Meet the Locals of Roanoke
Residents giving this little city a big jolt of creative energy
Another RoadSide Attraction
Start with two parts vaudeville and one part mariachi. Add a dash of Americana, a handful of ragtime, and a heap of ingenuity, and you’ve got a band that Roanokers can’t stop talking about. Another RoadSide Attraction brings a cabaret presence to the stage along with a fully acoustic potluck of instruments, including a fiddle, a banjo, a kazoo, a musical saw, a box o’ wrenches, a ukulele, and a made-from-scratch drum kit sporting an American Tourister suitcase in lieu of a kick drum. “Samsonite was lacking, as a drum,” explains Jordan Rivers, the band’s guitarrón player and one of its founding members. The sextet’s music is as distinctive and colorful as its look—beautiful, bizarre, sometimes eerie, and always fun. After touring the South this summer, the band will be back home in Roanoke this fall, in time to play at Kirk Avenue Music Hall on October 18 during the 2012 CityWorks (X)po.
Susan Jamison didn’t expect to spend a single year in Appalachia, much less twenty. “I just thought, sure, I’ll go commune with nature for a little while,” says the artist and Connecticut native, who first came to the Roanoke area on vacation in 1991 after graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design. But two decades on, she’s found a home and built a career, working out of a studio on Campbell Avenue to produce egg tempera paintings that have won her international attention and spots in top galleries throughout the East Coast and the South. Jamison’s work pairs feminine forms with naturalistic imagery reflected by her adopted hometown. “The landscape is beautiful,” she says, “and the everyday ease of living in a place like this allows me more time to concentrate on what I’m doing.”
A few years after moving to Roanoke in 1986, Pearl Fu attended the city’s first international festival, then called Local Color. Twenty people attended, and only four countries were represented. “I was China all by myself!” says Fu, who was born in the southwestern Yunnan Province. Determined to uncover a richer diversity in Roanoke’s population, Fu took to the streets. Literally. “I stood on Market Street to watch for faces and listen to accents,” she says. Ever since, Fu has been a tenacious advocate for the acclimation and celebration of the city’s immigrant and refugee populations. At this past May’s Local Colors (note the plural) Festival, which Fu now runs, her efforts brought more than a hundred nationalities and ethnicities together. “Similarity is ordinary,” she says. “We should go beyond that and rejoice in the differences.”
Mark Powell has been digging in the dirt as far back as he can remember. But four years ago, the Roanoke native found himself in an apartment with barely enough room for a window-box herb garden. Turns out he wasn’t the only Roanoker whose green thumb was itching. One neighborhood meeting and a handful of backyard test gardens later, he founded the Roanoke Community Garden Association to give other yard-challenged residents a chance to get their hands dirty. “At the end of the first year, we’d grown so much food that we threw a festival and fed three hundred people,” he says. “Just off the food we had grown!” Today there are three permanent gardens in the RCGA network, with a fourth and fifth in the works, all based on a simple but bold mission. As Powell puts it, “Anyone who would like to have access to a garden space should have one.”