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cutNscratch: The Guard does an anniversary gig; Miss Tess hits the Spot on Kirk; Tuesday Tunes resumes

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Wednesday nights at The Coffee Pot Roadhouse are family time for members of bluegrass band The Guard, their friends and fans.

On the next one, the crew will celebrate 23 years.

The band lineup has changed over the years, and audience members have come and gone. But the core experience remains the same, Norma McNeil said.

You can find McNeil up near the stage most nights, shooting videos. She also bakes the cakes that are a signature part of mid-week fun at The Coffee Pot. In a recent phone call, she said she has been coming out to see the band for six years.

“I lost my husband, it will be eight years in December,” McNeil said. “This friend of mine kept wanting me to come to The Coffee Pot. I said, ‘I don’t like bluegrass.’”

But one Wednesday, something upset her and she needed an outlet. McNeil texted her friend: “I’ll see you there.” That launched a new tradition for her.

“I have missed three Wednesdays in six years” since then, she said. “They are just super guys, and I’m a diehard bluegrass fan now.”

The band got its start with informal jam sessions at the old National Guard Armory on Reserve Avenue. Four of the jammers got so tight, someone asked the players to do a gig. Soon, they were playing the Pot on Wednesdays, and except for the COVID-related quarantine era, The Guard has been in residency ever since.

These days, the core band includes Alan Messenger, Vincent May, Bobby Moore, Stan Rowe and Daryl Jones. Moore, also known for such acts as Grass Monkey and the Ben Trout Band, was a Norfolk Southern employee whom the company transferred to Atlanta. He returned to Roanoke, and to The Guard, after he retired. He recently posted a message to your columnist’s Facebook page.

“If only Atlanta had something like this,” he wrote. “Folks just don’t know about it … As far as traditional, down to earth bluegrass music, it’s not gonna get any better. Alan and Vince must know the words to at least 500 songs. … another best friend of mine, Norma, makes cakes and pies and gives everyone a slice, all for a hug and a nod of thanks.”

McNeil took over the cake-baking from Birley Prince, a fan of the band who started the tradition. Prince died in 2016. McNeil said she has tried to make it a special part of each Wednesday, with cakes in the shape of musical instruments, among other designs.

“Next week will be like an anniversary cake, as if you was getting married,” she said. “Tablecloths on tables, flowers. I’ll deck it out a little bit for ‘em.”

The free show starts at 6 p.m. Join the family.

See a photo gallery of the most recent show at

Miss Tess hits The Spot on Kirk

The Roanoke Valley is fortunate enough to get the occasional visit from vintage music chanteuse Miss Tess. The next visit is Thursday, at The Spot on Kirk.

The oft-traveling performer — master of many guitar chords and owner of a beguiling voice — recently released the soulful single, “Real Change,” and an album, “Parlor Sounds.” The latter is a duo album with her partner, Thomas Bryan Eaton. Access that music and learn more about Tess (no last name, thank you) via

It’s a 7:30 p.m. show, with tickets going for $20.

Tuesday Tunes

for Feeding

Southwest VirginiaHard times ain’t over yet, a blues singer might wail. That was the pandemic-related idea behind Third Street Coffeehouse’s weekly live-stream program, Tuesday Tunes for Feeding Southwest Virginia. As things began returning to normal, the charity drive mini-concert wound down, but it’s coming back, starting three days ahead.

This time, it’s not so much about the C-bug, even if some of us are experiencing first-hand that virus’ endurance and mutative powers, but about inflation.

“With grocery prices through the roof, Joe Kessler at Feeding Southwest Virginia asked us to crank it back up to help them meet the need,” show organizer Bob Schmucker said in a message exchange.

So at 9 p.m. Tuesday, visit the Third Street Facebook page,, and see/hear local folkie Mike Pearrell. Don’t forget to donate to feed the needy. All donations go to the food bank. Learn more about it at


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