Their Blacksburg connection started when a woman asked them to make her house one of the stops on their route. “If you come, I’ll tell my friends,” the woman told Susan.

Susan and Teresa know many of their customers by name and some are on nickname basis, like “Salmon Man,” who I met soon after Susan mentioned his name when he pulled up for his weekly purchase of salmon. Earlier, a customer shared details of her recent fishing vacation; another one remarked that she started buying fish from of the back of the Indigo Farms’ truck when her now teenager was a baby in diapers.

In the winter the women wear insulated jumpsuits to keep warm as they work. In the summer they carry extra ice and pack it in with customer orders.

“I’m like the family butcher,” Teresa said, referring to the fact that she knows what their regular customers like. Some order ahead. Others mosey over to the truck and check out the list on the Indigo Farms dry erase board before making their menu decisions.

It was late in the afternoon on Saturday, so many of their most popular offerings had sold out, as evidenced by their names being crossed out on the board. The blue flag on top of their truck flapped in the breeze as I settled on a pound of catfish for my order. I snapped a photo of Susan in her Indigo Farms blue T-shirt talking to “Salmon Man,” as Teresa bagged up my fresh fish. She packed it with extra ice.

Post Notes: Visit for more information. This entry was originally posted on on September 11, 2007.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Waiting on the World to Change: Mayer and Matthews Play Virginia Tech

I’ve never paid much attention to football. It took two big names, John Mayer and the Dave Matthews Band in concert together to finally get me into Virginia Tech’s Lane stadium. This free concert was conceived by Matthews, the Grammy award winning musician from Charlottesville, Virginia, as a way to show support for Tech after the deadly shootings of last April. Showing their Hokie spirit by wearing school colors, Tech students, staff, faculty, and friends filled the stadium with wall-to-wall maroon and orange.

Mayer, an avid blogger with school boy good looks, plays the guitar as if it was an extension of his body. Just seeing him appear on stage wearing a maroon Hokie T-shirt caused the crowd to erupt in ear piercing applause. Hearing him belt out his Grammy winning hit, “Waiting on the World to Change,” so close to home was a thrill.

“This is my prayer for you,” he told the Tech crowd before letting the lyrics of his song “Gravity” speak for him. Oh gravity … Stay the hell away from me … Oh gravity … Has taken better men than me … Now how can that be? … Just keep me where the light is … Just keep me where the light is … The blues that oozed from his red electric guitar were matched by the soulful facial expressions that Mayer made as he played.

I’m a dancer who needs a big space to move around in, but our seats were set up for watching football. I’m sure I stepped on my neighbor’s toes a time or two, and I might have knocked over someone’s drink while dancing. During the intermission between bands, I looked around and saw a few familiar faces, but I had never seen so many Hokies in one place. It was my first time witnessing the coordinated effort of Hokie fans as they rippled like dominoes from one end of the stadium to another doing their signature cheer. Let's go ... Hokies ... Let's go ... Hokies ...

Even though I knew that South African born Dave Matthews was from Virginia, I was surprised to hear the twang of his accent when he said things like, “”Thanks ya’ll … and all of that stuff.” Admittedly shy, Matthews sings better than he talks on his feet into the mic.Although, he did manage to speak about coming down from Charlottesville in a red van to play at much smaller Blacksburg venues many years ago. And his words were especially appreciated and met with applause when he said, “These are some dark times and the dark side, but I can’t think of anywhere else in the world I’d rather be than with y’all.”

The song that Dave Matthews Band chose to open with, “Two Step," related well to the reason we had all come together. Celebrate we will … Cause life is short but sweet for certain … Hey, we climb on two by two … To be sure these days continue … Things we cannot change …

I have a lot of respect for Matthews, who has weathered the premature deaths of close family members, and has lent his support for farm aid, rebuilding New Orleans, and other worthy causes. But who knew that he could dance like James Brown flat footing at the local jamboree?

The fact that my husband and I didn’t stay till the end wasn’t a reflection on the show. As performances go, it was one with a big impact, a spectacular light show, and the big brass and rousing fiddle jam sound that the Dave Matthews Band is famous for. But after three hours of high volume music and crowded dancing, I was tired and hungry.

We had taken our bikes to the concert to avoid the stadium traffic. As we pedaled off into the warm night, the band was well into their second hour of playing. We could hear them singing the familiar refrain from Bob Marley’s "Three Little Birds." ... Don’t worry about a thing … Every little thing gonna be all right … Singing: don’t worry about a thing … cause every little thing gonna be all right.

