About a year ago, Danville resident Brandon Adams knew he wanted to make a musical television show. So he began working on the idea and contacted community members in the Old West End and a friend at Blue Ridge Public Broadcasting Service.
But he didn’t want to leave the city to do the series.
“I said, ‘you know, instead of traveling to my friends, why don’t I get my friends to travel to me?’” Adams, a guitarist and the host and executive producer of the new Blue Ridge PBS series, “The Life of a Musician,” said during an interview following its premiere in Danville on Thursday night.
The television series takes viewers behind the scenes for conversations and stories from musical artists known around the world. It was filmed at different locations in Danville and features songs performed live on the show.
Episodes were recorded in historic homes, a historically renovated hotel — The Bee Hotel at South Union Street downtown — and other businesses including Crema & Vine coffee shop and wine bar and The Dog-Eared Page bookstore.
The series will begin airing at 9 p.m. Oct. 15 on Blue Ridge PBS in Roanoke and Virginia Public Media in Richmond. It will also be available on the PBS Passport App.
A viewing of the first episode was held Thursday night at the 1890-built W.F. Patton House at 926 Main St., owned by Paul Liepe. It highlighted John Jorgenson, a founding member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band who also played guitar for Elton John, Sting and Bob Dylan.
Other episodes will feature performers Sammy Shelor, Larry Cordle, Kristy Cox and other musicians.
During the episode screened to a small crowd in the ballroom of Liepe’s three-story Victorian home on Millionaire’s Row, Jorgenson explained to Adams his practice of performing different musical styles.
“I just love all styles of music,” Jorgenson told Adams in the episode in the Bell-Pace-Boatwright House owned by John and Ginger Holbrook on Millionaires Row. “If I get interested in a style, I go down that road, I study it hard.”
In the 26-minute episode, Adams and Jorgenson played a variety of songs on guitar, including a jazzy, soulful rendition of the The Animals’ 1964 hit, “The House of the Rising Sun.” Jorgenson also played the mandolin.
Spotlighting the city
For Adams, bringing his friends to Danville to produce the series wasn’t just a matter of convenience. It was a way to showcase a growing city.
“It’s gorgeous around here,” said the 44-year-old Charleston, West Virginia, native who has lived in Danville since 2019. “There’s absolutely all of this amazing architecture and these hard-working people. It’s a city that’s about to explode, and why not take advantage of that and show it to the world? So, it just kind of fell in place naturally.”
Growing up, Adams divided his childhood between Kentucky and West Virginia.
He expressed appreciation for his friends in the Old West End and other parts of the city who opened up their homes and businesses to talented musicians and PBS crews.
Liepe, a native of Atlantic City, New Jersey, who lived in places across the country before moving into the W.F. Patton house in 2003, was one of those homeowners. Two musicians performed in his residence for the series.
He had been working with Adams to bring the PBS endeavor to fruition.
“I was anxious to see it happen,” Liepe, 73, said during an interview following the premiere.
Liepe met Adams when the musician moved to the neighborhood.
“He’s a talented performer,” Liepe said. “This [the series] was a good thing for Danville.”
The Friends of the Old West End was the first entity to put money toward the effort to produce the series, said Liepe, the group’s executive director.
The Old West End National Historic District includes a concentrated collection of Victorian- and Edwardian-style homes lining Main Street and adjacent side streets.
Friends of the Old West End “ensures a healthy and vibrant community by connecting homeowners, residents, and local businesses, and by supporting their efforts to preserve and elevate the rich history, architecture, character, and diversity in the Old West End National Historic District of Danville, Virginia,” according to the group’s website.
Liepe said of Danville, “It’s the right size. It has just enough stuff — restaurants, stores — to keep me happy without the downsides of a major city.”
He’s pleased to see the city grow, “but not too much,” he said.
As for allowing performers and holding the premiere at his home, it’s only appropriate, he said. After all, a tobacco buyer who owned the home more than 100 years ago had ballroom dancing in the very room where the screening was held Thursday evening.
“My objective is to have fun with this house,” Liepe said. “This house was built for the purpose of entertaining and I’m carrying on the tradition.”
Showcasing a business
Steve DelGiorno, owner of Crema & Vine, had Cox perform at his coffee and wine bar that was once a gas station.
He jumped at the chance to be part of the PBS project when approached for the idea.
“The obvious answer is, ‘yeah, we want to be a part of it,’” DelGiorno said at the premiere. “The opportunity to showcase your business is incredible.”
For the recording session, DelGiorno closed his business on a Sunday night.
“We re-arranged the furniture like a living room,” he said.
Cox, with the rest of the performers in her Nashville-based band, played the banjo and sang at DelGiorno’s business.
“It’s really a cool band,” DelGiorno said.
During the premiere at Liepe’s house, guests including Old West End neighbors, participating business owners and executives from PBS mingled and enjoyed beverages and hors d’oeuvres before the screening of the first episode.
Just before 8 p.m., about 20-30 attendees squeezed around tables in the small ballroom for the viewing on a flat-screen television attached to a wall. It was a festive atmosphere brimming with anticipation.
Will Anderson, president and CEO of Blue Ridge PBS, expressed gratitude to everyone for participation and funding during introductory remarks. It would have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce and air the series “if you weren’t here,” Anderson told attendees.
“This is a fantastic show with great talent, like Austin City Limits,” he said, referring to the live music television program produced by Austin (Texas) PBS.
Anderson has high expectations for the new series set in Danville.
“This show is going to be big, people,” an animated Anderson told the crowd. “It’s going to be big and it’s starting right here.”
A show of this kind would only happen on PBS, he said, adding that “you’re here tonight for something huge.”
‘Gift’ for community
Danville City Councilman Lee Vogler, who also made introductory remarks, called the series “a gift” for the community.
“’The Life of a Musician’ series is a gift to music lovers such as me, and all of you,” Vogler said.
He pointed out that viewers will get a glimpse of types of music and stories from well-known international artists.
“Projects such as this will not only stimulate conversation, but also provide inspiration for our young people,” Vogler said, tying the series in with the city’s priority of improving education for the area’s youth.
Adams, who has been a professional musician for more than 20 years, started playing music when he was 8. He focuses on acoustic music, leaning toward bluegrass and also performing jazz.
“If you dig Alison Krauss, the Punch Brothers and Tony Rice, mixed with James Taylor and several other great acoustic artists, that’s kind of what I do,” Adams said during an interview on Liepe’s front porch after the premiere.
Rice, especially, is a big influence on Adams’ music. Born in Danville in 1951, the guitarist and bluegrass musician died in Reidsville, North Carolina, on Christmas Day 2020. He also played jazz and folk music and was inducted into the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame in 2013.
“Tony Rice, first and foremost,” Adams said. “Tony was a friend of mine, we recorded together.”
Rice’s love of Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell helped Adams fall in love with their music as well, Adams said.
“He was my entry into everything I love,” Adams said.
Being on the road for 20 years and then taking a break from being a traveling musician for a year and a half made him appreciate being home in Danville. He decided to remain in the city with his wife and stepdaughter for a while.
“I’ll eventually get back on the road and eventually start recording more albums, but right now I’m kind of digging just chilling around the house,” he said. “It’s really a dream come true. I have no complaints.”