The drummer with many styles and an organizational sense

This is another article chronicling life behind the scenes of Violet Mary, with a look at multi-talented drummer Chris Teal…

When Violet Mary was undergoing a change in drummers leave after the recording of their third album Level, this was a position the group had
experienced several times before.  The drummer’s position was open for a third time, and Violet Mary had hired a new bass player in Marty Dorren in 2011 after their original bassist left.  Auditions were scheduled, and Violet Mary would take time to decide on who the right fit would be for them.

They didn’t have to go that far, because Chris Teal was already on board - and he carries a lot of many beats with him.

The Eastman alum stepped up behind the drum kit as Violet Mary’s third force of the sticks, but before Teal landed the job, he was already a part
of several notable local bands.  He founded the multi-style band Quintopus in 2009, while playing drums for the jazz band The Dave Rivello Ensemble, jazz chanteuse Madeleine Forster, and the rock group The Mighty High and Dry.  Besides his drum work, Teal is also lending his voice as a member of the a cappella group The Bowties.

Teal’s road to drumming success began in his home state of Washington, and it didn’t hurt to have family deeply involved in music.  ”I always grew up hearing music in rehearsals and at my parents’ schools,” he said.  ”Both are music teachers and my mom plays with the symphony in Spokane.”

Throughout his early musical learning, Teal took up the drums in high school and learned how to play with different styles - from the classic rock of The Beatles and Genesis to jazz giant Miles Davis.  That versatile training continued into Whitworth University located in Spokane; he graduated in 2005, with his bachelor’s degree in Jazz Percussion Performance.  Then came time away from school, with life in the Spokane music scene and even spending time with a cruise line.  Soon after, Teal took on a new opportunity across America, when he was accepted by the prominent Eastman School of Music in Rochester; he would earn his Master’s in Jazz and Contemporary Media in 2009.

Before he made his way onto Violet Mary’s drum throne, Teal had seen them perform as well as meeting several band members.  ”I had met Mike and Mel (Muscarella) at a Fair Trade Music meeting, and they’d heard me play with the Po’ Boys Brass Band, and I heard Violet Mary a few times after that.”

In November 2012, an opening came up within Violet Mary’s ranks.  The band saw their drummer Scott Butcher leave, and according to
guitarist/co-producer Mike Muscarella, they had planned auditions with several drummers including Teal.

"(We) brought Chris in first," said Muscarella.  "We make a point in taking our time in making this level of decision.  After the audition, we hung out with Chris and then sent him home.  From there, the decision was simple and unanimous: cancel the remaining auditions after offering Chris the gig."

Teal savored the opportunity as Violet Mary’s new drummer.  ”When the opening came…it just worked out really well, and we hit it off playing and
personality wise.”

Even with all of the other current projects Teal has attached to, the band shows no concern over his level of involvement.  ”We knew that his other
work would be a complication,” said Muscarella.  ”But his playing and personality was what we needed, so we were willing to head in that new

Muscarella acknowledged Teal’s many styles have been just another element in a continuing period of change for Violet Mary.  ”(The band’s) style is rather defined at this point, but that definition isn’t static.  The brand evolves as the music evolves…but will add new colors and textures based in part to Chris’ voice.”

Even with his steady career of life as a drummer, Teal has also pushed himself in promoting music in Rochester.  He is a founder and artistic
director for the Institute for Creative Music; he also plays drums for the school-oriented IfCM Collective, along with other musician-educators - and his versatile musicianship has been a driving force in his involvement with the group.

"There weren’t enough gigs in Spokane to just be a one-style guy, so I had the chance to sit in with bands that my teachers played with and sub
for them,” said Teal.  ”I think that set me up to play in some very specific settings.”

Teal is also one of the driving forces behind Free Trade Music Rochester, an organization whose goal is to grow the city’s music community through projects and active engagement.  The group’s website calls FTM an extension of the Rochester Freelance and Live Music Forums, the latter in which he is listed as a co-founder.  Teal said FTM is a group of musicians launched in Portland, Oregon, with an emphasis on collaboration amongst musicians and locations where they perform.

