Since late 2019 and going into 2020, the covid-19 pandemic has been an economic monster globally, stalling not only production and supply chains, sending people home from their offices to work remotely and even bringing much of what entertains people, in the US to a grinding halt in 2020. Especially hard on the entertainment and music communities. Not only the artists but their crews, and to the venues and clubs they play, many of them having been permanently shuttered even those with a long history of performances in their communities. But as 2021 has shown us, closing down everything was not a sustainable answer.
As we all struggle to find new ways to deal with this lingering reality and ideas on how to jump start live entertainment again especially in ways that are safer for both the artists and their fans. Indoor shows have proven risky especially with the Delta variant which has proven to be much more contagious. Outdoor shows have rapidly become what seems like a safer way for people to jump back into supporting touring artists and feeling better about finding ways to create a little social distance and benefit from the fresh air.
Outdoor stages have been popping up all over the country, with stages setup in parking lots, fairgrounds, drive in movie theaters, and even right outside clubs that are still trying to find new ways to host music and pump some much needed dollars back into their coffers.
In beautiful Smith Mountain Lake, a new outdoor music space has popped up on a mountainside using the sloping hillside as a natural amphitheater. It's played host to some wonderful artists so far this year, including, Sarah Jarosz, Tommy Emmanuel, The Allman Betts Band, and Michael Franti.
I had a chance to visit this new venue last weekend and see Grammy award winning artist, Bruce Hornsby, and his band the Noisemakers perform to a welcoming crowd of fans on a beautiful starry night in October. And Tab Benoit is scheduled to play on October 23rd.
The venue with lots of help from Mother Nature, creates an experience much like being at a music festival for those who traveled out into the countryside for the shows, with food trucks, craft beer vendors, and even strings of lights in the tree lines. A nice view of the lake off to one side with mountains in the skyline, a very scenic spot. The Coves is part of a new sustainable community being built at Smith Mountain Lake.
For people in the surrounding areas, it's a destination worth the little extra travel needed to obtain the reward that it offers. It's located in an area hoping to attract fans from the surrounding towns, like Rocky Mount, Danville, Roanoke, Martinsville and even Blacksburg in a very beautiful part of Virginia.
Bruce Hornsby brought his piano as well as the opening band, John Mailander's Forecast Trio, whose leader also played with the Noisemakers delivered a beautiful set that warmed up the crowd. Their music was a fusion of funky progressive instrumental jazz, bluegrass and avant--garde and rock.
He also had another one of Virginia's musical stars in his band Gibb Droll. Gib, sat in with the Forecast Trio on a song as well. Gibb has been playing with the Noisemakers since 2014, but has also played in projects with Keller Williams, Mosley, Droll and Sipe, known as the WMDs.
Later in the night all the members of the opening band sat in with Bruce. For a good portion of the Noisemakers set, Hornsby played the dulcimer rendering folk sounding arrangements of many of his songs and declared this night was more suited for mountain music
Bruce Hornsby, filled his set with songs that spanned his career, and of course stories and banter with the crowd, even taking questions and requests. He often plays his older hits in different arrangements, and on this night the mountainside put him in a more folk-like mood so he left his piano stool and picked up his dulcimer to entertain the crowd with mountain music.
We were treated to a beautiful arrangement of Every Little Kiss after it was requested by a woman in the crowd who without hesitation walked up to the front of the stage to make it. It was one of the highlights of my evening as I sat on the ground just a few yards from the rail watching her and her crew dance like fairies in a ring in the night with the tree line in the background and the stars twinkling in time like the notes being played from the stage
Of course throughout the night Bruce played the songs that his fans came to hear, hits like Long Valley Road, and he saved his timeless classic The Way It Is to close the show. It was a very beautiful night on the mountain, and knowing that I took some extra time to travel to the Coves, We left the show feeling satisfied that our efforts were rewarded.
And now next Spring we can look forward to seeing new events announced at the Coves Amphitheater, and seeing what new polishes the staff have in mind for this outdoor space.
Words and Photos, by Jerry Friend