The song trailed off as we glided downhill in search of good pizza and a cold beer.

~ Originally posted on on September 7, 2007. Watch the Hokie wave cheer HERE.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Say it Loud and Proud OUTLOUD!

The following was published in the Floyd Press on August 9, 2007.

Local poets stepped up their presence at FloydFest this year by way of a stage in the Global Village. We moved from our soapbox stand under the Poetree at the festival entrance because with continuous bands playing on two near-by stages, we could hardly hear our own alliterations. At the village stage, under the shade of a brightly striped orange tent, we had mics and room to stomp around. Our group was also featured in the Floyd Fest program, which guaranteed some festival goers would make the trek off the beaten path to attend. And they did.

The theme of the collective performance, OUTLOUD, was on woman’s issues, and there were six of us representing a variety of related subjects. Besides me, other FloydFest Poetree Players featured were Tabitha Humphrey, Bekah Parker, and fellow Floyd Writer’s Circle members Mara Robbins, Rima Sultzen, and Rosemary Wyman.

Mara, FloydFest Poetree organizer since the festival’s inception in 2002, began by welcoming the audience, introducing the collective, and giving a little background on the history of the spoken word at FloydFest.

Wearing a long hot pink scarf, I opened the show with an original poem titled “Woman: a Definition.” I’m fire and magenta … Tahitian red magma …I announced as I flipped my scarf for effect. Rosemary, adorned in another shade of pink answered from her mic, I’m murmurs and contours … I’m cradles and curbs …

Magnetic … I’m Venus … compass and radius ... I countered. Our poetic conversation continued as momentum built.

Several poems were presented in this two way conversational style, others were read as a group, and a few were done solo. The most theatrical performance piece was one on perfectionism, titled “For What I’m Worth.” Written by Rosemary Wyman, mother of a blended family with eight children, it was like an abbreviated one act play.

“Where is it written that I must measure each breath I take? Why am I driven to strive for perfection? And if I am not determined to have the perfect body, make perfect grades, keep a perfect house, raise a perfect family, why am I considered a slouch … or worst of all a selfish woman?” Rosemary pondered out loud. Her performance rose to an empowering conclusion and was accompanied by the rest of the troupe who recited chorus lines and improvised movement, complete with measuring tapes and rulers as props.

The poets took on some controversial issues, but it wasn’t about dividing working mothers from stay at home ones, woman on opposite ends of the political spectrum, of different ages or lifestyles. ffwomanstage2.jpgThe spirit of the performance was upbeat, meant to encourage diversity and remind us that we are all more alike than we are different.

Bekah, who works at the Women’s Resource Center in Radford shared her rousing signature poem “Rebelution” with a B. “Declaration of Independence,” a manifesto written by a 15 year old girl recovering from anorexia, was read by the group.

Tabitha Humphrey, an award winning poetry slammer gave a moving delivery of an original prose piece called “Will I be pretty?” It was a serious look with a humorous undertone at our culture’s focus on outer beauty. You’ll have porcelain skin as soon as we can see a dermatologist; you sucked you thumb that’s why your teeth look like that; you were hit with a Frisbee when you were six; otherwise your nose would be just fine. Don’t worry we’ll get it all fixed.

The poets didn’t completely abandon the soap box. It was used throughout the four day festival at a variety of venues, as Mara and other poets hopped up on it, spouting poetry like FloydFest town criers and encouraging others to do the same.

One impromptu soapbox reading took place Saturday evening at the coffee bus and was a round robin dialogue of poetic interpretations on the story of Peter Pan. Mara revived her poem, “Wendy Fallen” from the OUTLOUD performance. … Here on the island where we all wear pajamas, I’m the only one with a dress and an apron … Rosemary’s poem described Wendy sewing Peter Pan’s shadow on at his death bed. Arden Hill, an MFA Creative Writing graduate from Hollins University shared several Peter Pan poems.

From the soapbox, I shouted out to the crowd … Before I knew that a grown woman named Mary Martin was playing Peter’s part … I already didn’t want to wear a tie ... Festival goers coming from a main stage musical performance stopped to listen. I was girl determined … not to be tied to a 9 to 5 … wearing panty hose and stilettos … in the middle of July … As I concluded my poem and jumped off the soap box to make room for the next poet, I imagined I was jumping off Captain Hook’s plank.

Lezlie, a poet who traveled from Charlottesville closed the soap box set with some improvised stream of consciousness poetics urging passersby to get involved in making the world a better place.

Note: originally posted on on August 13, 2007.