"In Rochester, we’re getting the musicians working together on some recurring projects," he mentioned.  "(And we’re) keeping everyone in contact with each other in sharing resources, communicating about professional business practice and band policies."

One such recurring FTM project is a yearly compilation featuring selected tracks from local artists, with Teal calling on Mike Muscarella to help organize the first release.  Besides Violet Mary, several other bands with Teal’s acknowledgment were included - as well as bands MoChester & The Isotopes, and solo artists Amanda Ashley and Alysia Groth.

Another project in the works has been the formation of an FTM concert series, with the Artisan Church’s stage being used as a performance space.  ”It seemed like a logical step to get people out hearing the bands that we’ve featured on the CD,” said Teal.  ”By running the events ourselves, it gives everyone interested the opportunity to be involved, even if they’re not performing.”

Teal will be part of Violet Mary’s FTM concert with Eyesalve this Saturday night at the Artisan, and the drummer sees loads of potential ahead for all involved.  ”The music will be great, and we’ll all learn a lot about what we need to do moving forward with the organization and our projects by who shows up.”

Scott Cranfill: Violet Mary’s quiet but content supporting force

It is the last Friday in September, and Scott Cranfill is driving down the Thruway, bound for Syracuse and the New York State Fairgrounds.  The band Violet Mary was scheduled to perform a two-set show at the Regional Artists’ Stage, and this was their second trip to the Fairgrounds.  It would ultimately be a memorable gig, with the band playing in the rain and lightning near the close of the second set.

Yet back inside the car hours earlier, the sun shines in the near 90-degree atmosphere, and Cranfill is smiling very contentedly.

The guitarist-percussionist has been a prominent member of Violet Mary since its formation in 2008, leaving his mark on the band’s musical output – on their albums MarionetteAfter the Plunge and Level.  Cranfill is one of three constant members in Violet Mary’s recorded history, along with the duo of keyboardist-vocalist Mel Muscarella and guitarist-producer Mike Muscarella.  He is usually the only member of the band sporting a fedora hat on stage, and boasting a beard – with the band sometimes dubbing him the “Abraham Lincoln” of the group, not only for the beard but for also being its tallest individual.  Cranfill is also active with regards to the band’s artistic angle, handling designs for the band’s albums and their website.

And somehow it almost didn’t happen that way.

Cranfill met the Muscarellas at a period of musical change for the couple.  Their previous group, the Christian rock outfit Theophilus, had ended – and they were looking to start up a new project more along the lines of blues and ’60s-inspired rock.  Even as Theophilus was wrapping up, the Muscarellas continued to attend church – and it was at a Rochester church where Cranfill first met them.

"We first met in 2003, at a church called Capax Dei, which met at New Hope Free Methodist Church," he said.  "I had been going for about a year, and then Mike met one of our pastors, Scott Austin, in a course they were both taking at Northeastern Seminary.  Scott invited him to Capax Dei, and Mike soon took over music leadership at the church.  Mike invited Mel as well, and eventually the three of us played in many different configurations of bands at Capax Dei and the church it evolved into, Artisan Church."

Cranfill’s moment of being ingrained in Violet Mary didn’t contain any guitars or composing ideas.  At first, the Muscarellas had asked for his technological insight by having him be their sound mixer, with the plan of him running the boards during performances.  “I was coming to rehearsals relatively frequently, mixing them in headphones to get a feel of how I would do it for a show.”

It was during this time when Violet Mary underwent its first change in the band’s ranks, while working on their first album Marionette.  Original drummer Pete Gallagher decided to focus on his other band, the Rochester-based rock group Orchard Drive, and the band would ultimately have to look for their next keeper of the beat (the role would eventually go to Webster-based drummer Scott Butcher).  Cranfill knew even with Gallagher’s leaving, Violet Mary’s momentum in getting their debut done couldn’t be halted.  Soon, the Muscarellas looked to their planned sound man for some needed assistance.

"They knew I played percussion," said Cranfill, "so they asked me to come sit in during rehearsals and play that, to give them enough of a beat to keep going and finish the songs."

