Sunday, December 17, 2017

Smoke 'em If You've Got 'em: Copper Fox Distillery

In another life, he was an insurance agent who had a light bulb moment at a malted whiskey tasting.

Now Rick Wasmund is known as the "Doc Brown of distilling," experimenting with single-malt whiskey by flavoring it with smoked fruit trees and malting his own Virginia-grown barley.

Now online: My Coastal Virginia Magazine profile of Wasmund and his thriving Copper Fox Distillery, which recently opened a new location in Williamsburg Virginia at the former Lord Paget Hotel.

Read it here.

And for more on Copper Fox Distillery, visit

(Photo by the mighty Jim Pile!)

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Interview with Irma Thomas

"I still say it — I’ve said it in front of Keith — Mick Jagger can’t sing, and he’s laughing all the way to the bank." My expanded interview with the legendary Irma Thomas (who sang the original "Time is On My Side") is now available at the Richmond magazine website.

In this candid talk, the Soul Queen of New Orleans speaks frankly about the Rolling Stones, her collaborations with writer/producers Allen Toussaint and Jerry "Swamp Dogg" Williams, why she won't mix gospel and soul music in her concerts, and how winning a Grammy award in 2007 may have actually hurt her career, among other things.

Get to know the Soul Queen by going here.

And for more on the music of Irma Thomas, click here.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Bewitched in Hanover

In Hanover County, no one can hear you scream.

RED VEIN ARMY's macabre haunted house attraction at the Hanover Vegetable Farm is a few cuts above your normal spook fest.  Read my Richmond Magazine piece on this bone-chilling Halloween stop by going here.

And for more on RED VEIN ARMY, a group of inspired frighteners who prompt goose pimples all year with special events, run right here.

(Photo by Richard Bailey / Red Vein Army)

Monday, October 2, 2017

Last Man Standing: The Sherman Holmes Project

No one sounded quite like the Holmes Brothers, from Christchurch, Virginia.

The roots music trio were as steeped in the ways of traditional and modern country as they were in R&B and gospel. But when Wendell Holmes and Popsy Dixon passed away within months of each other, surviving member Sherman Holmes had to find a new sound and way of working.

Now available online, my July-August Virginia Living Magazine music column, which is about Sherman's journey, his excellent new album (produced in Richmond by state folklorist Jon Lohman), and how a veteran musician can reinvent himself and his music at an advanced age.

Read "Last Man Standing" by going to the VL website right here 

For more on the Sherman Holmes Project, go to this place.

And to read my Virginia Living profile of Jon Lohman and the Virginia Foundation For the Humanities Folklife Program, click this spot.

(Photo by the mighty Pat Jarrett!)

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Christopher Maxwell: Radio Ringleader

Christopher Maxwell is back on the air.

The dogged community activist who helped launch low-power radio in Richmond with WRIR 97.3 FM (where you can find my radio show, Open Source RVA, every Friday at noon)   is working on five limited-range frequencies in Virginia and Maryland, including a new station in Midlothian called The Work 93.9 FM that just began airing this past week.

Read my Richmond Magazine interview with Maxwell, and find our more about low-power radio, by clicking right here.

(Yeah, I know the article is from December. I forgot to post it. So sue me.)

(Photo by the mighty Jay Paul!)

Monday, August 28, 2017

Richmond Magazine: Q&A with Leo Kottke

The legendary Leo Kottke has been called one of the greatest guitarists of the modern age; a blues master, a country picker, a jazz explorer and someone who can take the oddest cover (like the Byrds' "Eight Miles High" or Buck Owens' "Buckaroo") and make it his own.

Even after five decades of music making, the self-taught virtuoso says that he "can't let go" of the guitar. "It isn't love," he says. "It's more like possession."

My recent Richmond Magazine interview with Kottke, slated to appear at the Tin Pan in September, has been posted to the magazine's web site.

Get it right here. 

For an expanded interview I conducted with Kottke a few years ago for Style Weekly, click here.

For more on the music of Leo Kottke, go here.

(Photo courtesy of the Tin Pan)

The Last of the Old-Time Moonshiners

A few years ago, working with the Blue Ridge Institute at Ferrum College, I trudged through the Franklin County woods to talk one on one with veteran moonshiner Jimmy Boyd.

Brewing up mountain dew has been a family tradition for Boyd, who learned how to cook up homemade whiskey from his brother, who learned it from his daddy.  “There’s something ‘mother about making it that just draws a person to it,” he says. “It’s almost like it’s habit forming, just like drinking it.”

My in-depth Q&A with Mr. Boyd, where he reveals the secrets of making illegal whiskey and recounts his clashes with revenuers and spying neighbors, has been published in the latest edition of Savor Virginia magazine.

Read "The Last of the Old-Time Moonshiners" by going right here.

And for more on the history of moonshine in Virginia, visit the Blue Ridge Institute's page right here.

(Photo by the mighty Pat Jarrett at the Virginia Foundation For the Humanities!)

Prohibition at the Library of Virginia

What a difference 100 years can make.

In 1914, when Virginians voted to completely ban alcohol -- three years ahead of national Prohibition—it was the start of an ambitious social experiment that seems worlds away from our experience today, as Virginia now wholly embraces wineries, craft breweries, distilleries and all things hooch.

