Fans of red-hot blues, rock, jazz, bluegrass and country guitar playing had their ears full at Rooster Walk this past weekend.

That's not necessarily what the festival is striving for. But when your lineup includes the Marcus King Band, Billy Strings, Roosevelt Collier Trio, Ghost Light and The State Birds, that's what you're going to get.

So it was on Saturday and deep into Sunday morning, at Rooster Walk's 11th annual run.

Collier, who came to Southwest Virginia music fans' attention years ago as a member of the Lee Boys, split his time on the Lake Stage on Saturday between a pedal steel guitar and a lap steel customized for him to wear standing up. Fronting a phenomenal act — drummer Anthony Cole (JJ Grey, Doyle Bramhall II) and bassist Matt Lapham — the Miami steel player spit lines of liquid fire on some funky instrumental originals and covers including Jimi Hendrix classics "Power of Soul," with Cole singing, and "Third Stone from the Sun." 

About mid-set, Collier let a young Blacksburg guitarist, Isaac Hadden, in on the action. "I met him yesterday. ... I've never heard him play, but I've been told he's going to blow my head right off this stage," Collier said. "Pressure, but no pressure, right?"

If the 16-year-old Hadden felt the pressure, he didn't let it show on an instrumental in which Collier let him have plenty of solo time, and enjoyed Hadden improvising a tight harmony with his closing melody line.

"Who's paying him?" Cole joked as the kid gathered his gear and went off stage right. "You paying him? Where's the check coming from?"

King, a rising blues-rock big gun, joined his friend Collier for the last song of the set, a cover of the Temptations' "Shaky Ground." The pair traded chops over four bar phrases, then went in together, working off each other in a legato explosion.

Sit-ins were among Rooster Walk highlights. Designated artists at large Josh Shilling, a Henry County native whose Mountain Heart was on the bill, and singer/bassist John Cowan sat in on a harmony-rich cover of the Band's "The Weight," to close the Steel Wheels' Lawn Stage set. King brought Collier back to the Lake Stage later, to sit in with his band on yet another version of "The Weight," this one far more focused on string power than vocal harmonies.

King made his third-consecutive Rooster Walk appearance, which would end Sunday with bluegrasser Billy Strings, who brought his own band, too. King's roughly two-hour set, interrupted by about a half-hour of pelting rain, featured Memphis/Motown burner "Ain't Nothin' Wrong With That," rowdy funk-rocker "Plant Your Corn Early" and newer numbers "Where I'm Headed" and "How Long." All of them benefited from the Greenville, South Carolina-based King's remarkably soulful and flexible voice.

After Galactic and Erica Falls, who had played Blacksburg's The Lyric Theatre in February, did a set of hard-grooving, horn-blasting New Orleans-style jazz/funk on the Lawn Stage, Ghost Light was ready to go about midnight at the Lake Stage.

In a long and intricate number called "Old-Time Religion," guitarist Tom Hamilton shredded a seemingly limitless vocabulary of six-string information, while giving the band, including keyboardist Holly Bowling, much time to shine.

Phenomenally talented The State Birds went deep into the morning on a makeshift spot by the Lake Stage beer tent. With barely any lighting and no P.A., guitarist Mike Seal, drummer Jeff Sipe, saxophonist Bryan Lopes and bassist Neal Fountain laid out some brilliant jazz-rock instrumentals with a helping of country twang. Among the highlights was Seal's romp through Jerry Reed's finger-picked tour de force, "The Claw."

Contact Tad Dickens at or 777-6474. Follow him on Twitter: @cutnscratch.  


For the past decade, Tad Dickens has been writing about music. For now, it remains sunshine and rainbows.

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