While some of Marionette's songs were considered finished or close to done upon Cranfill's added presence (notably “Black Stones” and “Johnny Beats Me Every Time”), there was one track in which his musical inspiration proved valuable.  “It was 'Dissemination, Part 1,' which Pete had never played at all.  It was the one song we wrote after Pete left, and before Scott joined, so it only has percussion – myself playing different percussion instruments.”

One such instrument Cranfill was credited on playing for Marionette and subsequent Violet Mary recordings was called the “Wonkavator,” which in reality was a wheelchair elevator used at the band’s recording studio in Farmington.  The studio was once a doctor’s office, and the elevator would be used for wheelchair-bound patients.  The unlikely instrument was utilized on the Marionette track “Trigger Happy,” in which Cranfill entered the elevator and its sounds – from the door latching to the hum – were used.  He later used mallets to hit the elevator’s side for some added effects.

Within weeks of his stepping in, Cranfill became a full-time member of Violet Mary, initially as the band’s percussionist.  He would later become a second guitarist along with Mike Muscarella, playing acoustic and rhythm guitars.  While the band would have individual members penning lyrics, they are credited together as composers of the song’s music.  For Cranfill, he said his composing presence is not as forceful as some of his fellow bandmates.

"I don’t consider myself a songwriter, like Mike, Mel, and Marty would," he explained.  "Those three will usually develop the primary chord structures, at least for a demo, and they bring them to the group.  We play through the chord structure, and collaboratively, we will maybe push the timing of certain sections, re-arrange some chords here and there.  What I try to do on working on a new song is, as the fifth member of the band, is think ‘What is the most effective way I can use my skills and equipment to add that extra layer of what we call “special sauce” to the song?’

Even with the composing stance Cranfill has for himself, there have been moments where his influence has played a role in the shape of several Violet Mary arrangements.  “One that comes to mind was ‘Leviathan,’ from After the Plunge.  On the recording, it has a middle section with just a single guitar, real quiet.  After it cycles a couple of times, Mel comes in with the bridge vocal.  The idea for that bridge was mine originally, and I contributed to figuring out the layout of the song.  There were many other parts heavily contributed to by others, but that was one of our most collaborative group arrangements.”

While he may be bringing the “special sauce” for Violet Mary, Cranfill doesn’t seem to have interest in taking up the spotlight – whereas the other band members have individual moments to shine during live performances.  Mike and Mel Muscarella can pull off small guitar and keyboard-driven solos throughout shows, Dorren can sometimes riff on bass (especially on the Level track “With the Sun”), and Teal can break out on a run of his own behind the drum kit.  Cranfill does have a solo moment, though, on the Dorren-sung track “Independence Day”; after the second choral run, he is heard playing acoustic guitar guiding Dorren and the others to the song’s final soaring push.  For Cranfill, he seems rather content to keep his presence in the background.

"I don’t think it was a conscious decision, but I’ve never been particularly comfortable with solo bits," he explained.  "I think of myself as more of a supporting player.  There are certain people who need to be up front, because only one person can sing the lead vocal.  That’s great, but I’m just the kind of person that likes to do what I can to support those people who are naturally up for that.  I’m not that good at guitar soloing, and there aren’t a whole lot of appropriate times for percussion soloing, so I’m content to just add the ‘special sauce.’"

Violet Mary’s most recent album is the nine-track work Level, which showed the band continuing to expand their palette.  It also marked another period of change within the group’s lineup.  Original bassist Tyler Gagnon departed from the group in 2011, with Dorren joining up; he is also the album’s co-producer with Mike Muscarella.  The new bassist’s impact, according to Cranfill, was immediate.  “He threw out a whole new approach to arrangement and production that we have never really explored before.”  Cranfill cited Dorren’s string arrangement on “With the Sun” as a key component in where the band wanted to go.