My Savor Virginia feature article on the Library of Virginia's intoxicating (and, considering the changing times, ironic) exhibit, "Teetotalers and Moonshiners: Prohibition in Virginia, Distilled," has been posted to the magazine's website.

Click here and drink up.

And for more on this excellent Library of Virginia exhibit, and related events, go right here.

(Broadside photo: The Library of Virginia)

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Uncovering The Dead

Richmond's historic African-American cemeteries, Evergreen and East End, may soon be getting much-needed renovations after years of neglect.

But, first, some things need to get sorted out between the new owners and the dedicated volunteers who have been maintaining and documenting the sites for years.

Read my Richmond Magazine story, "Uncovering the Dead," by clicking here.

(Photo by the mighty Brian Palmer)

An Achievable Dream

“I think it will bring an additional sense of pride in my students, and it will help them to set goals and work together towards those goals in a way they haven’t before,” says Shawnya Tolliver, principal of Henrico County's Highland Springs Elementary, about the An Achievable Dream program, set to start at Highland Springs this school year. “It may awaken talents that they never knew they had.”

My feature article on the An Achievable Dream program -- which got its start in Hampton Roads -- is now online at the Richmond Magazine website.

Get it right here.

Interview with Lee Fields

"When I met James Brown... and listened to him talk, I realized at that point that I needed to go in search of myself."

My interview with soul/funk legend Lee Fields, who got his start on a Hampton Roads record label called Norfolk Sound, and whose high energy music has been compared favorably to the Godfather of Soul's, can be found on the Richmond Magazine website.

To read the Q&A, click right here.

For more on Lee Fields and his music, go to this spot.

(Photo by the Syndicate)

Open Source RVA returns on Sept. 1

Open Source RVA, the news-talk radio show that I host for WRIR radio in Richmond, will start its new season on Friday, Sept. 1. The program can now be heard at a new time -  Fridays at 12 noon on 97.3 FM and Open Source RVA is "Richmond, Virginia's audio news digest" and covers politics, food, theater, the arts, schools, culture, music, the non-profit sector - anything and everything -- in and around the city.

Go to the Open Source RVA SoundCloud page right here and grab an earful of past episodes and special extended interviews.

(Photo by mighty Open Source RVA producer Krysti Albus!)

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Library Weak? Richmond's Public Libraries

What is the state of Richmond, Virginia's public library system?

For this cash-strapped city with a new mayor, Levar Stoney, there are going to be challenges in maintaining services. "Library Weak?," my feature for Richmond Magazine, outlines the hurdles faced by Richmond Public Library director Scott Firestine and his short staffed crew.

Get the story right here. 

(Photo by the mighty Tina Eshleman!)

The Hampton Lego Club

When I was a wee lad, I loved building things with Legos -- and still do.

So it was no hardship at all to spend a fun Saturday afternoon with the kids and parents at the Hampton Public Library's Lego Club, one of many special Lego and STEM-related events that happen regularly in libraries, schools, community meeting halls and paid learning centers across Virginia.

Read my Coastal Virginia Magazine article on the regional popularity of Legos, and meet the inventive little builders at the jam-packed Hampton Lego Club by clicking right here.

(Photo by the mighty Jim Pile!)

Where I Stood: The Music of Dori Freeman

“The best thing you can do as an artist is what comes naturally and try to be as genuine as you can.”

Virginia Living Magazine has finally posted my April music column about the amazing singer-songwriter, Dori Freeman. The Galax native's debut disc on Free Dirt Records has been deservedly hailed as a contemporary classic with a throwback sound.

Check out the article by going here.

And for more on Dori Freeman and her music, go here.

(Photo by the mighty Zena Gill!)

Martha Rollins: Caring and Commerce

The Library of Virginia recently honored eight distinguished Virginians with its Virginia Women in History Awards.

Here is my Richmond Magazine profile of one of the living honorees, Martha Rollins, a now-retired Richmond businesswomen whose inclination to mix care with commerce became hallmarks of the successful city businesses she fostered, and was “the root” of Boaz & Ruth, the charitable nonprofit organization, repair shop and thrift store that she founded in 2002. “I had this burning thought that somehow the refinishing business could be intertwined with healing,” she says.

Read the story of this inspirational instigator by going right here.

(Photo by the mighty Tina Eshleman!)

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Memphis Beat

I've always loved Memphis, but I've never really written much about that great southern city. So when Virginia Living Magazine asked me if I wanted to take a trip there for a long weekend, and a big travel feature, it was a no-brainer. Sign me up.

End result: I ate too well, heard great music, learned some important history and laughed and smiled (a lot). I found a place still clinging to its unique identity but also pushing to break free of tradition.
"Memphis is all too aware of what its culture has meant to the American zeitgeist. But it also seems eager to break out and try new things. This eternal restlessness is why so much of its great music is raw and beautifully disheveled, not polished and neat like Nashville’s, and why the city still seems alive and vibrant, perpetually reinventing despite an inclination to embalm itself. It remains a great city, revelatory for a few days or a lifetime...
 Read "The Memphis Beat" by clicking right here.

Photo by the mighty Justin Fox Burks, whose images of Memphis perfectly represent and complement the article!