Company Stores release their first album

Rollin InLocal folk fusion band The Company Stores are releasing their first album, “Rollin’ In,” tonight at Live on the Levee.

They’re opening for Yarn in the last Levee concert of the year. The show starts at 6:30 p.m.

Following Live on the Levee, the band will host a CD release party at the Boulevard Tavern.

As you might remember, the band recorded the album back in May with the help of former REM producer Don Dixon. (Click here to read my story about the recording process.)

You can get your copy of “Rollin’ In” at tonight’s performance, or stop by Swiftwater General Store on Capitol St.

Tell ’em the Pop Machine sent you.

My top 5 songs about moonshining

Moonshine stillToday’s Charleston Daily Mail features a story I wrote about Appalachian Distillery, a new Ripley-based whiskey manufacturer who makes authentic West Virginia moonshine. The only difference is, they do it on the right side of the law.

Country and bluegrass music is full of songs about moonshine and moonshiners, probably because Americans love stories about people who stick it to The Man. And that’s what moonshining is all about.

In honor of Appalachian Distillery, I have compiled my top 5 favorite songs about moonshining.

5. Steve Earle – “Copperhead Road”

This song reached No. 10 on the U.S. mainstream rock charts when it was released in 1988, the last time a Steve Earle single to climb that high. Just goes to show, you never come back from “Copperhead Road.”

4. The Hillmen – “Copper Kettle”

This is a traditional folk song, song by dozens of well-known artists. I picked this version because the guy playing mandolin, Chris Hillman, would later go on to play bass for The Flying Burrito Brothers and The Byrds. Also, the harmonies are impeccable.

3. The Osborne Brothers – “Rocky Top”

This isn’t strictly a moonshining song, but shine features pretty prominently in the second verse. It’s also one of Tennessee’s official state songs. So there’s that.

2. Gillian Welch – “Tear My Stillhouse Down”

This song is about the dark side of moonshining. Here, a whiskey maker looks back on a life spent making the Devil’s brew. It’ll make the hair stand up on your neck.

1. George Jones – “White Lightnin'”

Come on. What else was I going to pick for the No. 1 slot?

Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner participate in the “Ice Bucket Challenge”

JGarnWest Virginia’s favorite movie star Jennifer Garner and husband Ben Affleck are the latest celebrities to participate in the ALS Association’s “Ice Bucket Challenge.”

All kinds of celebrities are taking the challenge, from Bill Gates and Martha Stewart to Conan O’Brien and Eddie Vedder.

It works like this: to raise awareness for ALS (better known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”), people get a bucket of ice or ice water dumped on their head (on video) and challenge others to do the same.

The rules say those who refuse to participate are supposed to make a donation to an ALS charity, but it’s become common practice for everyone to make a donation whether they participate or not.

Affleck was challenged by filmmaker Tyler Perry.

As you can see in the video below, Affleck in turn challenges Jimmy Kimmel, Neil Patrick Harris, Matt Damon and his wife, Jennifer Garner…who surprises Affleck by unceremoniously dumping a bucket of ice on his head. He retaliates by dragging her into the pool with him…which drives some nearby children (presumably their kids) into fits of laughter.

Click below to watch.

According to the ALS Association, the challenge has raised $22.9 million in the last 30 days. Compare that to $1.9 million donated during the same period (July 29-Aug. 19) last year.

Police called to Josh Gracin’s home, Live on Levee appearance canceled

Josh-Gracin-325Media outlets are reporting former “American Idol” contestant Josh Gracin might have threatened suicide on Facebook. His management announced Thursday evening Gracin will no longer appear at Live on the Levee on Friday.

According to celebrity news site TMZ, police responded to Gracin’s Spring Hill, Tenn. home following an apparent suicide note.

I’ve loved her for 17 years…I made mistakes…I admitted them, told her the truth and she turned her back on me when I needed her help the most… I love you all.. You have given me the greatest gift. You allowed me to touch your hearts with what I loved to do the most… Please remember me as someone who gave his all in his music… Pray for my family as they carry on in this world without me. Goodbye.

You can see a screen-grabbed version of the post here. It was later removed from the Facebook page, replaced with a message from Gracin’s manager:

Good evening everyone. This is Josh’s manager, Amy. First, thank you everyone for your prayers and concern. Josh is safe and with his family now. We ask that you please respect their privacy during this time and continue sending your well wishes. I promise to update you soon.

Around 10 p.m., Gracin’s management announced he would not be performing in Charleston on Friday.

We regret to announce that Josh Gracin’s appearance at tomorrow’s Live on the Levee show in Charleston, WV has been cancelled. Country music artist, Trent Tomlinson will be performing in Josh’s place.

I just left a message with Spring Hill police requesting more information about the situation. I’ll update this post as soon as I find out more.

Gracin, 33, is a former U.S. Marine. He competed in the second season of “American Idol,” coming in fourth.

He scored several chart-topping country hits following his time on “Idol,” though his newest releases have not fared as well.