It was also the last Violet Mary album for Scott Butcher on drums, before Teal stepped in behind the kit.  While his drum performance has yet to be recorded on a Violet Mary album, Teal’s work already has a champion in Cranfill.  “Chris is an excellent drummer,” he said.  “Chris’ experience comes from a classical/jazz training background…(he) has been able to push us towards areas of improvisation, doing things a bit more off-the-cuff.  I think that’s to our benefit, being able to take songs and extend them, leading to interesting surprises for the audience.”

Even as new faces joined the group, Cranfill said the band’s goals in terms of what they wanted to accomplish on the album were as constant as ever.

"We have a constant drive for new material, especially Mike and Mel," he said.  "That’s probably our biggest motivation for this band, to write great, new original music.  We want to think every album we release is better than the one that came before it, because we feel like we’re always growing and improving in our craft, and we do feel like Level is our best yet, but the goals going in were not any different from the last two albums.”

As Cranfill continues pushing forward with Violet Mary, showing off Level and working on new material for the inevitable fourth record, there will be the potential for more new fans to explore the band’s work.  If a potential new fan were to meet Cranfill and ask him how he would define Violet Mary, the band’s multi-instrumentalist kept things simple.

"I simply call us a five-piece rock and roll band, influenced by rock bands from all eras, from Led Zeppelin to U2 to more modern folks like The Killers.  I just say, ‘We’re a rock band.’"



Best Venue to Really Get Noticed

"For Rochester, it’s the Rochester Jazz Festival, where we were able to play for the first time this year.  It was fabulous.  We got a thrilling response from the crowd there, and that’s maybe the highlight of our gigging career thus far."

Toughest Venue to Perform

"In the early days, we played once at an event showcasing model homes and home renovation products.  The promoters thought it would be great to have local live music, but no one attending the event cared about the music.  It was poorly set up.  I would encourage bands to avoid scenarios like that."

Favorite Violet Mary Song(s)

“‘Johnny Beats Me Every Time’ is my favorite from Marionette.  For After the Plunge, one of my very, very favorites from that is ‘Three Over Four’…I’m always fighting to get that back in the live set list rotation.  On Level, probably my favorite song is ‘Disaster Medicine,’ which is three minutes of pure adrenaline.”

Song You Wished You Could Play More Live

"Besides ‘Three Over Four,’ I would like to get ‘Long Dark Night’ (from After the Plunge) back into the rotation.”

Best Violet Mary Cover

"If it’s my personal choice, the answer is probably…it might be ‘The Letter,’ the Joe Cocker-inspired version (first recorded by the Box Tops).  It showcases almost all of the best parts of Violet Mary: three-part harmonies, a lot of energy, a fun song for the crowd. Everybody knows it, and for us, it’s just fun to play."

Violet Mary’s second State Fair gig gets epic, rainy and messy

In 2012, Violet Mary made their debut at the New York State Fair in Syracuse. Despite technical issues in getting there, a cancellation from another band gave the Rochester-area outfit plenty of room to breathe and pull off an impressive set. They manage to get dozens of potential new fans out of the situation, checking them out during their own individual sojourns across the fair landscape.

There had to be high expectations for Violet Mary’s return to the State Fairgrounds and the Regional Artists Stage tent, especially when they were going to be pulling off two sets of their blues-rock style. The temperature fluctuated around 90 degrees when they were all set up and ready to roll. The five-piece band of Mel & Mike Muscarella, Marty Dorren, Scott Cranfill and Chris Teal may not have known it, but they were about to pull off one of their more memorable gigs - mostly because of an unlikely assist from someone, or something, else.

The first set began with the perennial opener “Black Stones” and then onto a blistering run of “Take the Train” that proved to be an early highlight - the band jammed in the middle and conclusion, sparing any nods to “The Beat Goes On” or “Last Train to Clarksville,” making the song fully on its own live. Bassist Dorren took the mike for the Level highlight “Independence Day,” which continues to prove to be one of the band’s most stirring live originals - with Cranfill getting a rare solo turn on acoustic guitar before the tune’s pivotal final push. Then came what turned out to be the biggest miscue of the night, though the choice of Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets” was not the flaw itself. A rare switching of verses on Mel’s part - singing the second verse instead of the “stick around” opening lines - proved to be the undoing of an otherwise spirited rendition. As the night wore on, Mel seemed to struggle in keeping the words in line, even on the originals.

