David Via at the Garage in Winston-Salem

by Ryan Snyder

It was supposed to be the Via & Woody Show Saturday night at the Garage, until David Via found himself all alone on the evening’s late card. Roots-rockers Danger Muffin were slated to open the 10 p.m. show, but the band’s pre-performance break-up due to unknown circumstances seriously undercut those intentions.

Co-headliner Woody Wood went further into the spectrum of gig-cancellers after he called into work sick, which left Via as the sole survivor on the late bill. So much for the Via & Woody Show, though fans of the last man standing seemed quietly thrilled to have Via onstage for a somewhat rare off-the-cuff solo event. This was my first visit to the Garage and I have to say, it looked exactly the way that I pictured it. You would miss the long, narrow entrance hallway if you weren’t paying close enough attention. Inside, the walls are smeared from corner to corner with every artist promo poster from Warren Haynes to Stephen Malkmus to Cracker all the way up to the counter. A shortage in the poster collection gives way to a sprawling graffiti mural. There is an Art-O-Matic up front, the brainchild of an ad guru to deal culture instead of cancer through converted cigarette machines, with a Shaq-Fu’d basketball goal over the top. It’s also quite possible that the same interior design sensibilities responsible for local brunch favorite Mary’s Of Course had a say in décor. The hodgepodge of unmatched tables and chairs completes the patron’s hole-in-the-wall experience, while the square, plastic window fans blotting out the outside world provide the pièce de résistance. That said, it’s a pretty good place to duck into and catch a really cozy, intimate show and that’s exactly what I saw Saturday night. Via had quite a bit of time to fill thanks to the series of misfortunes that struck Danger Muffin and Wood, but fortunately he’s quite capable in his own right. That much was obvious during his sound check where his picking, plucking and strumming displayed an impressive range of styles. His onstage persona, which seems to be no different than his offstage one, couldn’t have matched the venue any better. Via really has a lot to say and what he didn’t say with his music came out in droll onstage banter. The audience hung on his every word, even when he wasn’t speaking directly into the mic. I found myself laughing throughout, especially at his half-hearted attempts to sell albums. “You can use them as coasters or for Frisbee golf, but they work good in CD players, too,” Via said. “I’ll give you a good deal on them.” He opened the show with “Recipe for Disaster,” a hilarious story about bad ideas in action. One line in particular about a female companion who “invited the whole bar home/It’s a recipe for disaster,” drew raucous laughter from a thin, but completely attentive crowd. From there on, his songs ranged from personal and poignant (“Virginia Ground”) to folksy and funny (“Boone’s Mill). I should point out that his solo sound is quite a bit different than what he’s done with his band Corn Tornado. He traded some of the old-time mountain music for a stripped-down, countrywestern tone somewhere between classic folk balladeers such as Ramblin’ Jack Elliot and newgrass pickers like Sam Bush. From the moment he took the stage, Via built a close rapport with the audience. His haggard, second-handstore look makes him appear just as anonymous as the people to whom he was playing, but he treated everyone at the Garage as though they were unique among the hundreds of audiences he’s sat before. Via downed his third or fourth energy drink and Jagermeister cocktail with a hearty salud to the folks at the bar before launching into “Mountain Man.” It wasn’t long after that he informed the bartender that he “didn’t need anymore of that Red Bull stuff in there anymore.” This, of course, drew cheers from those of us matching him drink for drink. If you’re a fan of roots and folk music, you might have heard Via’s music being performed by any number of bluegrass and folk artists such as Keller Williams, Larry Keel or the Biscuit Burners. After all, he has played with countless musicians over the years, so it’s only natural for his influence to be ingrained in the scene to which he’s given so much.

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