This news about Gracin is especially troubling given the news earlier this week that actor Robin Williams committed suicide. Williams’ widow announced Thursday her late husband was in the early stages of Parkinson’s Disease.

A Story Told provides the latest “Bonus Track”

Bonus Tracks3Local pop-rock band A Story Told provides this week’s “Charley West’s Bonus Track,” with a song from their new EP “What Got Me Here in the First Place.”

Click here to read more about the band, and click here to buy the album.

The band will celebrate the release of the CD on Friday at the V Club. The show starts at 10 p.m. and also will feature Timelines of Clarksburg, Motion Theatre of Beckley and Funhouse of Parkersburg.

On the passing of Robin Williams

Dead PoetsTonight the Internet mourns the loss of Robin Williams. He was an inspiring actor, an artist with the rare ability to make us laugh and pull at our heart strings, sometimes within the same line.

It’s terrible that he left us so soon. And what’s worse, it appears he took his own life.

Suicide is so incomprehensible to most of us. We cannot imagine harming ourselves, feeling so devoid of hope that death seems like the only escape.

I cannot understand that level of despair, but there are people who feel it every day. And I want all of those people to know, whoever you are, there are people in this world who care.

If you are considering suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Immediately.

If you need someone to talk to, shoot me an email at I read every email I receive.

And please, if you’ve ever wondered whether life is worth living, consider the words of Walt Whitman, which Williams famously read in “The Dead Poets Society.”

Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?
That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

The death of denim? Come on.

NBC News posted a story this morning heralding the death of the blue jeans. The American icon is finally going out of style, thanks to teenagers’ increased interest in “athleisure” wear (ex. sweatpants, yoga pants, basketball shorts).

They have numbers to prove it. From the story:

Jean sales are down 6 percent year-over-year, according to NPD Group and retailers have taken notice.

“A 6-percent drop may not seem like much, but it’s rare for denim to take such a dramatic drop. It’s a commodity business, we buy it and replenish it all the time,” said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst of The NPD Group.

That might be true. Teenagers do seem to be more interested in wearing pants with elastic waistbands than anything that requires a belt.

But come on.

Saying jeans are going out of style is like saying rock and roll is going to die. Plenty of people have blown that trumpet, but the predictions never come true.

Consider, if you will, companies like Imogene and Willie, purveyors of the ultra-hip “selvedge denim.” They’re doing business like crazy.

Consider the recent resurgence — and mainstream acceptance — of the once derided “Canadian tuxedo.” That’s denim on denim, folks.

Jeans aren’t going anywhere. As long as there is country music, as long as there are motorcycles, as long as there are sons and fathers and power tools, there will be blue jeans.


Happy birthday Newman!

Actor Wayne Knight, famously known for his role in Seinfeld as Newman, Jerry Seinfeld’s nemesis, turned 59 today.

The larger than life actor has played in several television series over the years, but people like myself will always know him as Newman.


In honor of his birthday, here are some of our favorite Seinfeld moments:


1) The Boyfriend, Part 1: Kramer and Newman recall the day they met Keith Hernandez.

2) The Doodle: Here’s one of my personal favorite Newman moments. Jerry confronts Newman about bringing fleas into his apartment.

3) The Engagement: Police show up at Newman’s door after they find out that he helped Elaine and Kramer kidnap a dog.

4) The Andrea Doria: Jerry tries to help Newman deliver his mail so he can transfer to Hawaii.

5) The Soup Nazi: A Seinfeld classic.

6) The Chicken Roaster: Newman tries to cover for Kramer.

7) The Seven: Newman tries to settle an argument between Elaine and Kramer.

Bonus clip : Knight getting eaten by the dinosaur in Jurassic Park.

Now we want to know–what are some of your favorite moments?

Hybrid Soul Project plays for “Charley West’s Bonus Tracks”

Bonus Tracks1Today’s entertainment section features local R&B band Hybrid Soul Project, who will headline this Friday’s “Live on the Levee” at Haddad Riverfront Park.

But the Charleston Daily Mail has them first. Click below to hear the group’s unique take on Lorde’s No. 1 hit “Royals.” You can also click here to see the rest of our “Bonus Tracks.”

When a Man-chin loves a woman

Today is U.S. Senator Joe Manchin’s 47th wedding anniversary with wife (and West Virginia School Board president) Gayle Manchin. To celebrate the occasion, he shared with his Twitter followers the first song he and Gayle ever danced to as a couple. Care to guess what song it was?

If you guessed Percy Sledge’s 1966 smash hit “When a Man Loves a Woman,” you are correct.

Now, I love Percy Sledge as much as the next guy, but I’ve always found this song a bit of a downer. Consider these lyrics: “When a man loves a woman/spend his very last dime/tryin’ to hold on to what he needs. He’d give up all his comforts/sleep out in the rain/If she said that’s the way it ought to be.”

Or this: “Well, this man loves a woman/I gave you everything I had/Tryin’ to hold on to your high class love/Baby, please don’t treat me bad.”

It’s a beautiful song but, dang it, it’s pretty sad. Glad things worked our for Joe and Gayle.