The first set wore on with “Bub’s Midnight Blues” and then another highlight in “Johnny Beats Me Every Time”; a newly expanded opening section led by Mike’s emotive guitar proved to be a well-added move to the old Marionette tune. The re-arranged “Trigger Happy” and the deep cut “Leviathan” showed more of the band’s tight melodic muscle, before the one-two punch of Level's bookends in “Stonewall” and “With the Sun” - but with “Sun” taking the set closer spot. At this point, it had been clear that unlike the previous year's attendance, the benches facing the stage tent were lacking in being full - though there were a few dozen who gave the band a look throughout the night. Yet while the Friday sunshine gave Violet Mary a nice start, the sky's mood would ultimately change, as the second set took shape.

The follow-up run of songs were set to include a couple of repeats for any of the new arrivals to the tent, but it began with the funky “The Apple and the Tree (You and I)” - which featured a great drumming turn by Teal at the song’s conclusion. “Take the Train” returned, but unlike the first run, Mel’s issue of missing lyrics resurfaced on the second verse - singing “funny things” instead of “crazy songs.” The band followed with “Off the Wall” and the rollicking “Walker Jesus Ranger,” which led to another near-miss for Mel during a moment with Cranfill hitting their tambourines. Yet she hurried her movement enough to get to the microphone, just managing to avoid another potential moment of trouble.

Violet Mary then returned to the deep-cut atmosphere with the After the Plunge duo of “Red Earth” and “Some Things You Never Wash Away” - which featured a memorable and rollicking drum solo from Teal, showing off his jazz-inspired chops. They returned to the beginning of Marionette with its closer “Release,” in which Mel pulled yet another lyric miscue with second verse words switched in for the first. As tough as it may have been for Mel and the rest of Violet Mary at that moment of the night, something else would come along that would make those flubs almost meaningless.

At around 9:20 Friday night, the rain started pouring down on the State Fairgrounds, ultimately leading to a torrential downpour - causing those who were still seated in the benches to scatter for cover inside the wine tent sitting across from the stage. Yet something powerful happened in the falling rain - the band became more resilient in the face of the wet weather, pulling out quiet but thundering renditions of the original “Lonely Bird” and their re-arranged take on U2’s classic “One.” They returned to “With the Sun” as the closer, even as lightning could be seen across the sky above the stage, the raindrops still pouring hard.

Despite the potentially dangerous conditions, the audience inside the wine tent were in awe of Violet Mary’s willingness to stick it out and risk electrocution to soldier on with their work. It was so successful two potential new fans cried out for an encore; the band ultimately carried through with the adrenaline-fueled “Disaster Medicine,” with Mel firing on all cylinders - all of this possibly inspired at the rough night she had gone through. In the tradition of leaving everything on the stage, Mel did exactly that - with the rest of the band following along. Before 10:00, the band finished and not a moment too soon, as the rain continued to intensify in and out all over the Syracuse area.

If it had not been for the weather’s turn of precipitation, Violet Mary’s return to Syracuse may have gone down as a show that could have been so much more. There were undeniable highlights in which the band poured out some of their best live stuff, but technical, vocal and lyrical flubs prevented the evening from being a four-star masterpiece. The light attendance in the benches also added to the outcome, especially when more people could have been intrigued by the band’s blues-rock shakedowns. Then they got assistance from Mother Nature, and Violet Mary poured out in the face of her rain, leading to an inspired closing run. Musically it may not have been a sure-fire classic, yet the weather managed to make this second sojourn in the Salt City into a messy two-set epic to fit in to the band’s repertoire of memorable shows.

SET 1: Black Stones, Take the Train, Independence Day, Bennie and the Jets (Elton John cover), Bub’s Midnight Blues, Johnny Beats Me Every Time, Trigger Happy, Leviathan, Stonewall, With the Sun

SET 2: The Apple and the Tree (You and I), Take the Train, Off the Wall, Walker Jesus Ranger, Red Earth, Chris Teal solo, Some Things You Never Wash Away, Release, Lonely Bird, One (U2 cover), With the Sun

ENCORE: Disaster Medicine

A Pre-Fair One-Two Punch for Violet Mary


Photo credit: Regina Muscarella

For any hard-working indie rock band, the gigs before a major concert can provide some well-needed momentum.  Pulling this task off could lead to short and/or long-term success, but any struggles along the way - technical or melodic - can certainly hamper such opportunities.  For the blues-rock outfit known as Violet Mary, they certainly are aware of such an idea.

Last weekend saw the band prep for their second run at the New York State Fair in Syracuse, after a triumphant debut last year - which came off with nearly all of their merchandise being sold.  As they were getting closer to their double-set affair at the Fair on August 30, Violet Mary used two shows during a single weekend to rev up for the occasion.  They began their surge with  an opening slot during the Labatt Canal Concert Series in Lockport on August 16, joined by fellow Rochester rockers D Drive and the night’s headliner in Triumph frontman Rik Emmett.  The band did have an act to follow, as they played after Lockport native band Dark Eyes 55 - whose rock-metal set got an early boost from the hometown crowd.

The Lockport show started out with some technical issues, mostly for bassist Marty Dorren’s microphone, but thankfully were worked out before the end of the perennial opener “Black Stones.”  They managed to right things out in time for the Marionette rocker “Walker Jesus Ranger” and the funky number “Take the Train” (from their recent album Level) - with what has now become a trademark inclusion: guitarist Mike Muscarella asking the crowd in attendance to stand by for a photo op with his iPhone camera. 

Dorren took over lead singing duties from regular vocalist Mel Muscarella with what has become his signature song, the Level powerhouse “Independence Day” - which featured a great acoustic guitar run from Scott Cranfill, noted by the other members on stage.  Drummer Chris Teal had his moment to shine on the funk-rock epic “The Apple and the Tree (You and I),” with the song’s difficult rhythms easily achieved and maintained throughout.  They closed their Lockport debut with the Level opener “With the Sun,” with the August sun still shining down.

The following night saw the band take their show to Henrietta’s Lovin’ Cup, one of their more frequent stomping grounds - all for a benefit for breast cancer, joined by bands Ebb Tide and Sisters of Murphy.  A quick note for VM fans on SoM’s connection: SoM guitarist Scott Austin has been friends with the band for years, and Mel performs with Austin on the acoustic project The Paper Vanes.  Unlike the previous concert, this proved to be a looser affair.

The set list was a shuffled but repeatable version of the Lockport show, with “Take the Train” taking first position in front of “Black Stones” and “The Apple and the Tree (You and I).”  One song not featured in Lockport but prominently performed was the early VM tune ”Johnny Beats Me Every Time” (from the band’s debut work Marionette).  Unlike the guitar-and-drum style in the studio version, Mike’s guitar work was a looser, emotionally melodic turn.  After the one-two funk punch of “Off the Wall” and “Independence Day,” the band pulled the cover card for Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets” and their radical tour de force run of U2’s “One.”

An unlikely moment occurred when a Violet Mary fan who had seen them at the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival in June asked for a specific request.  That request proved to be the quiet Marionette track “Dissemination Part 1,” which only featured Mike and Mel playing - giving the rest of the band a break.  Then they proceeded to “With the Sun,” which was going to be the closing track of the set, just as it had been in Lockport.  The benefit organizers then managed to convince Violet Mary to perform one more number, and it ended up being “Walker Jesus Ranger” - sealing the full Lockport set in the Henrietta performance, even in a jumbled form.

Yet Violet Mary’s weekend double gig proved to be another showcase for the band, as they prep for their biggest gig of the year - in less than two weeks’ time.  Just as they had huge success last year in Syracuse, the quintet used these two 45-50 minute sets as essentially dress rehearsals for the August 30 gig down the Thruway.

SET LIST (Lockport): Black Stones, Walker Jesus Ranger, Take the Train, Independence Day, Off the Wall, The Apple and the Tree (You and I), With the Sun

SET LIST (Henrietta): Take the Train, Black Stones, The Apple and the Tree (You and I), Johnny Beats Me Every Time, Off the Wall, Independence Day, Bennie and the Jets, One, Dissemination Part 1, With the Sun, Walker Jesus Ranger

The Affair With This Band Named Violet Mary


(l to r: Mike Muscarella, Scott Cranfill, Marty Dorren, Chris Teal, Mel Muscarella)

I still recall my first Violet Mary concert well.  That’s the moment you realize you were witnessing something special, and you don’t want to let go.  In this case, I haven’t let go since. 

It was a late summer night in 2008 at Rochester’s Montage Music Hall, and Violet Mary was a co-headliner in the club usually reserved for rock and/or metal acts.  They were joined by the band Orchard Drive, whose frontman I had known since high school.  Violet Mary also had another high school connection in bassist Tyler Gagnon, who I had known through band and chorus.  Besides Tyler, the band also featured keyboardist Mel Muscarella (who was the dominant lead vocalist), guitarist Mike Muscarella (who sang lead sometimes), guitarist-percussionist Scott Cranfill, and drummer Scott Butcher.

They had just released their debut album Marionette, and Scott B. had just taken over the drum kit for Pete Gallagher (who left to continue his work on Orchard Drive and other projects).  I had heard the band’s stuff online, and was intrigued - but not quite sure how it would work live.  And oh, how it worked - the rocking opener “Black Stones,” the funky longing number “Johnny Beats Me Every Time,” the pop-metal rave-up “Walker Jesus Ranger.”  Along the way, they managed to drop some good covers of Led Zeppelin (“Your Time is Gonna Come”), Joe Bonamassa (“Bridge to Better Days”) and even John Mayer (“Vultures”).

When the show ended, I formally introduced myself to the band - while re-connecting with my former high school friend.  I met Mike and Mel for the first time, and proceeded to tell Mike the following: “I walked in a fan, I’m walking out a believer.”  How big was that, in the minds of the band?  In one of their earliest ad campaigns, that was a quote they used for promotion.  It was that significant.

Over time, the band evolved, with the releases of After the Plunge and Level.  They also dealt with changes in bandmates - Tyler Gagnon left the band, with bass duties going to Marty Dorren; Scott Butcher also ended his tenure as drummer, only to have jazz-rock veteran Chris Teal take over the stool.  During the five years since seeing them live, Violet Mary became a more active presence in my life.  I continued to attend concerts, and became a prominent member of the band’s inner circle.  From the traditional summer festivals in Rochester (Lilac and Park Ave Fest) to last year’s triumphant debut at the New York State Fair, to even a memorable double set at this year’s Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival - I have been fortunate to watch them deliver passionate blues-rock over these last five years.  They are a force just waiting to explode everywhere else.  They are that good, that passionate.

And now after helping them with their merchandise (which you can find at every gig and also online at, I’m now taking a new direction as the band’s official blogger.  It is here where anything and everything Violet Mary will be discussed - the band’s history, their current activities, thoughts on albums & songs, breakdowns on concerts, and comments from fans either devoted or uninitiated.  Who knows?  Any fan comment could end up becoming a part of the Violet Mary canon.  This is coming from someone who walked into their musical lives as a fan, and has remained a believer ever since.  That’s when you know a band can pull off such great power.  Yet the great ones have to make that power last, and Violet Mary has made it last - with the hope of more faithful fans to follow.

Welcome to a new chapter in the history of Violet Mary, and it will be fun bringing all the stories to you.

Sara Bareilles from Buffalo (6/19/13)

Last night’s show with Sara Bareilles from the majestic Botanical Gardens in Buffalo was another epic show from the singer-songwriter - it was short at 10 songs, but her 2009 concert at Turning Stone was just along that same length. 

Half of the show was from her 2010 #1 album Kaleidoscope Heart, with songs from that album bookending it (Uncharted & the encore King of Anything).  The concert gave me a whole new appreciation for that album, especially with the song Let the Rain - which had the audience clapping in rhythm to the chorus.

She went solo on a cover of Otis Redding’s immortal Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay, led the crowd to sing-alongs of Love Song & Many the Miles, and gave an unlikely full band arrangement to the usually solo Gravity - the guitar break in the bridge gave it a whole new power.  For anyone expecting new material from The Blessed Unrest, there was only one new tune but almost everyone in the audience knew it.  That song is Brave, possibly her best anthem ever - and it led to another amazing sing-along.

Along the way, Sara displayed her typical down-to-earth sense of humor - which also included her having the mouth of a sailor.  She even joked about it since her concert was being recorded for a radio station web feed, and asked an older woman, “Will I be fined by the FCC?  (after hearing the woman’s response)  She says no, so we’re good.”  Smiles and laughter abound, and it was that way for the entire night.

Thank you, Sara Bareilles, for a second great show - from a definite fan for life.

1. Uncharted (from Kaleidoscope Heart)

2. Gonna Get Over You (from Kaleidoscope Heart)

3. Love Song (from Little Voice)

4. Many the Miles (from Little Voice)

5. Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay (Sara solo; featured in her live disc Between the Lines: Live at the Fillmore)

6. Gravity (from Little Voice)

7. Basket Case (from Kaleidoscope Heart)

8. Let the Rain (from Kaleidoscope Heart)

9. Brave (from The Blessed Unrest)

10. King of Anything (encore; from Kaleidoscope Heart)

On the Streets on St. Patrick’s Day

I preface this statement by making one thing clear about a part of my life: I have never tasted alcohol.

That’s right: I’ve never had a bottle of beer, a glass of wine, or sipped any particular cocktail known to man.  I’ve never asked for one, and I’ve never needed one.  I don’t see alcohol as an agent of good in this life.  What good does alcohol bring, anyway?

Which brings me to the point of this story: while I have Irish in my blood (and proud of it), seeing the insane debauchery on this St. Patrick’s Day Saturday makes me feel grateful that I don’t drink on that day - or any day. 

For anyone who does drink responsibly - even on St. Patrick’s Day - who believes this writer is somehow going to slander them, this is not about those people.  It is about those who believe getting drunk gets you to have fun, only instead to have you do things you probably would regret years, months, weeks, days…better yet, even minutes later.

This St. Patrick’s Day Saturday in Rochester was a cold one, with snow falling throughout the day.  It was no matter to the crazy young people dressed in Irish green, some even sporting taped green mustaches (why wasthata good idea?).  As the day wore on and people went from bar to bar to bar finding an opening to get plastered, one thing stood out in my mind: Does anyone realize what happens to your brain when you get blitzed on alcohol? 

From what I understand, it makes you do crazy things - and some of those things you don’t take back.  You scream “Whoo!” just to be the center of attention.  You call your best friends names you probably would never call them in your life.  Sometimes you even fight with other potential patrons, cutting in line just to get inside a bar, only to have you stopped cold by police.  I saw that happen for the second straight year in Rochester alone.  And of course, when you wake up Sunday morning, you may end up with the motherlode of all hangovers.

Now I’m sure some will read this column and do one of three things: mock my straight-and-narrow approach, call me derogatory names, and basically make the assumption I don’t know how to live it up and party.  I know those may come my way, if at all.  Yet I have no shame in admitting such things as not getting drunk on St. Patrick’s Day - there’s no real reason for it at all.  I’m fully aware it’s the one time of the year where people use it as a reason to “be Irish” (especially if there’s no Irish ancestry at all) and get drunk during the holiday weekend of March.  While there are those who will be civilized with their drink - and likely get a taxi to get them home, there will always be those who will act like hooligans after their favorite team loses, traffic and police be darned.

It’s possible the insults will come, but I won’t mind.  I’m comfortable in knowing I don’t need alcohol to have fun - especially on St. Patrick’s Day.  And I certainly don’t need it to look like someone I’m not, or someone I’ll regret being not long after the haze of the drink has settled itself out.